If my husband died 5 years ago without a Will, am I liable for his debts?

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If my husband died 5 years ago without a Will, am I liable for his debts?

We had joint bank accounts and the house that we live in and I took ownership of them. I also collected money from his life insurance that I was beneficiary. When he was alive, he bought a commercial property with 2 other co-borrowers and had a mortgage on it. After 3 years of his death, the loan/mortgage went to default and now I have received summons from his bank regarding foreclosure of that property; it’s written in that I am liable for his debts with other 2 co-borrowers. Also, in the summons there is a forge document with my sign indicating my name was added in the document which is not true. That is not my signature. What kind of lawyer I need?

Asked on October 23, 2012 under Estate Planning, Illinois

Answers:

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

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

As a general, a surviving spouse is not obligated to pay the bills of their deceased spouse. There are, however, several exceptions to this rule. If you live in a community property state, you would typically bear responsibility for such a debt (yours is not such a state). The second exception would be if you signed or in some other way agreed to be legally bound for re-payments on the debt (although this does not seem to be your situation). The last exception falls under something called the "doctrine of necessities". While many states no longer follow it, some states do. Under the doctrine, one spouse is liable for the "necessary" expenses incurred by the other spouse during marriage.

Also, in the case of a deceased spouse, even in a situation that did not fall into one of the above exceptions, the deceased’s estate would still be liable for repayment; therefore, indirectly as surviving spouse could be affected financially.

As to your particular case, there apparently is a forgery involved, so you'll want to consult with a real estate or civil litigation attorney ASAP. Find one local to your area; they can best advise you.


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