What Happens To My Debts When I Die?

What Happens To My Debts When I Die?

What Happens To Your Debts When You Pass Away?

Aging brings about a plethora of concerns, especially regarding financial stability. Among the approximately nine million Canadians approaching retirement within the next 10 years, a significant portion will likely carry some form of debt. This reality prompts questions about managing these debts on a fixed income and more importantly, what happens to your debts when you die.

Common Concerns

Several inquiries arise regarding the handling of debts after death, such as:


  • Will creditors dismiss the debts upon the debtor’s death?
  • Will the next of kin bear the responsibility of the debts?
  • Who will take on the role of repaying the debts, and to what extent?
  • Are there any estate assets that creditors can claim?

These worries often stem from the desire to leave a positive financial legacy for family members. By understanding what happens to your debts when you die, you can draft a plan to manage your current financial situation.

The Reality of Debts After Death

Contrary to popular belief, your debts do not get automatically dismissed upon your death. Instead, the responsibility of settling these debts falls on the executor of your estate, also known as the estate trustee.

Estate Trustee

The executor notifies your creditors about your passing, liquidates your assets, and ensures that your debts get paid from these funds. Once the debts are settled, any remaining assets get distributed to the beneficiaries.

The executor must maintain detailed records of their actions, as they’re accountable for any overlooked creditors or unpaid debts. Non-payment of debts before distributing assets to beneficiaries can even lead to penalties. To safeguard your executor during this time, consider the following:


  • Minimize your debt load before retirement.
  • Keep a comprehensive and updated record of your outstanding debts.

In instances where the sale of your assets isn’t enough to cover the debts, your creditors might write off the remaining amount. However, the executor must prove that the estate can’t pay off the remaining balance. In such a case, your beneficiaries might not receive any inheritance.

The Role of The Executor

The executor plays a crucial role in managing your estate after your death. Their responsibilities include:


  • Notifying all creditors about your death.
  • Selling your assets.
  • Using the proceeds from the sale of assets to pay off your debts.
  • Distributing any remaining assets to your beneficiaries.

Given these duties, it’s important to choose an executor who can handle these tasks judiciously.

The Impact on Family Members

Generally, your family members won’t have to assume the burden of your debts after your death. However, things can be different for jointly held debts like co-signed loans or credit cards. The co-signer or guarantor will have to pay any outstanding balance not covered by your estate.

Certain Assets Remain Protected

Despite creditors’ claims on most estate assets, some remain immune:


Life Insurance Policies: Creditors cannot touch the payout from life insurance policies. If you’ve assigned a beneficiary, they will receive the full payout, even if they’ve been named a beneficiary in your will.

Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs): If you’ve named a beneficiary for your RRSP, the funds don’t become part of your estate and remain out of reach for creditors. However, the beneficiary might need to pay income tax on the plan, as it’s deemed to be cashed out upon your death.

The Importance of Estate Planning

As the retiree population grows, so does the importance of estate planning. It’s crucial to not only keep your will updated but also to strategize about reducing or eliminating your debt before your death.

Consider consulting with a lawyer and a financial planner to confirm beneficiaries and ensure there’s something to bequeath. If debt is a significant concern, consider meeting with a Licensed Insolvency Trustee to devise a debt solution that works for you and your loved ones.

With proper knowledge and planning, you can ensure that your legacy benefits the people you care about, rather than being used to settle your debts.


Understanding what happens to your debts when you die is crucial to alleviate worries and ensure a smooth transition for your loved ones. Although the process may seem daunting, with the right planning and advice, you can navigate your financial future confidently and leave a lasting legacy for those you care about.

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