The Probate Process
- The executor of your estate bears the responsibility of notifying your creditors of your death. Your creditors must then file claims with the probate court managing your estate if they hope to recover any debt you owed prior to your death. Creditors have a limited amount of time to file claims with the probate court before the court pays out any existing claims and distributes the remaining assets to your heirs.
In most cases, after the probate court settles the deceased’s estate, it is closed to all further claims – even if those claims are legitimate. State laws vary, however, regarding which specific situations may merit post-settlement claims by creditors.
- Not all creditors file claims with the probate court on time. This is often because they never received notice of the individual’s death. The executor, however, only has to send notification to the creditors that she is aware of.
Creditors that have no legal claim to the deceased’s assets after the probate court settles his estate must write off the debts. These “uncollectible” debts often end up bundled together with unpaid or defaulted accounts and sold to collection agencies.
- Consumers often do not realize that they are not legally liable for paying off their loved one’s debts after the probate court settles the deceased’s estate. While the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act strictly prohibits collectors from threatening consumers with action the company lacks the legal right to take, that does not stop it from occurring. Thus, collection agencies sometimes purchase unpaid debts from the deceased’s creditors and demand payment from his heirs, occasionally threatening them with such consequences as lawsuits and damaged credit, long after the probate court settles the estate.
Heirs who do not wish to have further contact with their deceased loved one’s debt collectors can forbid collectors, in writing, from contacting the family further. Should the collection agency continue demanding payment from the deceased’s family, it does so in violation of the FDCPA and the deceased’s family members can sue.
- If a creditor did not file a claim with the probate court because it had the legal right to collect from another individual other than the deceased, the creditor can continue to do so after the probate court settles the estate. For example, if the deceased held a joint credit card account with her husband, the credit card company can pursue the husband for payment rather than filing a claim for payment with the probate court.