Who is Responsible for a Deceased Relative's Debts?

If your relative leaves unpaid debts when he or she dies, do you have to pay?

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, surviving relatives usually have no legal obligation to pay the debts of a family member who has died. Generally, that person’s estate is responsible for paying his or her debts. But if there isn’t enough in the estate to cover the debts, they typically go unpaid.

After a relative dies, debt collectors may contact family members and ask them to pay their loved ones’ debts. The rights of surviving relatives are covered by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which the FTC enforces. The FTC has developed a new consumer alert about this issue titled Paying the Debts of a Deceased Relative: Who Is Responsible? To learn more, go to:


The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,500 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.