By: Mark L. Dodds, Esq., Partner at Grant Morris Dodds
Question: Am I responsible for my half sister’s debts after she passed away?
Question Detail: My father is trying to get me to renounce my rights in favor of him regarding a half sister I have not seen in twenty years; he says I will be responsible for her debts if I do not sign the papers. Is this a fact? Am I responsible for someone else’s debts since she has passed away?
Answer: The fact that your father is trying to scare you into giving him an interest in your half-sister’s estate suggests to me that there must be some reason why he wants to get control of this estate, that reason most likely being that the value of her estate exceeds the debts of her estate. There is no reasonable scenario that I can think of where it may be possible that your father is trying to do you a favor; instead, it is likely he is trying to scare you into giving up a valuable inheritance.
In the first place, a person’s death cannot cause you to ever be liable for the debts of the one who died unless you were already a co-signer with the decedent on a debt. Furthermore, your act of accepting or rejecting your rights in the decedent’s estate will have absolutely no effect on your liability for any such debts. Since you have not seen your half-sister for 20 years, it is virtually certain that you are not a co-debtor on any of her debts, so you will incur no risk of liability in refusing to release your interest in her estate. And if it should be that the value of her estate is sufficient to cover any of your half-sister’s debts, then you will be entitled to your share of the estate after those debts are paid.