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What Happens to Debt When You Die: A Guide for Your Loved Ones

The death of a loved one is undoubtedly one of the most emotionally challenging moments in life. However, in addition to grief, many face another burden: the burden of debts left by the deceased. For many, the intersection of emotional and financial difficulties is an overwhelming burden, especially when there is uncertainty about the deceased person’s debts.

While some are sure that debts die with a person, others argue that all responsibility for loans after a person’s death falls on their family members. However, neither statement is completely wrong, nor is it entirely correct. So, when you die, what happens to your debt?

Not only can the debt be paid from the deceased debtor’s property, but it may also have implications for surviving family members. Let’s find out how it works.

Table of Contents

  1. Who Bears the Responsibility for Your Debt Once You’ve Passed Away?
  2. What Debts are Not Forgiven at Death and are Inherited?
  3. How Do You Know If You Can Inherit Debt?
  4. Can Assets Be Employed for Debt Repayment After Death?
  5. What Happens When You Die with Debt: States Specifics
  6. Strategies for Getting Ready to Settle Debts After Passing
  7. Conclusion
  8. FAQ

Key Takeaways

Some debts may be forgiven in the event of insolvency, but others are typically paid off from the deceased’s estate. Sometimes, debts can be forgiven upon the borrower’s death, especially federal student loans. General debts, such as a mortgage or car loan, are often cosigner liabilities. If there is no inheritance, creditors may suffer losses. In community property states, spouses are responsible for shared debts.

Who Bears the Responsibility for Your Debt Once You’ve Passed Away?

Debts do not disappear after a person dies. The debt collection process will depend on the type of debt and whether someone else signed the loan agreement.

Individual Debts

Personal debts are solely in the name of a deceased person. They include medical bills, personal loans, and credit card balances.

Credit Cards

If the credit card accounts belong solely to the deceased person, the credit card companies may sue to settle the debt using the borrower’s estate. If there are no assets and property, does debt die with you? The answer is yes. Neither children nor other relatives are responsible for credit card debt.

Even if an authorized user who could use the credit card’s balance was added to the account, they are not considered a co-owner. Thus, authorized users are not responsible for paying off the debt.

Medical Bills

Medical bills don’t die with a person. The healthcare provider must decide how the funds will be returned. The provider may forgive the debt and close the account if it is small. However, if the debt is significant, the provider can pay it off using the deceased person’s estate.

Medical bills usually do not have a co-owner. Sometimes, the parents are responsible for debt repayment if the patient is a child. Also, a child insurance policy can help pay off the amount owed.

Student Loans

Student loans are unsecured debt. The lender is out of luck if the assets cannot cover the amount owed. As with any type of loan, if the student loan was co-signed with someone else, the co-signer will have to fulfill the loan repayment obligations. Also, the liability falls on your spouse if you live in a community property state (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, or Wisconsin).

Federal student loans typically die with the borrowers. Some private student loans have the same outcome./p>

Joint Debts

Joint debts are loans in which more than one party participates. Examples include mortgages, car loans, and joint credit card accounts.

Joint Credit Cards

Suppose someone co-owns a card of the one who has passed away (not to be confused with an authorized user who was allowed to use the credit card balance without sharing repayment responsibility). In that case, they are obligated to repay the debt.


If a deceased person took out a mortgage together with a close relative, then it is quite easy to understand what will happen to the debt after death. The co-borrower on the mortgage is responsible to pay. To avoid leaving the co-borrower in a difficult situation in the event of an accident, it is worth taking out a life insurance policy that can cover all or part of the debt. Therefore, consider the outstanding mortgage balance when calculating the amount of life insurance coverage.

If there is no guarantor for the mortgage, then the obligations do not pass to anyone. However, this does not mean relatives can take possession of the house for free. If they want to keep the property, they must commit to repaying the loan. The secured debt, such as a mortgage, ensures the property is collateral, and repayment is typically required to retain ownership.

If no one pays off the loan after death, the lender repossesses the house, sells it, and pays off the loan balance.

Auto Loans

Car loan debt can be repaid in several ways:

the family members can give the car to the creditor so that they can sell it, thereby repaying the debt; relatives can independently sell the car and repay the loan; the family members can keep the car and pay off the loan balance.

If a relative decides to keep the car, they will need to apply for a loan in their name officially. If a co-borrower or guarantor on a car loan is involved, they are responsible for repaying the money.

Summary of Debt Responsibility

Here’s a quick comparison chart that shows how individual and joint debt differ in terms of repayment after the borrower’s death.

Type of Debt How the Debt Will be Repaid
Individual Unsecured Debts Typically settled from the deceased’s estate. Spouses may also be responsible in some states
Individual Secured Debts Repaid through the sale of assets or relatives pay the debt.
Joint Debts Responsibility is shared among surviving co-debtors.

What Debts are Not Forgiven at Death and are Inherited?

When a person dies, their heirs may face the debts they left behind. Understanding how the debts of a deceased person are inherited will allow you to manage affairs after their death effectively:

A mortgage is the most common type of debt passed down through inheritance. If the relatives of a deceased person wish to inherit property, they will be required to repay the loan debt. A car loan can be repaid from the property or the car’s return in the event of a person’s death. But if the heirs wish to keep the vehicle, they must assume the obligation for the loan. Credit card debt can also be inherited. However, the degree of responsibility depends on several factors. In community property states, spouses may be liable for credit card debt incurred during the marriage. Otherwise, the deceased’s estate will cover the credit card debt. Medical debt can also be inherited. Creditors can file a claim to seize property to pay off the owed amount. Any outstanding personal loans or lines of credit in the decedent’s name alone may impose the repayment obligation on the estate.

Find out which debts are forgiven upon death

How Do You Know If You Can Inherit Debt?

Obligations to repay the debt of a deceased person are transferred to a relative or friend if:

You are a co-signer or guarantor on a loan with an outstanding balance. You have a joint credit card account. You are a widow or widower, and state law requires repayment of a certain type of debt.

If there is no co-owner or guarantor, then only the deceased person’s property is subject to the debt.

Can Assets Be Employed for Debt Repayment After Death?

After a person dies, creditors often seek access to various assets owned by debtors. Assets that can be used to pay off debt include:

real estate; automobile; investment portfolios; jewelry; family heirlooms; antiques; other valuable personal items.

If the loan debt does not fall on relatives, the creditors receive a court order to seize property to pay off the debt. However, there is also something that lenders cannot access. These include:

life insurance benefits; retirement accounts; irrevocable trusts.

These assets are protected by special laws designed to guard people’s financial security during difficult times.

Some people create irrevocable trusts to protect their assets. The assets placed in these trusts no longer belong to you. At the same time, it is worth understanding that returning these assets to your name will no longer be possible.

What Happens When You Die with Debt: States Specifics

There are nine community property states [1]:

Arizona; California; Idaho; Louisiana; Nevada; New Mexico; Texas; Washington; Wisconsin.

Five other states have community property laws. They also allow such a division with the consent of two parties [2]:

Alaska; Florida; Kentucky; South Dakota; Tennessee.

If you live in one of these states, both spouses legally own the debts incurred during the marriage. If the property does not cover the loan debt, then the responsibility falls on the spouse, even if the loan was issued exclusively in the deceased’s name. Lenders can garnish your wages and even seize your property if you don’t pay the spouse’s debt.

There is a caveat: the spouse is responsible only for debts incurred during the marriage. Any debt received before the wedding is not yours unless you agree to take on it. Also, the spouse is exempt from liability in case of a divorce.

Sometimes, it is critical to contact an attorney specializing in estate planning and administration. A specialist will advise you on the specific rules for community property in your state. Even more states have “filial responsibility laws.” These laws can require children to pay their deceased parents’ hospital bills [3].

Strategies for Getting Ready to Settle Debts After Passing

Preparing to pay off debt after death is an important aspect of estate planning. Below are a few strategies.

Creating a Will Let You Know What Happens If You Die with Debt

Having a will that distributes assets and names an executor to manage the deceased person’s affairs is essential. The executor is not the person who bears the obligations under the loan. They are responsible for ensuring that debts are repaid using the property. In case of insufficient assets, debts are distributed among the beneficiary or die with the person. The probate process oversees these procedures, ensuring the proper distribution of assets and settlement of debts according to the will or legal requirements.

Protecting Heirs with Life Insurance

In the event of death, insurance can be a major source of financial support for living family members, especially when creditors can seize the property. Life insurance pays out upon death, and the money is protected from creditors because it belongs entirely to the beneficiaries.

Even if there are insufficient assets to pay off the debt, creditors cannot use the insurance proceeds to cover the balance. Beneficiaries can use the money at their discretion. For example, they can put it toward paying off a mortgage loan. This way, such a payout also ensures that the family can continue to live peacefully in the home after the death of a loved one.

It is important to choose an insurance policy wisely. Pay attention to prices and compare offers from several insurance companies. This will clarify the available coverages and costs to help you determine what suits you best.

What Happens to Debt When You Die: The Impact of Consolidating Debt into a Single Loan

Consolidating debt into a single loan can make repayment easier for your executor and beneficiaries. You can also get a loan with a lower interest rate, reducing the financial burden on the loved ones.

Work with a Certified Financial Planner

It is better to receive financial support from professionals. A person needs to learn more about inheritance and financial planning. Contact an attorney and take the proper steps in estate settlement together. As a result, financial obligations for the family after your death will not be so burdensome.

Tell Your Family Honestly: If You Die What Happens to Your Debt

It is extremely important to discuss all possible scenarios with family members. Be sure to state who will pay the debt if you die or what assets can be used to pay off what you owe. Show your family your insurance policy and explain how it protects them. A clear understanding of what can await your loved ones after your death will make it easier for them to cope with possible debt obligations.


After death, some debts may be forgiven, while others may become your loved ones’ liability. By planning and actively managing your debt, you can ease the financial burden on your beneficiaries. Although student loans may die with the borrower, mortgages and auto loans will have to be paid off using the pledged assets.

We encourage readers to take proactive steps to plan for debt repayment. You can draw up a will, consider life insurance, or explore debt consolidation options. By doing this, you will ensure your loved ones are not left with an extra financial burden during difficult times.

Also, seek professional advice from estate planners or lawyers specializing in bankruptcy. This can help heirs navigate the complexities of inheritance and debt forgiveness and effectively find out what debts are forgiven at death.


What Happens to Debts After a Person’s Death?

Responsibility for paying off debts usually falls on the deceased’s estate. However, if the loans had co-signers or guarantors, the loan obligations fall on them. In community property states, debts become the liability of the deceased person’s spouse.

What is The Role of an Executor in Managing the Deceased’s Debts?

Executors manage the debts of the deceased. They notify creditors and distribute assets to pay off debts.

What Debts Are Forgiven at Death in Ohio?

In Ohio, a deceased person’s debts must be presented within six months of death, after which they’re generally barred from collection. Secured debts like mortgages or car loans can still be pursued through repossession or foreclosure. Survivors are often misled into thinking they’re responsible for the deceased’s debts, but typically, they’re not unless they co-signed.

What Debts Are Forgiven at Death in Florida?

In Florida, only some debts can be forgiven. These include federal student loans and, occasionally, medical bills. Florida probate rules provide that the estate must generally pay the decedent’s unpaid bills.

See also:

  1. Tips & Tricks for Managing Debt Wisely
  2. Personal Loans with Cosigner
  3. Secured Loans vs. Unsecured Loans: What’s the Difference Between Them?


  1. What Is A Mortgage?
  2. The case for being completely debt-free and how it can positively impact your mindset
  3. Understanding the Difference: Coborrower vs. Cosigner
  4. How to Apply for a Credit Card: A Comprehensive Guide