Do I have to pay a decedent’s bills?

When a loved one dies, the last thing on the family’s mind is dealing with bills and the probate estate. However, in the weeks following the funeral, someone must take charge of probating the decedent’s property that is dictated by a will or by the laws of intestacy, including paying the person’s final bills. The process of probating an estate involves inventorying the decedent’s assets, identifying the heirs and beneficiaries, paying all taxes and debts, and finally transferring the assets to the appropriate parties.

The estate of the decedent must be used to pay the final bills and expenses of the deceased. Typically, most wills direct the executor or personal representative to use the assets of the estate to first pay all valid and just expenses and bills of the decedent prior to distributing any assets to the heirs and beneficiaries. If the decedent did not have a will, the court will appoint an administrator for the intestate estate to inventory the property of the decedent in preparation of paying the decedent’s final bills prior to distributing the assets in accordance with Ohio’s intestate laws.

The estate is also used for the payment of the decedent’s funeral expenses and costs. However, in most cases, the funeral has already occurred before the probate estate is opened. In this case, the person who paid the funeral expenses and costs for the decedent can file a claim against the probate estate seeking reimbursement for those costs. The administrator for the probate estate will review the claim and should pay the claim from the funds in the probate estate unless the administrator has a valid objection. In that situation, the court would review the claim and make a final decision as to the amount to be reimbursed for payment of funeral expenses and costs.

Proofs of Claims

The administrator may know some of the decedent’s bills, such as final utility bills, medical bills, or final credit card statements. However, the administrator may not know all of the debts the decedent owed at the time of his or her death. Creditors have six months from the date of death to file claims for debts owed by the decedent. The administrator is not legally responsible for paying any of the debts of the decedent; however, he or she is responsible for gathering the debts, reviewing the claims, and determining if the claims and debts exceed the value of the estate.

If the debts and filed claims exceed the value of the assets, the administrator should file a notice of insolvency with the probate court. The court will review the claims filed with the estate and the debts owed by the decedent to determine a schedule according to Ohio law for the debts to be paid. Some debts take priority over other debts; therefore, family members and administrators should seek legal counsel before paying any debts when the claims exceed the value of the estate. Furthermore, if a creditor (such as a funeral home) requests that you sign a personal guarantee for payment, you should consult with an attorney because you are agreeing to become legally liable for the debt if the estate does not have the funds to pay the debt.

Do You Need an Experienced Ohio Probate Attorney?

Contact the experienced Ohio probate attorneys of Lovett & Lovett Co., LPA for answers to your questions about the probate process. In addition to representing and assisting executors and personal representatives as they fulfill their duties in administering the probate estate, our attorneys represent heirs and others during the probate process. We are also a full-service estate planning law firm providing clients with comprehensive estate planning options.