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Are heirs obligated for a deceased relative's debts?

Most of the time, relatives of a decedent bear no responsibility for debt owed by that person. However, the existence of such debt does create the potential risk of reducing the value of the estate and how much heirs receive. That's because debts of the deceased are paid for from the estate before distribution.

This is true whether there is a will or not. However, with proper planning, legal tools can be employed to protect assets for heirs. Creditors may try to convince inheritors that they have an obligation to pay off the decedent's debts. Before taking any action, beneficiaries should consult an attorney to understand their rights and options.

If a recipient owes the decedent

Of course, a situation in which an heir owes a debt to the deceased can create issues. Imagine you are one of four children in line to inherit the remaining assets of your parents' estate. Perhaps the will calls for the distribution of wealth to occur by dividing the assets up equally four ways. However, if one of the beneficiaries borrowed money from the parents, his or her portion of the division could be reduced by the amount owed.

Again, a lot depends on the specifics of the case.

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