Who is responsible for a deceased person’s debt?

deceased person's death

When a loved one dies, the last thing a relative wants to think about is whether or not they are responsible for their unpaid debt. However, debt collectors quickly approach relatives to collect unpaid debts. Generally, family members are not liable for a deceased relative’s debt. However, there are a few exceptions that could leave them responsible for any accumulated debt. If you are unsure of your responsibility for a deceased person’s debt, contact a qualified Montgomery County Estate Planning Attorney. We can help ensure you know your financial obligations to a deceased relative’s debt. 

Who could be liable for a deceased relative’s debt?

When an individual dies their debt does not automatically dissolve. Essentially, when a deceased person has debt, their estate is responsible for paying off any unresolved debt. After a person dies their financial assets are passed to their estate which typically should cover the debt owed. However, if there is not enough money in the estate to cover the debt, the debt will go unpaid. Relatives are not liable for paying a deceased person’s unpaid debts.

Are there exceptions to who may be responsible?

Typically, there are only a few exceptions to who may be responsible for a deceased person’s debt including:

Joint accounts 

When a married couple shares joint bank accounts, they are equally liable for any accumulated debt. In the unfortunate event that one spouse dies, the living spouse is responsible for paying the remaining debt. If a spouse is only an authorized user, they are not responsible for the deceased spouse’s debt.

Student loans

When a person dies with federal student loan debt their debt is forgiven. However, to be discharged, a relative must submit the deceased person’s death certificate to show proof of death. This does not apply to private student loan debt.


Typically, when an individual needs to borrow money they will take out a loan. To take out a loan they will need a cosigner. If a deceased person failed to pay the financial obligation they took the loan out for, their cosigner will assume full responsibility for the unpaid debt.

Community property 

In certain states, community properties are considered to be shared equally by a married couple. This means a surviving spouse is responsible for the deceased spouse’s unpaid debt. However, Maryland is not a community property state. Maryland is an equitable distribution state. This means that married couples’ properties are divided fairly, not equally.

Handling a deceased person’s estate can be extremely overwhelming especially when that deceased person has debt. Don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our trusted and dedicated attorneys. Our firm can help you figure out what financial obligations you may be faced with after your loved one dies.