What Happens to Debt After Death?

what happens to debt after you die

As the saying goes, the only sure things in life are death and taxes. And, unfortunately, the former won’t allow you to escape the latter. If you’re self-employed, for example, and die still owing outstanding installment payments, the Canada Revenue Agency will come to collect from your estate if your family doesn’t take care of it first. But what happens to your other debts, like your mortgage and credit cards, when you die? Here’s an overview.

Note that various credit card companies and lending institutions may have unique policies in place so you should consult with your specific debt-holders to verify details. The best advice for planning for your eventual death – yes, we’ll all die sooner or (hopefully) later – is to have a legally registered will. Dying without a will can be a costly hassle for your surviving family members to sort out. See also “Protect Your Family” below for information on insurance policies.

Credit Card Debt

First, the good news: any debt you have on credit cards solely in your name will typically be written off as a loss by the lending company should you die. They’re considered unsecured creditors and would be at the back of the line of debt-holders trying to collect from your estate.

If, on the other hand, your credit cards are joint accounts with your partner or spouse, he or she will be responsible for continuing to make any payments owed. (After your death, one of the many things on your survivor’s to-do list will be updating any accounts to take your name off them to eliminate the risk of fraudulent activity being carried out in your name.)

Mortgage and Car Loan Debt

Mortgages and car loans, however, are considered secured loans and the lenders will come after your estate to ensure they’re paid in full. Odds are, these larger purchases were co-signed by you and your spouse anyway so the surviving person can continue to make the payments as before. But if they wouldn’t be able to do so without your income, you need to read the next section.

Protect Your Family

If you do have a substantial amount of debt that your spouse and family may end up being held accountable for, you should have a plan in place to pay for that. Your best bet is an insurance policy.

What You Might Not Know About Mortgage Insurance

Whenever you sign up for a mortgage, you’ll be offered a “mortgage insurance” policy. Decline it. Mortgage brokers like these policies because they pocket an extra commission, and they do make it sound enticing to have your mortgage instantly wiped out should one partner die. The catch is that while the payments may be fixed, the actual value of the payout declines as you pay off your mortgage. In other words, year after year you’re making the same payment for a continually decreasing amount of money should you need to collect the insurance.

Life Insurance is the Better Option

You’re better off with a standard term life insurance policy. The payout is non-taxable and your surviving spouse is free to use it however they see fit. They could, for example, use the funds to pay off any high-interest debts, and set aside a nest egg to cover the mortgage payments and other ongoing expenses while they adjust to their new life.

Likewise, credit card companies offer insurance plans tied to their cards that cover you in the event death, illness, or unemployment make it difficult for you or your partner to make your payments. Again, this probably isn’t the best path to take. The rates are based on your outstanding balance and if you’re already having a hard time keeping up with your payments, this is just another way to keep the debt spiral swirling. You’re better off contacting an insurance broker about a disability insurance plan that covers all your living expenses – not just a single credit card bill.

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