Probating a Will & Bills

By Ciele Edwards

When an individual dies, the probate court in his county takes possession of his estate. The will's executor then works with the probate court to distribute the estate according to the deceased's wishes and state law. Before friends and family members receive their inheritance, the executor must use proceeds from the estate to pay off any outstanding debts the deceased left behind. Any assets left over belong to the deceased's loved ones and any other beneficiaries named in the will.


The executor must notify as many creditors as possible of the deceased's death. Doing so allows creditors to file timely claims with the probate court and receive payment. State laws vary regarding what constitutes sufficient notification. In Georgia, for example, the executor, or “personal representative,” must run a newspaper ad announcing the open probate case for four consecutive weeks. Once this requirement has been met, the time frame for creditor claims goes into effect.

Time Frame

After receiving notification of the open probate case, a creditor has a limited amount of time to file a payment claim. The time frame varies by state. In Washington, for example, creditors have four months to file a payment claim if the executor ran a newspaper ad announcing the open probate case. If the executor did not run a newspaper ad, creditors have 24 months to file a claim. Once the time period for creditor claims expires, the probate court will begin distributing the deceased's remaining assets in accordance with her wishes.

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Preventing Financial Loss

Local creditors are more likely to see a newspaper probate notice than large, out-of-state creditors, such as credit card companies and collection agencies. If a creditor misses the window of opportunity for filing a payment claim, it often does not receive payment at all. Thus, some creditors use computer software that regularly scans probate court records around the country. The software notifies the company should a death record or probate case match account information the creditor has on file for a debtor. This helps prevent late claims and financial loss for the company.

Payment Responsibility

Not all debts a deceased individual leaves behind are the probate court's responsibility. Any debt that the deceased shared equally with an individual who is still living becomes the full responsibility of the surviving account holder. For example, if the deceased shared a joint credit card account with his wife, his wife becomes responsible for paying the debt after his death. This is true even if the deceased – not his wife – incurred all of the debt.

Collection After Probate

If the deceased's estate did not contain enough assets to cover his debts, or a creditor failed to file a claim within the probate court's required time frame, the court will not pay the debt. Creditors may demand payment from the deceased's loved ones when the probate court fails to pay the debt. Unfortunately, many individuals do not realize they are not legally liable for their loved one's debts. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act forbids creditors from misleading consumers or threatening to take illegal action – such as suing a person the creditor cannot legally sue – when attempting to collect debts. The deceased's family members have the right to seek legal recourse against any creditor that uses abusive, threatening or illegal collection tactics.

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What Happens if a Deceased Family Member's Estate Is Worth Nothing?



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Probating Wills in Pennsylvania

Although probate has a reputation for being time-consuming and complicated, the entire process can be completed in Pennsylvania in as little as 3 to 6 months. Appearances in court can be limited to less than half an hour in the office of the Register of Wills. Executors are not required representation by an attorney, although it is a good practice to consult with a lawyer so you are sure you understand the laws.

Estate Laws for Insolvent Estates in Georgia

Georgia law considers a decedent's estate insolvent when the decedent dies without enough money to pay all of his debts, including taxes. As in bankruptcy, Georgia law exempts some assets from creditor attachment. In other words, some assets are not available to creditors to satisfy an estate's debt. Georgia law establishes the order in which debts must be paid from estate assets less exemptions. Each debt must be paid in full before the next in line may be paid. If there are not enough assets left to pay all of the debts remaining, those creditors do not receive payment.

Do You Inherit the Past Debts of Your Husband?

Losing a spouse is an emotionally traumatic experience that can quickly become financially traumatic as well. Depending on how much debt your husband owed and your state's laws, your husband's death may leave you owing a considerable amount of money to creditors. While consumers generally don't inherit debt the same way they would inherit wealth, in some cases, a deceased individual's creditors can pursue his surviving spouse for payment.

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