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Are Children Responsible for Their Parents' Debts?

  • August 16th, 2018

[This article was originally published on July 11, 2007.  The links were updated on July 5, 2018.]

In a 2006 column for, Stacy L. Bradford was asked whether children can become responsible for a deceased parent's debts. Bradford consulted with ElderLawAnswers member Bernard A. Krooks, who is also a past president of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. Mr. Krooks advised that children aren't on the hook for their dead parents' unpaid bills. But he noted that our debts outlive us, hanging around until the estate pays them off. Only then can the remaining assets, if any, be distributed to the heirs.

Local Elder Law Attorneys in Ashburn, VA

William Fralin

The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm PC
Bethesda, MD

Jean Ball

Hale Ball Carlson Baumgartner Murphy PLC
Fairfax, VA

Evan Farr

Farr Law Firm
Fairfax, VA

To avoid this, some families begin giving valuable assets like jewelry to children before death. But this carries the risk that the gifts could be viewed by creditors as a "fraudulent conveyance" designed to shake the creditors. "If the creditor wants to be aggressive, it can ask [the gift recipient] to give it back," Krooks says. If the money or other assets are given away before creditors are satisfied, the estate's executor becomes personally responsible for making good on those obligations. Krooks goes on to offer advice on strategies for dealing with a parent's debts.

Last Modified: 08/16/2018

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