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Am I responsible for father's unpaid income taxes? There is no will.

Charlotte, NC |

My father-in-law passed away in NY state 2 months ago. He left no will. His house has no equity in it and he has under $6K in the bank. We have not gone for Letters of Administration. We have sold his car for pennies and am working on selling the home in which there will be maybe profit of $20K. There was a retirement plan of $1500 and a compensation plan of $5K that listed my husband and 2 siblings beneficiaries of. Will we be responsible to pay his unpaid income taxes?

Attorney Answers 5

  1. You need to immediately contact a probate attorney in New York to advise you on this. You personally are not responsible, but his estate is. The IRS usually is in most states at the top of the list of creditors to be paid. You do not want to disburse or transfer anything until you talk to an attorney. If you do, and there are unpaid income taxes that are required to be paid, you run the risk of having insufficient assets in the do not want to be in that position against any creditor with a valid claim...especially the IRS.

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  2. Debts of the decedent are the responsibility of the estate, not the children. I would suggest that you speak to an attorney in NY before proceeding further. Often to sell the house the will must be probated, but you should not probate the will in this instance without legal help, because once you become the personal representative, you will have responsibility on behalf of the estate to pay the outstanding debts in the correct order out of the estate.

  3. You should not distribute any of your father-in-law's assets until you have an opportunity to meet with a probate attorney in New York. While you normally would not be personally liable for his unpaid taxes, you could be liable if you distribute assets from his estate that should have been paid to his creditors. A New York probate attorney can instruct you as to which assets are subject to your father-in-law's creditors and explain the responsibilities you will have as administrator of his estate.

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  4. I agree with all of the other responses and I would simply add that, unless the real estate was jointly owned or provided for a transfer upon death, you will not be ABLE to sell it unless and until you open a probate estate. The estate would be responsible for any taxes or other administrative expenses.

    I strongly suggest that you at least consult with a probate attorney before deciding how to proceed.

    James Frederick

    *** LEGAL DISCLAIMER I am licensed to practice law in the State of Michigan and have offices in Wayne and Ingham Counties. My practice is focused in the areas of estate planning and probate administration. I am ethically required to state that the above answer does not create an attorney/client relationship. These responses should be considered general legal education and are intended to provide general information about the question asked. Frequently, the question does not include important facts that, if known, could significantly change the answer. Information provided on this site should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney that practices in your state. The law changes frequently and varies from state to state. If I refer to your state's laws, you should not rely on what I say; I just did a quick Internet search and found something that looked relevant that I hoped you would find helpful. You should verify and confirm any information provided with an attorney licensed in your state.

  5. They will take these from the estate before you are ever given ownership of assets.

    Christopher Larson

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