If my ex-husband died without a Will and there was not enough money in his estate to pay all of his bills, is my son responsible for them?

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If my ex-husband died without a Will and there was not enough money in his estate to pay all of his bills, is my son responsible for them?

My 21 year old son was named the executor of his estate. The money left over after paying for taxes and bills is not sufficient to pay the attorney fees of $5800. The attorney is asking me or my son to pay her bill. We had no idea it would be so much money. I don’t have it and my son would have to take money from his portion of the life insurance. How can this be right?

Asked on April 30, 2015 under Estate Planning, Oregon

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

The only time that an executor would be held liable for paying the debts of an estate is if they were guilty of wrongdoing of some sort. For example, if they disbursed money from the estate to beneficiaries without first having paid off all creditors. Additionally, an ex-spouse cannot be held liable for the debts of their former spouse (or their estate unless they were a joint debtor on a loan, etc.). 

In a situation where an estate has no money to pay all of a deceased's debts, the estate will be declared insolvent and any remaining debts will go unpaid. State law dictates how this process works. Typically, the executor files a petition asking the court to declare the estate insolvent; creditors are paid according to their order of priority (as set by state law) and those left unpaid after the estate runs out of money are simply out of luck.

At this point, you may want to consult with a local probate attroney as to your situation.


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