Whether one is the personal representative of someone else's estate or is in the midst of preparing his or her own estate plan, one issue that will need to be dealt with is creditors. Given the realities of modern life and the economic situation many people find themselves in, few individuals are going to die with no debt in their names. So what happens when an estate is administered in probate and there are creditors who are owed money?
According to the Florida Bar, a primary reason for the probate process is to ensure that creditors with legitimate claims on the estate's assets are paid in a reasonably orderly way. The personal representative of the estate has a duty of due diligence to make certain that all known or "reasonably ascertainable" creditors have actual notice of the probate proceeding.
This way, any creditors can file an appropriate claim on the estate for the debt owed. Once they receive notice of the proceeding, creditors normally have 90 days to file their claims with the court. Any person with an interest in the state, including potential beneficiaries and the personal representative can object to a claim filed in this manner, which would require the creditor to file a separate suit to attempt to collect the debt.
The personal representative must advise the court, in the form of a report, of any claims filed on the estate. Generally speaking, the estate will not be closed until all valid claims are paid or disposed of in some other fashion.
It may not be the most pleasant idea to think that your creditors can hound you even into grave, but it is an important consideration when contemplating one's estate plan. Whether to use a last will and testament, a trust of some type or other means to dispose of one's assets, there may be strategies that can minimize the effect of your debt on the inheritance you leave behind. If you have questions about creditors, or any other aspect of your estate planning, it might be a good idea to guidance about your legal options.
Source: The Florida Bar, "What are the Estate's Obligations to Estate Creditors?," accessed, Feb. 16, 2015