What if decedent owed money?

The decedent's debts must be settled before property is distributed. If you have a claim against a decedent’s estate, it is important that you present that claim correctly and in a timely manner.

An independent executor simply steps into the shoes of the decedent, so a creditor can usually just send the bill to the executor. If the executor doesn’t pay, the creditor is usually free to pursue the claim in court. The executor is only obligated to send written notice to secured creditors, but may send one to unsecured creditors giving them four months to submit their claims or lose the right to do so.

In a dependent administration, however, there are some tricky rules and deadlines to be followed. Claims must be “authenticated” by attaching an affidavit that sets forth certain sworn facts. If a creditor fails to do it right or within the time required, the claim could be barred.

Estate administration works something like a bankruptcy to the extent that the creditors must present their claims and stand in line for payment. If the estate’s debts exceed the assets, then somebody isn’t going to get paid. Also, it is often possible to protect the homestead and certain personal property from the claims of creditors. Such "exempt" property can be set aside for the benefit of the decedent's surviving family.