Responsible for debts after death?

Published: Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Dear Dave,

My daughter died. She was 32 years old and single, and she had lived with me for the last few years because she was recently disabled. I did not support her financially, and when she died she had no assets and no will. Is it my responsibility to pay the student loans and medical bills she left behind?

– Jim

Dear Jim,

I’m so sorry you’re experiencing this kind of grief. Losing a child is a heartbreaking experience, no matter their age.

The short answer is this: If you didn’t sign for it, you’re not liable. If a friend were to move in with you, that doesn’t make you responsible for their debts. The fact that it was an adult family member doesn’t matter either. She was a legal adult who signed her name on the debts in question.

If I were in your shoes, I’d try to find any papers attached to these debts and make copies of them. Then, I’d write up a form letter stating the total debt amount and the fact that she died with no assets. By doing this you’re notifying them that she passed away, and they’re not going to be paid. There’s no will or estate to be probated, so they can close the accounts.

Doing this will make creditors aware of the situation, and it should also protect you from getting hammered with collection calls. But the creditors get nothing in this kind of situation.

God bless you, Jim.

– Dave

Dear Dave.

My husband doesn’t like dealing with money. For years, I’ve handled everything from paying the bills to making the decisions, and he just does whatever I tell him. This makes things really hard on me, but he says financial issues cause him stress. Do you have any suggestions?

– Carol Lee

Dear Carol Lee,

The plain truth is you need your husband to step up and be a man. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but it’s unfair for you alone to carry the weight of all financial and household decisions. It would be unfair, too, if he were the one carrying it all. This isn’t a gender issue.

My wife and I are involved in all the decisions in our home, and that’s especially true when it comes to money. We do a budget, and we decide together where the money’s going. It’s not a situation where she’s a little girl, and her daddy named Dave takes care of her and everything else. That’s the kind of thing you’ve got going on now. You feel like his mom rather than his wife, and that’s not what a healthy marriage is about.

You need to sit down with him and explain why this is so important to you and how it makes you feel. You’re not asking him to be a number cruncher, but he has to grow up and become part of the team. You can play the role of CFO and write all the checks. But you and he together are the board of directors. You just need 15 to 20 minutes of his time each week, so you guys can discuss what’s going on and how to handle things – together!

– Dave

• Dave Ramsey is America’s trusted voice on money and business. He’s authored four New York Times best-selling books: Financial Peace, More Than Enough, The Total Money Makeover and EntreLeadership. The Dave Ramsey Show is heard by more than 6 million listeners each week on more than 500 radio stations. Follow Dave on Twitter at @DaveRamsey and on the web at daveramsey.com.

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