By Stan Butterfield

Am I responsible to pay the debts of a deceased loved one? When a person dies, the question of how their debts will be paid is one of the first things that come up. This only makes sense, as the people left behind try to figure out how funeral expenses are going to be paid for and a host of other needs present themselves.

two tiny figurines standing on coins

Funeral Expenses

As far as funeral expenses go, that is not considered a debt of the deceased, it is an expense that the decedent’s family incurs and so they are responsible for that. However, if the decedent has sufficient money or property in their estate to pay for the funeral and final expenses, those costs can be paid for out of the estate.

The Decedent’s Debts

The decedent’s debts are limited to the bills they generated while they were alive. Generally speaking, the liability for those debts is limited to the decedent’s estate. So if there isn’t enough money in the estate to pay all of the decedent’s debts, some of the creditors will not be paid; the creditors, in most cases, cannot come after the family to pay those debts.


Creditors are also limited in how much time they have to make a claim against the estate. In Oregon, where I practice law, creditors are given four months after a legal notice is published in a newspaper to make a claim against the estate. If the creditors do not present that claim in a timely manner the personal representative may disallow the claim.

Personal Representatives and Probate

The personal representative is a person appointed by the court to manage the estate of a decedent while it is going through probate. To learn more about personal representatives and probate, click here. When it comes to the question of a decedent’s debts I have had many clients at first express concern about becoming the personal representative because of a fear that they would then become personally responsible for paying those debts out of their own money. As long as the personal representative follows the law in giving proper notices, paying creditors appropriately and making sure the decedent’s taxes will be paid before disbursing money to any heirs, the personal representative will not pay the decedent’s debts out their own money. The key is to get an attorney to walk you through the process so you don’t miss any of the steps. In my experience, most people that have run a household can do a fine job as a personal representative with the help of a lawyer.

Stan Butterfield is a probate attorney that practices law in Polk, Marion, Yamhill, and Linn counties. If you think Stan may be able to help you with a probate case, call—(503) 623-2427.