Mccullough & Mccullough

Estate Administration
& Probate

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Can creditors hold you accountable for debts not paid in probate?

Agreeing to serve as the personal representative or executor of someone’s estate means committing a lot of your time for very little compensation. You will need to attend court, make repetitive phone calls, send legal notices and hand out property to the beneficiaries of the estate.

However, especially if you had a close relationship with the decedent, you may feel strongly about helping fulfill their last wishes. As the representative of their estate, you have an obligation to initiate probate proceedings, communicate with beneficiaries and secure estate assets.

Although you will eventually distribute those assets to beneficiaries, there are other steps that you will need to take first. Notifying creditors is a crucial step early in the estate administration process. Do you have to worry about the debts that you cannot repay with estate resources?

Mistakes could lead to personal financial liability

Many people die with more debts than assets. If that situation applies to the estate that you will oversee, you don’t have to worry about those excess debts. Unless you are a cosigner on those accounts or make a mistake during estate administration, any debts that exceed the value of the estate will not pass to you. You will simply need to ensure you pay what debts you can in the proper order of priority.

However, you do have an obligation to potentially use every last cent left behind by the testator to pay their outstanding debts. Regardless of their family circumstances and the needs of their beneficiaries, creditor claims take priority over inheritance rights. If you distribute assets from the estate to beneficiaries without first notifying and repaying creditors, then they could hold you personally accountable for the value of those wrongfully-distributed assets.

The estate can help you protect yourself

When there aren’t adequate resources in the estate to cover all obligations, you can typically still count on estate assets to pay for the legal representation you need during estate administration. Having the right assistance during probate can help you avoid mistakes and oversights that would lead to personal liability. Learning about your obligations and protections as someone handling probate proceedings will minimize the personal risk you must accept due to your role.

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