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Dealing with a loved one’s debts during the probate process

In life, it is not uncommon to borrow money in order to attain certain assets or to go into debt to pay for unexpected expenses. What happens, though, when someone dies before he or she is able to pay back what was borrowed? In Massachusetts and elsewhere, any unpaid debts are dealt with during the probate process.

While not every estate has to go through probate, a good majority of them do. During probate, creditors are given a certain amount of time to file claims against an estate. Those claims that are found to be valid will then be ordered to be paid from the estate before any assets can be distributed to beneficiaries.

What happens when an estate does not have the financial means to pay creditors? The answer to this depends on the type of debt that is owed. A mortgage or auto loan, for example, may continue to be paid by family members, or the property can be sold. Credit card debt, on the other hand, is considered the responsibility of the account owner unless it is a joint account, then the surviving account holder may be held responsible for the balance. Generally, though, beneficiaries are not required to pay any outstanding debts out of their own personal assets.

If an estate has not been carefully planned, how assets and debts are handled during the probate process will be determined by the court. Those in Massachusetts who are faced with closing out the estates of loved ones, whether there are estate plans in place or not, can seek legal assistance in order to get it done as swiftly and smoothly as possible. Going through probate alone can be challenging and confusing but, with help, it does not have to be an overwhelming experience.

Source:, “What happens to your debts after you die?”, Sarah Skidmore Sell, Oct. 22, 2016


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