If a deceased person owe’s the Social Security department money, are family members held liable to pay off the remaining debt?

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If a deceased person owe’s the Social Security department money, are family members held liable to pay off the remaining debt?

My grandfather passed away earlier this year and I just found out that he still owes Social Security about $650 due to over payments that he received over the last 10 years. It orginally was $3000 and he was paying it back slowly. Since he has passed away and still carried this debt, aremy family and I responsible to pay off his debt or can SS count it as a loss since he is gone? What if my family and I can ‘t afford to pay this money to SS, what would happen? Also, the bank won’t close or release the money in his account unless we get clearance from SS, can they do that?

Asked on January 3, 2011 under Bankruptcy Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

1) You and your family are not personally liable for your grandfather's debt; no person is ever liable for the debts of another, with certain narrow exceptions (e.g. parents of a minor are responsible for valid debts of the minor; there are cases where a spouse ends up responsible, at least to the limit of joint or community property, for her spouse's debts), etc. However, debts of parents and grandparents do not pass down.

2) However, your grandfather's estate--or his remaining money and assets after he passed--is responsible for his debts like this one. Social security is entitled to get its repayment from the estate (e.g. from any bank accounts) before the remaining money is distributed to his heirs. If there's not enough money to cover the debt, the best they can do is get as much as is there. Speak with the bank and social security about how to move this forward.


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