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Dealing with debts during the probate process

In 2013, it was reported that the median amount of debt held by people over the age of 60 in the United States -- including many here in Massachusetts -- is approximately $40,900. It is possible that amount has risen in the last three years, which means that an individual's assets could end up being used to pay off debts during the probate process. Therefore, any assets intended to go to heirs could be significantly diminished before any distributions are made.

Many people fear that they will be held responsible for the debts of their loved ones after they pass away. However, in most cases, surviving family members are not responsible. Even so, creditors and collection agencies may attempt to convince people that they are liable for the debts.

Relatives who receive such calls should direct the callers to the executor of the estate. One of the executor's duties is to inform creditors of the decedent's passing and come to an arrangement regarding any monies they are owed. He or she should also be canceling credit cards, gathering assets and filing tax returns, among other things.

No one knows when he or she are going to pass away, so very few Massachusetts residents will have the opportunity to ensure they are debt free prior to death. Dealing with any remaining debts will be the executor's job, and surviving family members should be directed as to how to deal with phone calls from the creditors of their loved ones. If proper estate planning was done, heirs and beneficiaries might still receive their intended inheritances either during or at the end of the probate process.

Source: U.S. News and World Report, "Will Your Heirs Have to Pay Up When You Die With Debt?", Teresa Mears, June 2, 2016

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