How are estate creditors handled?

UPDATED: Jul 14, 2023Fact Checked

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Jeffrey Johnson

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 14, 2023

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UPDATED: Jul 14, 2023Fact Checked

Every state has its own laws on probate procedures, including how estate creditors are to be handled. The person who is administering the estate, often called the personal representative, executor, or administrator, is supposed to notify creditors that the deceased has died so that the creditors can make claims against the estate. The way this notice is given varies from state to state. The personal representative may have to send letters directly to creditors and/or publish notices.

Once the creditors are notified of the death, state law will have a procedure that creditors must follow to collect from the estate. For example, creditors often have to file a claim in probate court or with the personal representative (depending on the state) within a certain amount of time after they receive the death notice.

It’s fairly easy for a personal representative to identify creditors if the deceased has left paperwork showing the amount of debt, but if creditors make claims that aren’t shown in the deceased papers, things can get more complicated. The personal representative has to be very careful, because he or she might be personally liable if creditors aren’t paid properly or if estate assets are paid out on invalid claims. If the personal representative approves a creditor’s claim, the bill is paid out of the estate assets. If the claim is rejected, creditors will sue the estate to obtain payment, which can cause much delay and expense.

Once the administrator has determined how many valid claims there are against the estate, he or she must see if there are enough assets to pay these debts. If there aren’t enough assets to cover the debts, the estate is said to be insolvent. Each state has laws about how property is to be distributed in an insolvent estate. For example, federal and estate taxes may be paid first, followed by probate expenses, funeral and last illness costs, and general creditors. If there aren’t enough funds left over to pay all the creditors in one group, the amount left will be prorated to creditors in the group. For example, in the example just given, if there is enough property to cover taxes and probate costs, but only enough to pay part of the funeral and last illness expenses, the remaining assets will be prorated to creditors in that group. If the funeral expenses were $15,000 and the last illness expenses were $30,000, and the amount remaining to pay the creditors in that group is $10,000, 1/3 will go for funeral expenses and 2/3 for last illness expenses. Because the assets are all used up, the creditors in the next group, general creditors, will get nothing.

If an estate is insolvent, the beneficiaries will also get nothing, even if a will leaves them specific property or specified sums of money. Beneficiaries can only receive assets in probate if there are enough assets left over after all legitimate debts have been paid.

Case Studies: Estate Creditors Handling

Case Study 1: The Importance of Proper Notice

The personal representative of an estate failed to provide proper notice to creditors after the deceased’s death. As a result, some creditors were unaware of the estate and did not make any claims within the required timeframe. The personal representative faced personal liability for not fulfilling their duty to notify creditors, leading to complications and potential legal consequences.

Case Study 2: Validating Claims and Managing Debts

The personal representative diligently identified and reviewed the deceased’s paperwork to determine the debts owed. However, unexpected claims were made by creditors that were not documented in the deceased’s papers. The personal representative faced the challenge of carefully examining and validating these claims to ensure the estate’s assets were allocated correctly. Failure to handle the claims appropriately could result in personal liability for the representative or delayed and costly legal actions.

Case Study 3: Insolvency and Distribution of Assets

This explores a scenario where the estate’s debts exceed its available assets, resulting in insolvency. The personal representative must navigate the laws governing the distribution of assets in an insolvent estate. Priorities are set, such as paying federal and estate taxes, probate expenses, and funeral costs.

Remaining assets are prorated among creditors based on their respective claims. This highlights the potential impact on beneficiaries, as they may not receive their intended inheritances if the estate lacks sufficient assets to cover all legitimate debts.

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Jeffrey Johnson

Insurance Lawyer

Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

Insurance Lawyer

Mary Martin

Published Legal Expert

Mary Martin has been a legal writer and editor for over 20 years, responsible for ensuring that content is straightforward, correct, and helpful for the consumer. In addition, she worked on writing monthly newsletter columns for media, lawyers, and consumers. Ms. Martin also has experience with internal staff and HR operations. Mary was employed for almost 30 years by the nationwide legal publi...

Published Legal Expert

Editorial Guidelines: We are a free online resource for anyone interested in learning more about legal topics and insurance. Our goal is to be an objective, third-party resource for everything legal and insurance related. We update our site regularly, and all content is reviewed by experts.

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