Do I Have to Pay Off Husband’s Debts after He Dies?

After the loss of a spouse, before doing anything, take a sec to catch your breath and make sure you understand your rights and responsibilities regarding debt collection. You may not be liable for some debts, including even certain types of credit card charges, which may be forgiven at death. However, other debts can linger much longer.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Am I Responsible for Paying Off My Deceased Husband’s Debt?” says you should understand that you’re typically not personally responsible for paying off your spouse’s debts because any loans would normally be paid off by his estate. This includes credit card debt, student loans, car loans, mortgages and business loans.

When a spouse passes away owing a debt, the debt doesn’t immediately disappear. Instead, the estate is liable for paying any outstanding debts, and the personal representative, executor, or administrator will pay debts owed from the money in the estate. It’s not paid from the surviving spouse’s savings.  However, if the surviving spouse inherits certain assets from the deceased spouse through beneficiary designations or joint account ownership, and the estate assets are not enough to satisfy the creditors, they may try to make a claim against those assets that pass directly to the surviving spouse outside of the probate estate.

A surviving spouse may also be responsible for certain types of debts. For example, if the debt is jointly owned or he or she has co-signed a loan, the surviving spouse is obligated to continue to pay this debt. There are also states that require a surviving spouse to pay off any medical bills the deceased incurred before their death.

You should be familiar with the laws of your state, so you know your liability on all debts. This is because some community property states say you’re responsible for the debt, even if it’s not in your name. Community property laws make both spouses equally liable for debts incurred after the marriage has taken place. There are currently nine community-property states: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

If the surviving spouse is a joint account holder on a credit card, he or she would need to continue to pay off the credit card because both spouses are both considered owners of the account and share equally in the ownership of any charges on the card.

Unfortunately, some debt collectors are inappropriately aggressive. Therefore, if a debt collector says you’re responsible for the account balance, but you think you’re not, ask for evidence. Speak with an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney to understand in what situations you are obligated to pay and when you’re not.

Reference: Kiplinger (Nov. 28, 2021) “Am I Responsible for Paying Off My Deceased Husband’s Debt?”

 

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Do Young Adults Need Estate Planning?

Estate planning has an image problem, particularly with younger generations, says The Financial Post’s November 15th article entitled, “The case for estate planning in your 20s: At any age, some things are dear to you.”

If your 22 and don’t own a home, aren’t married and don’t have any dependent children, writing a will may seem like a waste of time and money. However, if you ask yourself “what do you want to see happen to your treasures if you pass away?

With no estate plan, a young adult will have no say over what happens to their treasures one day.

A recent survey shows very few young adults have an up-to-date will. It is less than 20%.

One reason for this poor result is that the term “estate planning” makes the process seem inaccessible or irrelevant for anyone not of a certain age or with significant assets.

However, considering your wishes earlier in life when your needs are simpler can make the process feel more natural and manageable when your life — and needs — become more complex as you get older.

The pandemic is a reminder that none of us knows for sure if we will have a later.

Drafting a will gives you the power to decide where everything from your savings and investments to your sentimental belongings and even your pets will go when you pass away.

Many people wait until they get married, buy a house, or have kids to draft a will. However, every adult needs one. Think about what would happen to your assets and property, if something happens to you.

People with spouses often mistakenly assume everything will go to that person, if they have no will in place.

However, state law will dictate exactly what assets will go to their spouse, and what might go to other relatives, such as their parents. If that’s not how you would have wanted it to go, you’re out of luck.

Leaving an up-to-date record of your wishes is the best thing you can do for your family.

Reference: Financial Post (Nov. 15, 2021) “The case for estate planning in your 20s: At any age, some things are dear to you”

 

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Is It Ever Too Late for a Family Meeting to Discuss Money?

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Someone Needs to Know Where Your Money Is” recommends that families talk about money with an elderly parent. If it’s really too late, you should know where to find the following:

Get the most recent tax return. This will have the name and contact information of the accountant who prepared the tax return. The tax return will also document income. If you find the income, you can find the assets. The reason is that earned interest, dividends, pension income and withdrawals from retirement accounts will be reported on the tax return. You should also call his or her employer’s human resources department to see if there’s a company life insurance benefit or 401(k) balance.

When a senior is admitted to the hospital, their health can sometimes deteriorate quickly. It’s one example of how everyone needs to have their estate plan updated and make sure their financial affairs are in order at all times. Someone must know all of the financial details and how to access the money, life insurance and other important documents. Here are some actions to consider taking now to ensure this situation doesn’t occur with you or a family member.

Collect key financial documents. Ask your parents to collect copies of the following documents:

  • Their wills;
  • Any trusts;
  • Their financial power of attorney;
  • All bank and brokerage cccount information;
  • Social Security statements;
  • Their website log-ins for any financial assets and insurance policies;
  • A list of beneficiaries for IRAs, annuities and life insurance policies;
  • A list of any other assets and debts; and
  • Their most recent tax returns.

As you begin gathering these documents, the most crucial one to help uncover current assets is the tax return. It can help describe the parent’s assets and the income they have from pensions, annuities, real estate investments, business interests and Social Security. A Schedule B is filed to report the interest and dividends received each tax year. If you’re unable to locate any paper statements or log-in information to financial websites to track down an asset, ask the tax preparer for a copy of the 1099 form for each asset, so you will know which company to contact.

Make certain key documents are signed. These are a will, financial power of attorney, health care power of attorney and any trust documents. Put these in a safe place, along with a copy of the Social Security card, birth and marriage certificates. You should also provide copies and access to files to people who serve as professional advisers, such as attorneys, accountants, financial planners and insurance agents. In addition, share contents of this collection with your parent’s executor, financial and health care agent and/or another relative who lives nearby.

Reference: Kiplinger (Nov. 1, 2021) “Someone Needs to Know Where Your Money Is”

 

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