Patrick Austin, J.D. | April 07, 2023
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.
Sued for a debt? You can still settle the debt at any stage of the lawsuit process.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
SoloSuit makes it easy to fight debt collectors.
You can use SoloSuit to respond to a debt lawsuit, to send letters to collectors, and even to settle a debt.
SoloSuit's Answer service is a step-by-step web-app that asks you all the necessary questions to complete your Answer. Upon completion, we'll have an attorney review your document and we'll file it for you.
Here's a list of guides for other states.
Being sued by a different debt collector? Were making guides on how to beat each one.
You can ask your questions on the SoloSuit forum and the community will help you out. Whether you need help now are are just look for support, we're here for you.
Is your credit card company suing you? Learn how you can beat each one.
Need more info on statutes of limitations? Read our 50-state guide.
Need help managing your finances? Check out these resources.
Out Debt Validation Letter is the best way to respond to a collection letter. Many debt collectors will simply give up after receiving it.
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