What happens to debts owed to my parent’s estate?

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What happens to debts owed to my parent’s estate?

My parent recently died. Many years ago, my parent divorced not from my other parent and at the conclusion of the proceedings the ex-spouse was court ordered to pay a large sum, monthly, until my parent’s death. However, the ex-spouse never paid this money, and my parent decided not to initiate a lawsuit or try to get a lawyer to file the documentation to garnish wages, seize bank account, etc. as my parent didn’t feel like going through more court and stress at the time. However, this money was legally owed to them. Is it possible that during the probate/estate process that I can hire an attorney to make sure that this debt is collected upon and paid to the estate?

Asked on October 21, 2019 under Estate Planning, Maryland

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 2 years ago | Contributor

A debt owed to the deceased is a debt owed to the estate, so the estate could potentially sue for the money. The executor or personal representative for the estate (presumably, you) could retain an attorney to bring a legal action for the money, subject to all the usual legal rules (e.g. statute of limitations: has too much time passed to sue over this debt?). However, bear in mind that the right to collect does not mean you will collect: if the ex-spouse is insolvent (no money; or only money you can't touch, like social security or 401k/pension funds) the estate won't get anything--a successful lawsuit does not money appear where there is none.


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