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Are you responsible for a deceased loved one's debts?

People who pass away have often battled a long illness like cancer. Many have simply had years of poor health. Sometimes they die after a serious accident. In all of these cases, they may leave many thousands of dollars in medical bills. What happens to all of those unpaid bills?

Medical bills and all other debts that a person had when they died are typically paid by their estate. That's if there's enough money in the estate to cover them. What if there isn't? Are surviving family members responsible for their loved one's debt?

It depends in part on what a person's relationship to the deceased person is. Under New Jersey law, a family member who isn't the child or spouse can't be held responsible for that person's medical bills.

An exception would be if you signed a document guaranteeing that you would pay a person's bills if they weren't able to. For example, perhaps a family member was visiting you from a country that has a national health care system. They had no insurance, so when they had an accident or health crisis, you signed such an agreement because that was the only way a health care provider would treat them.

You could be held responsible for their bills if they died. However, you might be able to work out an arrangement with the provider where you wouldn't have to pay the full amount.

Whatever the circumstances, if a loved one has died with debts that their estate can't cover, it's essential to find out whether you can be held responsible for them. If a creditor is contacting you, talk with an estate planning attorney to find out what your obligations are and the best course of action.

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