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THE UK INSOLVENCY HELPLINE
WHAT TO DO ABOUT DEBTS WHEN SOMEONE
When someone dies, debts are
• The surviving owner could be ordered to pay the
recoverable from any assets or outstanding debts or risk having the house sold.
money left behind. This is known Half of the sale proceeds, after any mortgages were
as the “estate”. No one else has to
cleared, could be used to pay creditors unless the
pay for the debts unless they are court agrees there are exceptional circumstances.
already liable under the terms of This makes it very important that a surviving owner
the original agreement, eg the debt
negotiates with any creditors to make arrangements
is in joint names or someone has to pay the debts back and avoid this procedure
signed as a guarantor. Dealing with being used.
an estate can be complicated. You
T may need legal advice. This
information to help you decide
basic Tenants in Common
what to do about debts. • If you owned the property as “Tenants in
Common” the property has to be formally
transferred to the surviving owner. It is not
In this case, if there are debts, then the deceased
person’s share of the house would be used to pay off
the debts. After the debts are paid, the person’s share
When you buy a house in joint of the house goes to whoever they left it to in a will. If
names there are two types of there is no will, then there are set rules for who will be
ownership status you could have. treated as next of kin and inherit the estate.
E Joint Tenants
How to Check
• It used to be the case that if you To find out whether you are Joint Tenants or Tenants
owned property as quot;Joint in Common, you would need to contact the Land
Tenantsquot; then the property Registry to see if any restrictions on inheritance or
would pass automatically to the “succession” were registered. You can also check with
surviving owner. This meant your original conveyancing solicitor to find out. If
the property could not be sold your house is owned as Tenants in Common, you
to pay off debts. From April
N 2001 the rules have been
changed. It is now possible for
creditors to apply for an
would need to find out if there is a will. The joint
owner of the property could come to an arrangement to
pay off the deceased's debts to stop the house being
sold. They may have to take over the mortgage, or take
quot;Insolvency Administration out a new mortgage to keep the house. This would be
Orderquot; within 5 years of the particularly important if they are living in the house, or
person dying, which effectively are going to inherit the person’s share of the house.
splits the property down the
21 middle as if it were a quot;Tenancy
What to do about debts when someone dies. 1
What if your name is not on the mortgage?
If there is jointly-owned or rented property, the person
If someone is living in the house who is not a part
still living there may be liable for fuel arrears.
owner or married to the person, check if there is a will
Sometimes the fuel board tries to argue that you have
leaving the house to them. If not, then there may be a
“benefited” from the fuel used so should pay for it,
problem staying in the house permanently. Specialist
even if your name is not on the bill. This is a difficult
legal advice from a solicitor will be needed.
area. Phone us for advice. Otherwise, the bills are
recoverable from any estate.
If anyone is still living in the house they should
If there is someone else living in the property, they arrange for the ongoing fuel bills to be put in their
may be able to take over the tenancy. Joint Tenants name.
automatically take over a tenancy. Otherwise a
husband/wife or partner, or even a member of the Water & Council Tax
tenant’s family, may be able to “succeed” or inherit the
tenancy, if they have been living there when the tenant Water rates would be paid out of any estate, unless
died. The time you have to have lived with the tenant someone else lives in the house. A joint occupier will
is different, depending upon the type of tenancy. automatically be liable for any arrears, even if their
Check the tenancy agreement. You can contact name is not on the bill. They will also be responsible
Shelterline on 0808 800 4444 for advice on housing for the ongoing bill.
issues or phone us for advice.
Council tax liability stops if no one is living in the
house. Tell the council as soon as possible. A partner
Rent Arrears of the person who died will be liable for any council
tax arrears, even if their name is not on the bill.
If you take over the tenancy, this does not mean you
They will also be responsible for the ongoing bill, but
are liable for any previous rent arrears, unless you
will be able to claim a 25% discount if they are the
were a Joint Tenant. Payment for rent arrears should
only adult in the house.
come out of any estate. You will, of course, have to
pay the current rent.
HIRE PURCHASE AGREEMENTS
Hire purchase agreements are only usual for cars and
some household goods. The goods do not belong to
The Department for Works & Pensions (DWP) should you until the last payment is made. It is very important
be informed of the death and any order books returned to check the agreement to see if it is Hire Purchase
straight away. If you do not inform the DWP before returning goods to a creditor, as the creditor
immediately, there may be overpaid benefits that then would need a court order for the return of the goods, if
have to be paid back out of the estate. The council over a third of the agreement has been paid. Also, you
should also be informed, if the person was claiming might be returning goods that actually belonged to the
Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit. There may be person who died and that should be part of the estate.
arrears of benefit owed to the person which can still be
Phone us for advice.
There may be help available from the Social Fund for CREDIT DEBTS
funeral expenses, if you take responsibility for the
funeral and you are on particular benefits, such as: Creditors have to wait until the estate is sorted out,
Income Support, income based Job Seeker’s then ask for payment. You may have to negotiate
Allowance, Pension Credit, Housing Benefit or payments to avoid losing your home, if the house
Council Tax Benefit. You can also claim if you are on forms part of the estate and could be sold to pay the
Working Tax Credit with a disability element or Child debts. If it is clear that there is little or no money in the
Tax Credit if your award is higher than the basic estate, write to the creditors and suggest they stop
family element. Contact the DWP for advice. pursuing the debt, e.g. write the debt off.
Remember: you are not liable to pay the debt out of
your own income unless you signed the agreement
as a joint borrower or guarantor.
What to do about debts when someone dies.