Who ends up being responsible for paying your debts depends on the type of debts you leave behind. Creditors receive payment from the part of the estate that goes through probate. Here’s an AgingOptions article to explain probate. Items that go through probate are any items that pass through the Will. The job of the executor is to make sure the creditors are paid before any assets are passed on to the heirs.
Generally, your estate is responsible for paying off your debts and debt collectors cannot collect payment from family members. That’s not always the case however. For instance because Washington is a community property estate, the spouse of the deceased may be responsible for some debt if the property was acquired during the marriage. Co-signers and those who owned the property jointly with the deceased are also responsible for the debt.
Some assets are not distributed through the Will and creditors cannot access funds for those assets. Examples of assets that go directly to the beneficiaries include jointly held bank accounts, retirement accounts and life insurance policies. Some trust assets are also not available for creditors but that depends upon the state laws and the type of trust involved.
Taxes, mortgages, Medicaid, administration expenses, and funeral expenses get first priority. Credit cards are at the bottom of the list. If there aren’t enough assets to pay off the creditors, the creditors cannot collect money that the estate does not have and must write off the debt. Relatives are most often protected from creditors by the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, or FDCPA. If family members are getting bothered about the deceased’s debt, they should contact a lawyer.