Paying the debts of a deceased relative: What you should know

  • Updated: September 22, 2010 - 6:59 AM

• You usually have no legal obligation to pay the debts of a deceased relative who was not your spouse. Even a spouse's obligations are limited by state probate law.

• Generally, someone's estate is responsible for debts. If there isn't enough in the estate to cover the debts, they typically go unpaid.

• Some assets of the deceased are exempt from debt collection. In Minnesota, one vehicle, a house and up to $10,000 in personal belongings are exempt from most creditors.

• If a debt collector contacts you about the debt of a deceased relative, give the collector the contact information of the decedent's personal representative, who is responsible for paying outstanding debts.

• If you are unsure whether you're legally obligated to pay a debt, talk to an attorney knowledgeable in probate law.

• Do not give out personal information. Some scam artists pose as debt collectors, checking obituaries and contacting relatives.

• To stop a debt collector from calling you, send a certified letter saying that you do not wish to be contacted again.

• Report any problem with a collector to the state attorney general's office, at 651-296-3353. For more information, see the FTC's "Debt Collection FAQs: A Guide for Consumers," at www.tiny.cc/ol31s.

Source: Federal Trade Commission, www.mnestatelaw.com

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