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What happens if you die in debt?

With more people in California over the age of 75 accruing credit card debt and mortgages than in previous decades, it is becoming increasingly likely that you may leave debts behind for your heirs rather than assets. If you are in debt, it can be difficult to look beyond the present, but estate planning is still important at this stage. Specifically, it is important to take steps to protect your loved ones from having to pay off your creditors.

Many older parents who own property choose to transfer it to their adult children or add their names to the deed in the hopes of avoiding probate costs and/or attention from creditors. However, according to the Seattle Times, this is an estate planning mistake that can potentially cause them legal and tax problems after you are gone. There are other, better ways to avoid probate and protect what assets you do have from creditors. 

You may feel relieved to know that, even if you do die in debt, your survivors usually do not bear any legal responsibility for it despite what creditors may try to tell them. There are a few exceptions, however. If you and your children applied for credit together, or they co-signed a loan for you, they would probably have to make payment arrangements for the balance following your death. Spouses are another exception; it varies by state, but surviving spouses may bear responsibility for certain debts. 

Unfortunately, creditors may attempt to convince your survivors to pay even if not required. Seeking outside information and learning what the law requires is a good idea for everyone. 

The information in this article is not intended as legal advice but provided for educational purposes only.

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