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Is My Family Responsible for My Debts?

Here's what you need to know before you borrow or buy on credit

Pay Down Your Debt Challenge Icon

En español | Can your family members be on the hook for your debts? The answer isn't always clear-cut.

Sometimes they may need to pay up if you don't meet your obligations. In other cases, creditors cannot come after your family for payment.

See also: 4 Secrets About Credit Card Companies

Here's what you need to know about what happens to various debts you may have — while you're living, and even after you die.

Debts You Owe Right Now
With intergenerational households on the rise, it's not uncommon for aging parents or grandparents to live with adult children or grandchildren. None of us plans to burden our families financially. But you need to be aware of how your debt may — or may not — impact your loved ones right now and later, in the event of your death.

Generally speaking, while you are alive, your relatives are not responsible for paying any debts you may have incurred. But there can be many, many exceptions to this rule.

For instance, spouses may be responsible for each other's medical debts depending on the state they live in.

Couple paying bills for family and debt

Manage bills properly now so your family isn't responsible later. — Photo by: John Lund/Sarto Harrison/Corbis

Also, if a loved one cosigned for a debt, all bets are off. Once you don't pay what's owed, any individual who cosigned is legally obligated to pay whatever is due. That goes for credit card payments, student loans, car notes and mortgages.

To minimize exposing family members to potential financial woes, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys recommends that you use caution in cosigning loans, and in asking for anyone to cosign your debts.

Next: How to handle debt collectors. >>

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