VanNess & VanNess, P.A.

Handling spousal debts after death

People in Florida may be wondering how best to care for and protect their spouses after they pass away, especially with the many estate planning options available. One concern that many have is how debts will be handled after their death. There is a great deal of confusion about what, if any, liability a surviving spouse may have for their late partner's debts.

When a person passes away, their debts become the responsibility of their estate. Debts that belong to a person will be paid out of the property and money they leave behind as part of their estate as it goes through the probate process. Spouses do not have an automatic responsibility for their partner's debts during their lifetime or after they pass away. A spouse is responsible for jointly held debts like joint mortgages or credit cards. Of course, a surviving spouse can still experience a cost as a result of debts; if they are to inherit the bulk of their spouse's estate, a significant portion may be taken up with debt repayment.

However, in general, non-probate transfers like joint bank accounts, life insurance policies or homes owned as joint tenants with a right of survivorship pass immediately to the surviving spouse; this means that they do not go through probate and are not available to creditors. For the funds that do remain in the estate, there is a priority order that governs how debts are to be repaid.

When aiming to protect one's assets and one's family, an estate planning lawyer may help a person structure their estate in order to provide the maximum benefit for their loved ones. An attorney might help a client plan by drawing up key documents like wills and powers of attorney as well as securing non-probate and lifetime transfers including trusts, life insurance and other items.

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