J. Kelly Kennedy, Attorney/CPA, PLLC

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Who handles the debts of a deceased family member?

When a person in Polk County dies, a family member is usually the personal representative, or executor, who is responsible for taking care of the deceased individual's estate. This can be a difficult task because the executor must account for all assets in the estate and then distribute those assets according to the deceased person's wishes as laid out in their will or other estate planning documents. But what about unpaid debts that the deceased person had? Who handles those?

During the estate administration process, after the decedent dies the executor is responsible for notifying creditors and paying unpaid debts with any available assets from the estate. These debts can include everything from credit card balances and auto loans, to mortgage payments and tax responsibilities. In some cases, however, the estate may not have sufficient assets to cover all of the decedent's debts. What happens when this situation occurs?

If the estate cannot cover certain debts, those debts typically remain unpaid. Although the executor is responsible for handling the estate's finances, he or she is not personally responsible for taking care of unsatisfied debts. Moreover, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act protects executors, and other family members, by prohibiting debt collectors from trying to collect the estate's unpaid debts through abusive or deceptive means.

While paying unsatisfied debts of an estate is not a burden that an executor must bear, that person does have other substantial responsibilities. This is especially true with larger estates that have a variety of different assets and liabilities. Thus, under Florida law, executors must have legal counsel to help them through the probate process. An experienced attorney can help with the legal issues, including any estate complexities that can arise during estate administration.

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