Debt at Death

A common estate planning goal I hear is that folks want to ensure their children and grandchildren receive as much inheritance as possible. The folks want to make sure their assets are not consumed by taxes, probate fees, and other miscellaneous costs.

But what most folks don’t want to talk about is debt and how debt is handled at death. It’s an icky subject – discussions about debt can get wrapped up in embarrassment and guilt. But debt occurs, and a plan needs to be in place to deal with it.

To be clear, this post is being written as general information only and is not legal advice for any particular situation.

Foremost, I always recommend planning to eliminate debt. The best way to protect your family from dealing with your debts is to ensure you don’t have any debts! Most folks think estate planning is only concerned with distributing assets at death, but it’s really about ensuring that your affairs are in order in case you pass away (which you will!).

I understand that folks regularly pass away carrying debt. I receive regular inquiries about how to discharge debt at death. And I regularly tell folks that most debt doesn’t just disappear at death.

It’s rare that debt is discharged at death. Some federal student loans can get discharged at death (but not private student loans), and some unsecured debt can get discharged at death. Unsecured debt is generally only potentially dischargeable if the estate has not other assets to pay off the debt.

So the worst thing you can do is hope that your heirs won’t inherit your debt. They will! So Make Your Plan!

If the debt is secured by an asset, like a mortgage is secured by a property, or an auto loan secured by a vehicle, then the loan must be satisfied or else the lender may force the sale of the asset to satisfy the debt.

If you don’t clean up the debt, or at least make a plan for it to be dealt with, then your heirs will be forced to deal with it. And your assets, that you wanted to make sure to pass on to your children and grandchildren, will get tied up cleaning up debt instead of being passed on to your heirs.

In conclusion, the key takeaway is to avoid debt so you’re heirs don’t have to deal with it at death. The debt won’t go away. The lenders will always want their money back. And unless there are no other assets to satisfy the debt, then it’s exceptionally unlikely your debt will be discharged upon death.

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