Will I as executor pay for funeral and burial expenses for my father?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Will I as executor pay for funeral, burial expenses and outstanding debt for my father after he passes away? My father lives in Georgia and is not well. Funeral arraingments have been discussed and clarified. As the executor of the estate, will I be forced to use any life insurance (left to me as benificiary) to pay final expenses, burial expenses, and any outstanding dept? He currently has no assets, but does have some debt.

Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

Possibly two different questions here, with possibly two different answers.

When a person dies, all of his or her creditors are notified -- and the outstanding debts are ranked in a hierarchy set out in state law and paid off from remaining estate property. And that happens before beneficiaries are entitled to take any property they may be left in a will. So if your father leaves you that life insurance in a will provision, there's a chance it may be taken to pay remaining debts. However, it is more common for life insurance proceeds to pass automatically to a beneficiary at death under what is called a "pay on death" provision. So be sure to check the wording of the policy; it may not pass by will at all. And if it does not, creditors will not likely be able to reach it.

As for paying burial expenses, many locales do have laws providing that children must pay the burial expenses of their parents "if they are willing and able" and their parents qualify as indigent, but the children do not.

Fortunately, all states -- and many counties and municipalities -- run programs that offer financial benefits for funerals, burials, and cremation to families with low incomes.

Unfortunately, there is no good central resource that tracks all of them -- and what is available varies widely, depending on where you live. If your father was receiving some type of public assistance during her lifetime, contact that agency first. Otherwise, the best way to find out about the specific benefits offered in a particular locale is to do an Internet search of the state plus the county plus the words "burial assistance."

To secure any of the benefits, you would have to fill out a brief application that the state or county agency will provide, usually including a brief listing of available cash, property, and other resources.