An estate includes all of the financial and physical assets a person leaves behind when they die. Debt collectors or anyone else who holds a debt against that person may collect the debt from the estate. Collecting a debt from someone who has died is more difficult than during life, simply because the estate is broken up amongst all debt holders. Anyone who has a legitimate claim against the estate should take immediate action to collect on it.
Determine who is responsible for the debt. If the deceased person is solely responsible for the debt, and no one else is on the account with them, the debt is the sole responsibility of the estate. Family or heirs are not responsible for such debt. If the debt does include another person, that person becomes responsible for the debt, according to the laws in the state.
Avoid harassing any relatives regarding the debt. Request the name of the attorney in charge of the probate process for the individual and request a copy of the death certificate. Do not discuss the debt in full with anyone other than the probate attorney or the executor of the will.
File a claim with the probate attorney managing the estate. This attorney handles the management of the estate during the probate process. For a period of one year, in most states, debt holders may file claims against the estate.
Prove the existence of the debt as necessary to the probate attorney. Documentation of the debt, including signatures of the deceased person, may be necessary to show as proof of the owed debt.
Wait for the expiration of the probate process. During this process, the probate attorney organizes the debt and determines which debts the estate should pay and in which order. If there are insufficient funds in the estate to cover all debts, unsecured debts often receive no payment, such as credit card debts or accounts.
Hire an attorney to help process the claims, especially when it will be hard to establish the deceased person owes the debt.
In community property states, all debts acquired during a marriage are equally the responsibility of both parties. Community property states include Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. The laws regarding community property (and debt) within these states differ.