Debts Owed By A Decedent/Their Estate

An interesting, and disappointing article this morning from the NYT, “You’re Dead? That Won’t Stop the Debt Collector.”  I’m not disappointed in the NYT, its a fine article I guess, rather, I’m disappointed by the number of people who are apparently willing to pay the debts of their deceased relative(s):

The people on the other end of the line often have no legal obligation to assume the debt of a spouse, sibling or parent. But they take responsibility for it anyway.


In Ohio, if an individual passed away owning a debt, that debt becomes a debt of their estate.  In order to collect that debt, the creditor has 6 months from the date of decedent’s death to make a claim against the estate or the claim is forever barred.  (See R.C. 2117.06) …  Forever!

In order to make a claim, the creditor just has to send notice to the fiduciary (Executor or Administrator) of decedent’s estate, in a writing that hopefully gives the fiduciary enough information to make judgement as to the claim’s validity.  What does “writing” mean?  Case law in Ohio has left the definition pretty, broad…  It just has to be written down; some form, any form of writing will do…  I suppose it should legible, but that’s really it.  So long as that writing is received within 6 months from decedent’s death, you have made a valid claim.  (Whether the fiduciary accepts or rejects the claim is a whole separate matter.)

Ok, well what happens if someone has passed away but their estate hasn’t been opened yet so there is no fiduciary appointed by the court to serve?  In that case, as a  creditor, you can open the estate yourself even if your only reason for doing so is to collect a debt.  I see it all the time.  Hell, I do it all the time.

So, don’t just go paying a decedent’s debts…  Make the creditors work for it!  Or, if you’re a creditor, call a probate attorney who knows what they’re doing to make the claim on your behalf.  I wrote an article on this that was published a while ago, so I would qualify as one of those people to call, but please just call someone.  Money is tight right now so don’t go making deals to pay someone else’s debts if you don’t have to.

Don’t even get me started on Franklin County Local Rules (e.g. 62.1, hint hint)…  Very few people understand that rule – why its there, why it says what it does, how to comply with it, etc…

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