Legal Question in Wills and Trusts in Pennsylvania

If someone is maried but separated, opens accounts in their name, does not have a will, and that person dies, who is responsible for the deceased person's debt? A short certificate was gotten to have access to the bank account which only had $907.00 in it. The money was given to the deceased person's children who are under the age of 18

Asked on 4/01/13, 1:35 pm

3 Answers from Attorneys

John Davidson Law Office of John A. Davidson

Only the estate.


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Answered on 4/01/13, 1:41 pm

Miriam Jacobson Law Offices of Miriam N. Jacobson

If the deceased had debts, the debtors are entitled to assets before the heirs. If the administrator distributed that money before debts were paid, s/he may be personally responsible for the debts. Someone should be consulting an estates lawyer in the county where the deceased resided at the time of death.


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Answered on 4/01/13, 2:46 pm

When a person opens a bank account in just their name, those funds cannot be released by the bank to the family. The bank can only turn those funds over to the estate. The funds are then deposited into the estate account. The funds can be then distributed to the family, over the claims of any creditors as the funds are below the family exemption pursuant to the statute below.

20 Pa.C.S.A. 3121 - When family exemption is allowable

The spouse of any decedent dying domiciled in the Commonwealth, and if there be no spouse, or if he has forfeited his rights, then such children as are members of the same household as the decedent, and in the event there are no such children, then the parent or parents of the decedent who are members of the same household as the decedent, may retain or claim as an exemption either real or personal property, or both, not theretofore sold by the personal representative, to the value of $3,500: Provided, That property specifically devised or bequeathed by the decedent, or otherwise specifically disposed of by him, may not be so retained or claimed if other assets are available for the exemption. The surviving husband or wife shall be a competent witness as to all matters pertinent to the issue of forfeiture of the right to exemption.


You next ask about debts. The estate of the deceased person is liable for the debts of the deceased person. If there is enough money/assets in the estate, then all the debts are paid before the heirs get anything other than the family exemption. If there is not enough money, then debts are paid in order of priority as set forth in state law. Family exemptions are right after administrative expenses, like the cost of probate.

20 Pa.C.S.A. 3392 - Classification and order of payment of claims

If the applicable assets of the estate are insufficient to pay all proper charges and claims in full, the personal representative, subject to any preference given by law to claims due the United States, shall pay them in the following order, without priority as between claims of the same class:

(1) The costs of administration.

(2) The family exemption.

(3) The costs of the decedent's funeral and burial, and the costs of medicines furnished to him within six months of his death, of medical or nursing services performed for him within that time, of hospital services including maintenance provided him within that time, of services provided under the medical assistance program provided within that time and of services performed for him by any of his employees within that time.

(4) The cost of a gravemarker.

(5) Rents for the occupancy of the decedent's residence for six months immediately prior to his death.

(5.1) Claims by the Commonwealth and the political subdivisions of the Commonwealth.

(6) All other claims.

You really need to at least consult with an attorney if you are handling the estate to make sure that things are done correctly. Children under 18 can't have money or other assets. The funds would have to be given to the surviving parent. If the funds are large, then a guardian has to be appointed and the guardian must post a bond. If the amount is small, then the parent can dispense with a guardianship. Again, that is something to be discussed with an attorney. If you just turned that money over to the children and did not get any kind of receipt, then the personal representative has made an at risk distribution. Which means that if those children ever come back and decide they did not get their money, the personal representative may be held liable. While the amount is not large, any distributions have to be handled correctly and I question whether that was done here.

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Answered on 4/01/13, 7:24 pm

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