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debts after death

What Debts Must Be Paid after I Die?

When you pass away, your assets become your estate, and the process of dividing up debt after your death is part of probate. Creditors only have a certain amount of time to make a claim against the estate (usually three months to nine months).

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Debt After Death: What You Should Know” explains that beyond those basics, here are some situations where debts are forgiven after death, and some others where they still are required to be paid in some fashion:

  1. The beneficiaries’ money is partially protected if properly named. If you designated a beneficiary on an account — such as your life insurance policy and 401(k) — unsecured creditors typically can’t collect any money from those sources of funds. However, if beneficiaries weren’t determined before death, the funds would then go to the estate, which creditors tap.
  2. Credit card debt depends on what you signed. Most of the time, credit card debt doesn’t disappear when you die. The deceased’s estate will typically pay the credit card debt from the estate’s assets. Children won’t inherit the credit card debt, unless they’re a joint holder on the account. Likewise, a surviving spouse is responsible for their deceased spouse’s debt, if he or she is a joint borrower. Moreover, if you live in a community property state, you could be responsible for the credit card debt of a deceased spouse. This is not to be confused with being an authorized user on a credit card, which has different rules. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney, if a creditor asks you to pay off a credit card. Don’t just assume you’re liable, just because someone says you are.
  3. Federal student loan forgiveness. This applies both to federal loans taken out by parents on behalf of their children and loans taken out by the students themselves. If the borrower dies, federal student loans are forgiven. If the student passes away, the loan is discharged. However, for private student loans, there’s no law requiring lenders to cancel a loan, so ask the loan servicer.
  4. Passing a mortgage to heirs. If you leave a mortgage behind for your children, under federal law, lenders must let family members assume a mortgage when they inherit residential property. This law prevents heirs from having to qualify for the mortgage. The heirs aren’t required to keep the mortgage, so they can refinance or pay off the debt entirely. For married couples who are joint borrowers on a mortgage, the surviving spouse can take over the loan, refinance, or pay it off.
  5. Marriage issues. If your spouse passes, you’re legally required to pay any joint tax owed to the state and federal government. In community property states, the surviving spouse must pay off any debt your partner acquired while you were married. However, in other states, you may only be responsible for a select amount of debt, like medical bills.

You may want to purchase more life insurance to pay for your debts at death or pay off the debts while you’re alive.

Reference: Kiplinger (Nov. 2, 2020) “Debt After Death: What You Should Know”

inheriting a mortgage

What Do I Do If Property I Just Inherited Has a Mortgage?

Bankrate’s recent article entitled “Does the home you inherited include a mortgage?’ explains that when a family member dies, there can be questions about wills, inheritances and how best to settle financial affairs. It can be a stressful time, and complicated, especially when real estate is a part of the equation. Let’s look at some specific situations and how to address them.

Inheriting a mortgage. In many instances, a person will inherit both a home and the mortgage that goes with it. If that’s the case, ask for help from an attorney who specializes in elder law or estate planning. Even though the borrower died, the mortgage still must be repaid. Therefore, if you’ve inherited it, you’ll have to decide how the loan and property will be handled. If you move into the home, you may be able to assume the mortgage and continue paying it. You might also think about a cash-out refinance and pay that way. You can also sell the home. Heirs have a good deal of leverage dealing with a mortgage in an estate situation thanks to federal law, which can help them assume an existing loan. You should ask your attorney about estate taxes and capital gains taxes from a sale.

Assuming a mortgage. Typically, if you’re assuming the loan, the lender will be willing to work with you. Mortgages frequently have a “due-on-sale” or “due-on-transfer” clause that requires full repayment of the loan, in the event of a change in ownership. In certain estate situations, federal law prevents the lender from calling the loan, even if it has such a clause. Surviving spouses also have special protections to ensure that they can keep an inherited home.

Inheriting a reverse mortgage. If the home involves a reverse mortgage or a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), your options vary according to the circumstances of the borrower who died. If you inherited a reverse mortgage from a parent, your options include the following:

  • Paying off or refinancing the balance and keeping the home
  • Selling the home for at least 95% of the appraised value; or
  • Agreeing to a deed in lieu of foreclosure.

There is a six-month window for the balance to be repaid. This can be extended, if the heir is actively trying to pay off the debt. If the reverse mortgage isn’t paid off after a year, the lender is required by HUD to begin the foreclosure process. This has negative connotations. However, it is a normal part of settling a reverse mortgage, once the last borrower or non-borrowing spouse passes away. If you’re a surviving spouse, and you’re on the reverse mortgage, nothing will change.

If the mortgage is underwater. If the value of the inherited home is less than the outstanding mortgage debt, the home has negative equity or is “underwater.” If the mortgage is a non-recourse loan (the borrower doesn’t have to pay more than the value of the home), the lender may have few options outside of foreclosure. The same usually applies for a reverse mortgage: the most that will ever have to be repaid, is the value of the home. The heirs are fully protected, if the home isn’t worth enough to pay off the entire HECM balance.

When there’s no will. If a borrower dies without a will, there will be more complications and expense when handling a home with a mortgage (or any other assets). Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney regarding your specific situation.

Reference: Bankrate (Oct. 22, 2020) “Does the home you inherited include a mortgage?’

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