What happens to your debts after you die?

Martha C. White

Death and debt: Both can be uncomfortable subjects to discuss, but what happens to your financial obligations after you pass away is one uncomfortable conversation worth having with your loved ones. Survivors of the deceased can often fall prey to some common traps when it comes to "inheriting" debt, and it's imperative they know their rights before it's too late.

Carole Brody Fleet (pictured at right) almost fell victim to a common heavy-handed tactic used by lenders against grieving families. Fleet, who later wrote a self-help book about her experience as a widow, tells WalletPop she was contacted roughly one month after her husband passed away in 2000 by a law office representing the couple's long-time credit union.

"I was never contacted personally by the credit union, many employees of which were at his funeral," Brody says. Instead, she received a letter informing her of an old account - predating her marriage - on which her husband still owed money. The credit union was threatening to take her to collections. Brody, who had a background as a paralegal, saw this empty threat for what it was and didn't pay a dime. "I was shocked and outraged," Brody says.