What Happens to your Debt after you Die?

Working as a Nashville probate attorney, I often hear a number of misconceptions that many people have when it comes to probate. When a loved one passes away, many people assume that they will be entitled to a portion of the decedent’s complete estate as provided in the will or the laws of intestacy. However, that may not be the case depending on a number of factors including the amount of debt a decedent had. If you have questions regarding what you may be entitled to in the probate process, contact the Nashville probate lawyers at The Higgins Firm.

Although you may have been named as a beneficiary of an estate, certain requirements must be met by the executor or administrator before any beneficiary recovers any of the assets from the estate. Specifically, there are certain priorities of claims that must be paid out before others receive a portion of the estate. Each class of claims must be paid out in its entirety before the next class of claims may be paid out. The first class of claims that are paid out includes administrative expenses, attorney’s fees and administrator’s fees. The second class of claims that are paid out includes funeral expenses. The third class of claims includes any types of taxes or assessments owed to the federal or state government. The fourth class of claims includes any claims made by creditors. Only after each of these classes of claims are paid out in full can the beneficiaries then receive a portion of the estate. If an estate cannot pay out all of the claims, it is considered to be insolvent and the beneficiaries will not receive any of the assets.

Obviously, the amount of debt that a decedent may have had will play a large part in determining whether or not the beneficiaries will recover from the estate. For the most part, debts are still required to be paid to creditors after someone dies. However, there are different types of debt including secured debt and unsecured debt. An unsecured creditor may be a credit card company or other business that does not have a secured interest in any specific property. The administrator or executor is required to send notice that an estate has been opened to any known or potentially known unsecured creditor of the estate. Unsecured creditors are required to file a claim with the estate in order to recover. Many unsecured creditors will send bills and collection notices to the individual in hopes of getting paid from the estate. However, the personal representative of the estate is not required to pay the unsecured creditor until a claim has been filed.

In contrast, a secured creditor is a person to whom money is owed that has a secured interest within the property. For instance, with a mortgage, a bank is a secured creditor that has a secured interest in the house. The personal representative is not required to send notice to secured creditors because even after someone dies, the bank as a secured creditor can repossess the property from the estate if payments are not made. It is important to make sure that payments continue to be paid to secured creditors.

Understanding an estate’s amount and type of debt can help beneficiaries better understand what they may be able to recover. If you have any probate questions regarding your ability to recover from an estate, contact The Higgins Firm.