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Consumer LAW PA Consumer LAW PA
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The Personal Representative’s Guide To Debts Owed By The Estate Of A Recently Deceased Person


Grieving the loss of a family member is hard enough, but settling the financial affairs of a recently deceased relative comes with its own set of hassles.  The relatives of people who were averse to decluttering often dread going through the possessions of a deceased family member and making the agonizing decision about which possessions to keep in the family and which to get rid of, especially when they have no guidance from anyone belonging to the decedent’s generation.  Trying to locate the decedent’s assets for probate can be a challenge if they did not leave a will.  Even if they left a will, probate court can be a forum for family member’s grievances against each other once the person who kept the family together is gone, and the personal representative, regardless of his or her relationship to the decedent, often gets caught in the crossfire.  If the decedent was in debt at the time of his or her death, then the debts become the personal representative’s problem.  If you are the personal representative of the estate of a deceased person, a Pennsylvania debt collection abuse lawyer can advise you on how to deal with creditors who try to collect debts from the estate.

When Probate Is a Feeding Frenzy for Creditors

As the personal representative of an estate, one of your duties early in the probate process is to publish a notice to creditors.  This notice appears in the local newspaper, usually in its print and online versions; it informs creditors that the estate has been opened for probate and that, pursuant to Pennsylvania law, they have one year from the date of the notice to file a claim for payment of a debt.  If the decedent ignored their debts for years, allowing them to pile up, then the personal representative is in for a big hassle.  The estate cannot settle until it has paid the creditors’ claims, or else settled them for a lesser amount than what the creditor originally requested.  The personal representative might have to sell assets belonging to the estate in order to pay the decedent’s debts.  In the worst-case scenario, the creditors will take everything the decedent left behind, leaving nothing for the beneficiaries of the decedent’s will to inherit.  Credit card debt and private student loans are the most common types of debt pursued in probate.  If a surviving family member co-signed on these debts though, the creditors can seek repayment from the survivor.  If the decedent, still owing mortgage debt on their house when they died, bequeathed the house to a family member, the mortgage debt now belongs to the family member who inherited the house.

When to Tell Creditors to Get Lost

Some debts disappear when a person dies.  Federal student loan obligations, for example, do not outlive the borrower, even if the borrower (who signed for the loans), was not a student themselves, but the parent of a student.  If your parents took out federal student loans for your education, and you are now the personal representative of a recently deceased parent’s estate, feel free to tell creditors to get lost if they bother you about your parents’ federal student loans.

Contact an Attorney Today for Help

A consumer law attorney can help you figure out how to address the debts left behind by a deceased family member.  Contact Louis S. Schwartz at to set up a free, confidential consultation.


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