Is a Beneficiary Responsible for a Decedent's Bills?
Contributor: Maria L. Shinn
FACT or FICTION: If you are the beneficiary of an estate, you are not personally responsible for the deceased person's bills.
In Ohio, when a person passes away, only her probate estate is responsible for her past bills. Her beneficiaries and loved ones are not responsible for her bills, unless they made themselves personally liable by co-signing a loan with the decedent, signing up for a joint credit card with her, or agreeing somehow to be jointly responsible for that debt.
There are three important things to keep in mind, however. First, there are some debts which "survive" the death of an Ohio resident. For example, a real estate mortgage is not extinguished by the death of the homeowner. Similarly, a car lien still has to be dealt with when the car owner passes away. A surviving spouse may be held responsible for some of the deceased spouse's medical bills.
Second, if the deceased person received Medicaid benefits during her lifetime, the State of Ohio can seek reimbursement of those benefits from the decedent's assets. This is called "Medicaid estate recovery," and the Ohio Attorney General's office is very aggressive when it comes to seeking reimbursement from an estate.
Third, creditors (other than mortgage companies and the government) must make a claim against the decedent's probate estate in order to be paid. A beneficiary does not have to use his/her own money to pay the decedent's debts, unless the beneficiary is personally liable for those debts.
If your loved one passes away, please consult with an experienced probate attorney to discuss your loved one's assets and bills.