Can an executor be held personally liable for estate debts?

If you have been named an executor in a will or living trust or planning to name some an executor, you might be wondering if they can be held responsible for estate debts. Soon after the demise of a person, bills, credit claims, and debts start pouring in. As an estate executor, you might worry and try to settle the debts as soon as possible. However, we suggest that you should relax and consult your elder law attorney. Generally, the executor is not required to use their personal money to settle estate debts.

The general rule says that the debts that the deceased person has incurred in their lifetime and the estate expenses should be paid off using the estate money. In case the dead person has created an estate account, the executor is required to transfer the estate funds into the account and use it to settle debts and pay bills.

In case there is no liquid cash immediately available to pay off bills and expenses, the executor or family members should pay the bills. If you are required to make payments from your own funds, you should record the expenses. You can reimburse the costs you have incurred on behalf of the deceased person when the estate fund is available.

There are times when the estate funds fall short against the outstanding debts of the deceased person. When faced with such a situation, the executor must be careful when settling creditors’ claims.

Under state law, creditors are given five to six months to submit their credit claims to the executor—the state steps in when there are more creditors of the estate and less available funds. The state creates a list of creditors who the executor should pay first. The executor is obligated by the law to pay off debts according to the priority list given by the state. If the estate fund is used to settle a creditor who is not entitled, the executor will have to reimburse the money from his own pocket.  To prevent any liability, it is best to consult an estate planning attorney before settling estate debts.

Is an executor responsible for paying the deceased person’s credit card debts?

Often seniors who name their children an executor wonder if their children will be responsible for paying off credit card debts. After a person’s death, the credit card company may call the family member and ask for the money.

The children of the deceased person are not personally responsible for the credit card debts incurred by them. However, if there are enough estate funds available, you will be legally obligated to pay the debts.

Who Might Be Liable?

There are some scenarios when a person can be personally liable for debts incurred by the deceased person.

The Surviving Partner: The surviving partner or spouse will have to pay off debts incurred by them as a couple. In case the deceased person solely incurred the debt, the living spouse will not be personally responsible for repaying it. Such liability depends upon the state law, the terms and conditions of ownership, and debt type.


If someone cosigned for a loan or line of credit issued to the deceased person, the cosigner will be liable for the debt if the assets of the deceased person don’t cover it. That’s what cosigning is—promising to make good on a debt if the primary borrower, for whatever reason, cannot.

The executor

If the executor is careless or dishonest while in charge of estate assets, and the estate loses money as a result, the executor may be on the hook for certain debts. For example, say the executor, without waiting to add up the estate’s debts and assets, quickly pays a large credit card bill of the deceased person. Later, it turns out that the estate doesn’t have enough money to pay all of its debts—and some unpaid bills, including expenses of the last illness, have higher priority under state law than does credit card debt. The executor will probably have to reimburse the estate for the amount of money paid to the credit card issuer.