Handling Debt Claims During Probate: What You Need to Know

Probate is the process of executing someone’s will and distributing their assets to beneficiaries. During probate, creditors make claims against the estate for payments they’re owed. As a personal representative, you oversee notifying creditors, evaluating claims, and paying off debts with the estate funds. Here’s what you need to know about handling debt claims during probate proceedings. 

What Kind of Debt Goes Through Probate? 

Any entity that the decedent (the person who passed away) owed money to could make a claim against the estate. All valid claims from creditors are assessed during probate and paid from the estate’s value. Creditors could be individuals, business owners, medical facilities, credit card companies, the IRS, home service providers, or plaintiffs in open lawsuits. 

Creditor Claim Process During Probate 

There are specific guidelines for notifying creditors that the estate has entered probate and handling the debts. Here’s how it works in Florida: 

Creditor Notification

A formal notice must be published in a newspaper circulated in the county where the decedent lived. Detailed in Florida Statute 733.2121, this formal Notice to Creditors announces that the estate has entered probate and provides information about making a claim against the estate for any payment owed. This notice must be published at least once a week for two consecutive weeks. You must submit this notice to the probate court within 45 days after publication. Creditors have 90 days after the formal notification to file a claim. 

Creditor Search 

In addition to publishing a formal notice, you must search and notify any known creditors directly. For instance, if you know the decedent had a car loan and a mortgage payment, you’re responsible for contacting the loan company and the mortgage lender directly. Then, they have 30 days to file a claim.

Creditor Claim Validation

Once the claim is received, you’ll need to see whether it’s valid. Each claim should provide evidence that money is still owed and how much. These claims should also reference a written document, like a contract, that shows the decedent agreed to pay the claim amount. Don’t pay creditor claims as they come in. Instead, wait for all claims to be made and for the claim period to end before making payments. 

Payment

Creditor claims are paid from the estate’s total value. A specific hierarchy must be followed to determine how claims are paid and in what order. Claims are paid off in the following order during probate:

  • Probate administration and attorney’s fees
  • Funeral service providers
  • Federal government payments, such as back taxes
  • Consumer debt, like credit card debt
  • Hospital bills and medical expenses
  • Back child support and other payments

If there isn’t enough money from the estate’s value to pay off all creditors, they’ll receive a portion of the payment owed. All payments to creditors must be made within 12 months of the beginning of probate.

Who is Responsible for Paying a Decedent’s Debts? 

The estate’s personal representative is responsible for notifying and managing debt payments and creditor claims during probate. Personal representatives could be liable if they make false statements or fail to perform an adequate creditor search. Creditor claims are made from the value of the estate.

Can a Beneficiary be Responsible For Debt? 

Beneficiaries are only responsible for paying off a decedent’s debt if they have a legal responsibility to pay it off, such as co-signing or co-owning the loan. According to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), debt collectors are only allowed to contact and discuss outstanding debts with the decedent’s spouse, parents (if the decedent was under 18), a legal guardian, an attorney, the personal representative, or a confirmed successor of a property with a mortgage. Debt collectors are not allowed to go after beneficiaries for payment for the decedent’s debts. If they do, contact your probate attorney to take legal action. 

Handling Creditor Claims During Probate in Osceola County 

Dealing with creditor claims and debt during probate is complex and complicated. Debt collectors can be ruthless, but knowing your rights is important. Contact our team at Kathy D. Sheive to help you navigate this process and ensure probate proceedings continue promptly and accurately. Call us at 407-315-2268 to see how we can help you navigate probate in Osceola County and beyond. 

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