Spouses and children often ask each other the following question after the death of a loved one: “Am I liable for the debts of the deceased?“
The general answer is NO. Heirs and next-of-kin are not personally liable for debts owed by the deceased. The estate of the deceased person may be responsible for properly-presented claims.
Ohio law gives a creditor of a deceased person six months to present a claim for payment. Probate statutes provide specific guidance on the claim presentation procedure. The claim will not be valid if the creditor doesn’t follow this procedure.
NOTE: Ohio law requires that the claim be submitted to the executor or administrator of the estate within six months from the date of death.
This claim cannot be filed if there is no Administrator or Executor appointed. Even if a person is named Executor in a Will they do not become Executor until the probate court appoints them.
A probate estate is not usually opened for more than six months after an individual’s death. In such cases, the creditor would have to request to initiate probate proceedings by itself. The administrator would be appointed by the creditor and it would then present its claim to the probate court.
Many creditors don’t take the time or pay the costs to initiate probate proceedings unless the debt is substantial. Instead, creditors look through probate records and present claims against estates that have been opened by the family of the deceased.
The creditors are generally not favorable to this procedure of presenting claims after the death of a person. Many Ohio courts have ruled against creditors that did not follow the above procedure. It is not sufficient to send a bill to a relative who has been nominated Executor, but who has not been appointed by the probate court to that role, for the claim to be valid.
These probate claims typically involve unsecured debts such as credit cards, personal loans, and medical bills. A secured debt (mortgage, auto loan, etc.) will be considered. The creditor has the authority to seize or foreclose the property that secured the debt.
If medical bills are involved, the 6-month claim period might not apply to the surviving spouse. Ohio law requires spouses provide each other with necessary items and services. Not only are medical bills necessary, but skilled nursing facility costs can also be included in these services.
The law says that if one spouse is unable to provide necessities for themselves or their children, the other spouse must take care of those needs.
If a creditor owes a nursing facility, or another medical provider, they may request repayment from the surviving spouse. The nursing home or another medical provider can file a lawsuit against the spouse who refuses to pay the bill.
Ohio law does not require spouses to care for one another. However, Ohio law does require them to do so. Children do not have the legal obligation to provide or care for their parent. Children or any other next-of-kin are not personally responsible for medical expenses incurred by the deceased spouse if there is no surviving spouse.
It can be difficult to navigate probate. Many of our probate clients are either new to the process or have been involved in it for many years. It can be difficult to figure out what court filings are required and what steps to follow. An attorney can help you navigate the probate process and relieve some of the stress associated with the death of a loved one.