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Surviving spouses and inherited debt

Posted by Sasha Golden | Jul 15, 2009 | 1 Comment

Please check out the link to an interview with me by Sally Herigstad, CPA, a columnist at about the rights and responsibilities of surviving spouses concerning the debts of the deceased spouse.

These responsibilities are dictated both by the terms of the contract and by assorted state and federal laws. For example, under Massachusetts law, the only debts which are solely in the name of the deceased spouse that the surviving spouse must cover are medical bills — all the other debts are presumed to be the responsibility of the decedent's estate. This surprised Sally, a resident of the state of Washington, who told me that under her state's community property law, the survivor inherits all debts. I also noted that if the mortgage is solely in the dead spouse's name, a particular federal law called the Garn-St. Germain Act allows the surviving spouse to assume the mortgage if she inherits the house. Of course, debts which the couple entered into together live on, as do debts which the survivor voluntarily assumes.

Thus, it's important for surviving spouses to meet with an experienced probate attorney to review the decedent's bills — at least in Massachusetts, there may be some debts that the survivor may not need to pay.

About the Author

Sasha Golden

Alexandra “Sasha” Golden received her undergraduate and law degrees from Boston College, and has been practicing law in Massachusetts since 1994. Attorney Golden is a long-standing member of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) and of the Probate and So...


Chris Hamilton Reply

Posted Jul 05, 2023 at 13:17:03

Thank you for your post. I’m wondering if any of this has changed in Massachusetts since 2009. Specifically is the surviving spouse still responsible for the decedents medical debt.

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