It’s not something anyone wants to think about, let alone try and figure out during a grieving period, but settling the estate of a loved one is something the bank will only let you ignore for so long. Given that the average American family has more than one child, specifically 2.5 children, deciding who gets to pay the remainder of the relative’s mortgage is not something that everyone would volunteer for at once. So, by default, who is responsible for paying off the mortgage?

Due to the economic crisis, lenders, creditors, and debt collectors are starting to get more aggressive. In general, when a person dies, that individual’s estate becomes responsible for any debts the individual owed. The individual’s executor or personal representative is responsible for paying those debts, but is not liable for the debts, just responsible for paying the debts out of the property of the estate.

Unlike many debts, a home mortgage is a “secured debt,” which means the lender has a right to foreclose on the real estate if the loan isn’t paid off. If the deceased person had a home mortgage, then the result depends on whether someone else co-signed the note and mortgage. For instance, if a married couple jointly owned a house and both signed a note and mortgage, then the surviving spouse would receive the house, and would be responsible for the mortgage payments.

This post was written by Stephen Hachey. Follow Stephen on Google, Facebook, Twitter & Linkedin.