The stress that comes with dealing with your mother's creditors on top of sorting through your emotions after her death might seem to be more than you can bear. If your mother did not arrange to pay the debts after her death, depending on the agreement your mother made with the creditors, they might have the right to come to you for repayment. While your partner can help you cope with your emotional pain, complicated finances might require the help of an attorney or financial adviser.
After your mother's death, her debts are the property of her estate. If there is no will specifying who is responsible for handling her financial affairs, the laws in your state determine who is to manage her property, including any debts. If you are her only child and she had no spouse, closing her estate might become your responsibility. Creditors will contact you wanting payment. If there is no money in her estate to pay the debts, you will have to sell the estate's property to pay them. If your mother died without property and you have no legal obligation to pay the debt, the creditors cannot demand payment from you.
If you co-signed for any of your mother's debt, creditors can -- and will -- expect you to repay it. This does not apply if you were an authorized user of your mother's credit card, only if you were a joint account holder and signed for the debt. If a home or automobile provides the security for the debt, you will lose the property if you do not continue to make the payments. If it is an unsecured debt, according to the Federal Trade Commission, the creditor can sue you and, possibly, garnish your wages to force you to repay it.
Protection from Harassment
Even if you co-signed for the loan, state and federal laws protect you from unscrupulous collection techniques used by some debt collectors. While federal law only protects you from third-party collectors, some states have laws pertaining to original creditors. These laws prevent collectors from calling you repeatedly, cursing at you or threatening you with violence. They require that collectors tell the truth when talking to you and threatening you with a lawsuit when they know you are not legally obligated to pay the debt.
If a creditor contacts you for repayment of a debt that belonged only to your mother, tell the creditor that you are not responsible for the debt and there is no money in the estate to pay it. If necessary, send the creditor a copy of your mother's death certificate along with a letter stating that the estate cannot repay the debt because of lack of funds. Send this information by registered mail and retain the mailing receipt for proof of mailing. If you are legally responsible for the debt, talk with the creditor about settling the debt for less than its balance or working out a payment arrangement.
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images