David Howard Goldberg, P.L.

What happens to my loved one's debts?

You may have wished your loved one would have done more to prepare for the end of his or her life, but the fact remains that you are now the one to sort things out. If your loved one named you to be the executor of the will or a Florida probate court appointed you to represent your loved one's estate, you have a lot to do before matters can be settled.

Perhaps you have a lot of physical work, such as cleaning out decades of accumulated stuff. However, before you can begin to remove anything of value from the estate, you will have to deal with your loved one's debts.

Debts your loved one left behind

The probate process is an important final step following your loved one's death. Through this legal procedure, you as the estate administrator must take inventory and value your loved one's belongings and distribute them according to your loved one's wishes. If your loved one left no will, the court will decide where the assets go. The first ones to claim any portion of the estate are those to whom your loved one still owed money, for example:

  • The mortgage holders of your loved one's properties
  • Credit card companies and banks who extended credit
  • Lenders for car, boat or RV loans
  • Student loan creditors
  • Facilities where your loved one may have stored belongings
  • Utility and cell phone companies

There may be some debts you can pay off at once, such as credit cards, and others you may have to continue paying throughout probate, such as a mortgage or HOA fee. Additionally, you may have to determine if some of the debts are invalid or may be discharged. Perhaps the first debt you will have to address is your loved one's final income tax returns and any taxes the estate may owe.

Who covers the cost?

You will not have to make these payments from your own funds but from your loved one's assets. Your meticulous managing of the assets in the estate will be critical. Chances are other heirs will be carefully watching how you manage the estate, and you want to avoid any claims that you breached your fiduciary duties. You may have to sell some of the estate's assets to cover debts, but the court must authorize any sale of property from the estate.

If this all seems like a heavy burden for one person to carry, you would not be alone in your assessment. Many in your situation find reassurance and peace of mind in the assistance of an attorney with experience in probate and handling debts in a loved one's estate.

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