Children Inherit Assets Not Debts

Why do some people worry about having to pay their parent’s debts?

It always surprises us when our clients ask us if they are responsible for the debts of their deceased parents. We scratch our heads and ask, “Where would you get such a thought?”

We are sure that in some societies at some times in history, children were liable for the unpaid debts of their deceased ancestors. But that’s never been the law in the English colonies or the United States.

Of course, mortgages and other liens, given on property by the parent, are still enforceable against that property. You can’t stop your house from being foreclosed by dying.

And if you sign in writing a promise to pay the debts of another, that can be enforced in many cases. So if you guarantee in writing to pay your parent’s medical bill, you could be sued for that.

But if Mom or Dad ran up big credit card bills or other debts before dying, you can still inherit their homestead and other exempt property without paying those bills. Legally, heirs inherit assets, not debts. Morally? Well, that’s in the eye (and soul) of the beholder, and the subject of someone else’s blog.