Do I Have to Pay my Parent's Debt?
Many people have the misconception that they are responsible for paying their parent's debts, particularly when the parent dies with outstanding bills. This simply isn't true.
The only time one is responsible for paying a debt is when (1) he or she acquired the debt alone or jointly with another person (such as a spouse); or (2) when one co-signs a loan for another person.
Unless you co-signed for your parent's loan or are the joint accountholder on any type of account with your parent, you are not legally responsible for paying the debt. Who is responsible? Your parent's estate is responsible.
In fact, after paying for your parent's funeral expenses, unpaid creditors are next in line for receiving any money or assets in your parent's estate. You only inherit your parent's wealth after all creditors are paid.
If there is insufficient money or assets to pay all creditors, then the estate must be divided up as equally as possible, with secured creditors receiving priority. This means that, if your parent died with little or no money in their accounts and didn't own a home, unsecured debt, such as credit card debt will not be paid to the creditors. Such creditors must eat the loss, but in no circumstance, are you as the child of the deceased person required to pay such debt.
If a creditor or debt collector tries to convince you that you are responsible for paying your deceased parent's debts, refer them to the executor or executrix of the estate. If they keep harassing you, send them a certified letter demanding they stop contacting you altogether. If they persist, file a complaint with your State's Attorney General's Office.
Some states have legislation on the books forcing grown children to pay for the nursing home costs of their elderly parents, even if they have been estranged from their parents for years. AARP has reported that some states are beginning to take advantage of these laws to recoup expenses for indigent nursing home residents. For example, AARP claims that the state of Pennsylvania is now taking advantage of laws already on the books seeking payment where it can.