How do we pay off my late father's debts?

1 answer | Last updated: Nov 17, 2016
Alexandml asked...

My father passed away, leaving no will, no trust, no estate and no planning. Now we are getting threatening phone calls from banks and lawyers trying to collect on his debt. There was nothing left worth any value. What happens now?

Expert Answers

Amy Shelf is an attorney specializing in estate planning and probate for individuals and families of all means.

While your father’s debts live on without him, the banks and lawyers cannot get paid from assets that don’t exist. The standard process is to notify all of the known or potential creditors and then state law sets out an order in which they should get paid.

Often official “notice” to these creditors occurs through a probate court proceeding. It is likely there was no probate court proceeding after your father died; most states provide that assets of minimal value may be passed along after death without any court proceeding.

Begin by writing a letter to the banks and lawyers stating that your father has died and that there were no assets of value in his estate. It may help to be specific. For example, list his assets -- for example, a checking account worth $X and furniture of no market value -- and a brief description of how those assets were depleted.

Unless you were a co-owner of an account or asset, or a guarantor on a particular item, you should not be personally liable for any of your father’s debts.