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How Long Do Creditors Have to Collect a Debt from an Estate?

Patrick Austin, J.D. | April 12, 2024

Patrick Austin
Attorney from George Mason
Patrick Austin, JD

Patrick Austin is a licensed attorney with a background in data privacy and information security law. Patrick received his law degree at George Mason University's Antonin Scalia Law School, where he served as the Editor-in-Chief for the National Security Law Journal.

Edited by Hannah Locklear

Hannah Locklear
Editor at SoloSuit
Hannah Locklear, BA

Hannah Locklear is SoloSuit’s Marketing and Impact Manager. With an educational background in Linguistics, Spanish, and International Development from Brigham Young University, Hannah has also worked as a legal support specialist for several years.

Creditors only have so long to collect a debt from an estate

Summary: Generally speaking, creditors are afforded a period of time to try and collect a debt from a deceased person’s estate. The exact amount of time varies depending on the law of the state in which the deceased resided. If a creditor fails to contact the estate about the debt within the applicable timeframe, the estate would be off the proverbial hook to pay back the debt.

Fair warning - this is going to be a downer of an article. Why? Because it focuses on death and debt. #nofun

Despite the bummer-nature of the topic, it warrants a discussion since many people may not realize their debts continue to live on after they pass away. Basically, when someone with outstanding debts passes away, the debt continues to survive. An apt description would be “The Walking Debtor.”

But before we dive into what happens with debts in the wake of someone’s death and the amount of time a creditor is allotted to try and collect on that debt, let’s go over some basics about time limitations placed on debts.

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What are the time limits for debt collection?

When it comes to the collection of debt, there is a statutory time period in which creditors can attempt to collect on that debt. This time period is known as the “statute of limitations.” The applicable statute of limitations for a debt will place a legal deadline that creditors must comply with in order to try and collect on a debt and/or file a legal action against someone to try and collect on that debt. The state in which you reside, as well as the type of debt owed, will generally determine the applicable statute of limitations.

So, in other words, there is a time limit for creditors and debt collectors to sue someone over a debt. This is called the statute of limitations, which varies by state.

Debts of the deceased

After someone passes away, an estate will typically be opened and need to be administered by an executor or executrix. One of the key aspects of administering an estate is taking inventory of both the assets and liabilities of a deceased’s estate. There are some debts an executor will probably discover quickly when going through the deceased’s mail (e.g., credit card balances, utility bills, and so forth). Please bear in mind that you do not necessarily have to pay these debts, unless a creditor files a formal claim against the estate seeking repayment.

How creditors are notified of an individual’s passing

After someone passes away, their estate will need to be administered. The specific aspects of the estate administration may vary depending on the deceased’s estate plan (e.g. Did they utilize a trust for their estate assets or did they leave behind a Last Will and Testament?).

If a deceased’s estate is obligated to go through probate, the executor of the estate is required to publish a “Notice of Death” in a newspaper that is distributed in the local area where the deceased resided. This death notice is how potential creditors learn about an individual’s passing and whether the deceased owed money to the creditor.

Generally, creditors will be afforded a period of time to reach out and contact an estate regarding alleged debt claims. For example, in Florida, a creditor can file a claim to collect on the debt of a deceased within two years from the date of the deceased’s passing, according to §733.710 Florida Statutes. After two years have passed, all creditor claims are legally barred. In contrast, if the deceased resided in, let’s say Pennsylvania, creditors are afforded one year to file a claim to collect on a debt, according to 20 PA Cons Stat § 3532.

If a creditor fails to make timely contact with a deceased’s estate, then there may be a basis for the estate to argue they are not under any legal obligation to pay the debt.

Death notice timeframe is not applicable to federal government debts

In most cases, there is a time limit for creditors to make claims against a deceased person's estate. However, there is a notable exception when it comes to debts owed to the federal government.

Even if the deceased person's estate has already gone through the applicable time period for creditors to make claims, any outstanding federal tax debts must still be paid. This means that if the person who passed away owed taxes to the federal government, their estate will still need to settle that debt, regardless of the time limit.

It's important to keep this exception in mind when dealing with a loved one's estate, as failure to pay outstanding federal tax debts could lead to legal and financial repercussions down the line. If you're unsure about how to handle these types of debts, it may be wise to consult with a legal professional who can provide guidance and support during this difficult time.

Do not inadvertently reset the clock on the statute of limitations

Dealing with debt collectors can be overwhelming, especially if you're not familiar with the laws and regulations surrounding debt collection. One common tactic that some debt collectors use is a legal loophole that can catch uninformed debtors and estate executors off guard.

Here's how it works: making a payment towards a debt can restart the statute of limitations, which is the time period during which a creditor can legally pursue collection of a debt. This means that if you make a payment towards an outstanding debt, you could be inadvertently giving the debt collector more time to try and collect the remaining balance.

If you're contacted about a debt, it's crucial to confirm the applicable state law regarding the statute of limitations before making any payments. This is especially important if you're an executor of an estate and are dealing with outstanding debts left by the deceased.

Don't let debt collectors take advantage of you or your loved ones. Educate yourself on your rights and the laws surrounding debt collection, and seek the help of a legal professional if you're unsure about how to proceed. By staying informed and vigilant, you can protect yourself and your loved ones from unnecessary financial stress.

Settle an estate debt lawsuit

Dealing with a debt lawsuit over someone's estate can be a daunting and stressful process. It's important to take the necessary steps to respond to the lawsuit in a timely and effective manner to protect the estate and its assets.

If you know the debt is valid, you can also offer to settle the debt. To do so, follow these three steps:

  1. Respond to the pending lawsuit.
  2. Send a settlement offer to start negotiations.
  3. Get the agreement in writing.

If you're looking for a cost-effective and efficient solution to responding to a debt lawsuit, consider using SoloSettle, which can help you with each of the steps above and more. To learn more, watch the following video.

Big Takeaways

  • The “statute of limitations” means it is possible for a creditor to be legally prohibited from collecting on a debt if they fail to collect within the statutory time period.
  • The statute of limitation is generally calculated based on the most recent activity on the delinquent account, which means making a payment after the statutory time period ended could actually restart the clock.
  • The time period for creditors to collect debts from a decedent’s estate will vary based on state law.
  • If you’ve been sued for an estate debt, you can use SoloSettle to respond to the case and settle the debt for good.

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