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Understanding claims against the estate.

Creditor Claims May 27, 2024

If you’re dealing with the probate process, understanding how claims work can help you navigate this part of settling an estate more smoothly.

What are Claims Against the Estate?

Claims against the estate are demands for payment made by creditors who believe they are owed money by the deceased person. These can include various debts such as medical bills, credit card balances, loans, and other financial obligations that the deceased had at the time of their death.

Why Do Claims Matter?

When someone passes away, their debts don’t just disappear. Instead, these debts become the responsibility of the estate. The personal representative (or executor) of the estate must address these claims as part of the probate process. This is crucial because the estate’s assets need to be used to pay off these debts before distributing any remaining assets to the heirs.

How Do Creditors Make Claims?

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how creditors typically make claims against an estate:

  1. Notification: The personal representative is usually required to notify potential creditors of the deceased’s death. This can be done through direct notice or by publishing a notice in a local newspaper.

  2. Filing a Claim: Creditors must file a claim with the probate court within a specific time frame. This period varies by state but is typically a few months after the notice is given.

  3. Verification: The personal representative reviews each claim to verify its validity. This involves checking that the debt is legitimate and that the amount claimed is correct.

  4. Approval or Rejection: The personal representative decides whether to approve or reject each claim. If a claim is rejected, the creditor may have the option to contest the decision in court.

Types of Claims

Claims against an estate can vary widely. Here are some common types:

  • Secured Claims: These are debts secured by collateral, such as a mortgage or car loan. The creditor can claim the collateral if the debt isn’t paid.

  • Unsecured Claims: These include debts like credit card bills and medical expenses that aren’t backed by collateral.

  • Priority Claims: Certain claims have priority over others, such as funeral expenses, taxes, and administrative costs related to managing the estate.

Paying Claims

The personal representative must pay valid claims from the estate’s assets. Here’s how it typically works:

  1. Asset Inventory: The personal representative takes inventory of the estate’s assets, which can include bank accounts, property, investments, and personal belongings.

  2. Liquidating Assets: If necessary, the personal representative may need to sell some assets to generate cash to pay the debts.

  3. Paying Debts: Debts are paid in order of priority. For example, taxes and administrative costs are usually paid first, followed by secured claims, and then unsecured claims.

  4. Final Accounting: The personal representative must provide a final accounting to the court showing how the estate’s assets were used to pay debts and what remains for distribution to the heirs.

What Happens if the Estate Can’t Pay All Debts?

If the estate doesn’t have enough assets to cover all its debts, it’s considered insolvent. In this case, debts are paid according to the priority established by state law, and some creditors may not receive full payment. Heirs typically do not inherit any remaining debts.

Tips for Personal Representatives

If you’re serving as a personal representative, here are some tips to help you manage claims against the estate:

  • Stay Organized: Keep detailed records of all claims and payments. This will help you manage the process and provide a clear account to the court.

  • Seek Legal Advice: Consider working with a probate attorney, especially if the estate is complex or insolvent. An attorney can help you navigate the legal requirements and protect your interests.

  • Communicate Clearly: Keep the heirs and creditors informed about the status of the estate and any decisions you make. Clear communication can help prevent misunderstandings and conflicts.

Legal Disclaimer

This blog post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. For specific legal concerns, please contact a qualified attorney. The Probate Law Center is here to help with all your probate needs. Visit us at for more information.


Understanding claims against the estate is a key part of the probate process. By knowing how to manage and address these claims, you can help ensure that the estate is settled fairly and efficiently. If you have any questions or need assistance with probate matters, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at The Probate Law Center. We’re here to help!