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Do You Inherit Debt in Canada? Understanding What Happens to Debt When You Die

Do you inherit debt in Canada? Let’s discuss the details of how to navigate this sensitive financial issue.
Caitlin Carter
November 9, 2023
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Table of Contents

As a personal finance expert at Parachute, I often encounter concerns from clients who worry about the financial legacy they may leave behind. A common question that arises is: "What happens to debt when you die?" It's crucial to address this question to demystify the misconceptions around debt inheritance and provide peace of mind about your financial affairs. 

Let’s dive into the truth about if you inherit debt in Canada, and all the other factors at play.

Key Takeaways:

  • In Canada, debt is not inherited in the sense that family members are directly liable for a deceased person's solo debts. 
  • Most debts are paid by the estate of the deceased, as managed by the executor.
  • If the estate cannot cover a debt, it may be considered insolvent.
  • Family members are typically not liable for debts of the deceased person in Canada, although exceptions can apply.

Understanding Debt After Death

In Canada, when a person dies, their debts don't simply vanish. Instead, the responsibility to pay them falls to the deceased individual's estate. The estate encompasses all the assets left behind, such as property, investments, and cash. Before any beneficiaries receive their inheritance, the estate is used to pay off any outstanding debts in a process known as probate.  Debts are not typically inherited by survivors, such as family members, unless they co-signed on the loan or held joint accounts with the deceased.

Once an executor is appointed, debts must be paid off in a specific order, covering:

  • Secured Debts: Debts that are secured by an asset, such as a mortgage on a home or a car loan, are attached to the value of the item itself. If the estate cannot pay off the secured debt, the asset may be sold to cover the outstanding loan.
  • Unsecured Debts: These include credit cards, personal loans, and student loans. They are not tied to any particular asset and are paid out from the remaining estate after secured debts are settled.
  • Taxes: The Canada Revenue Agency is a creditor that must be paid before others. The final tax return for the deceased must be filed, and any taxes owing are paid out of the estate.
  • Other Debts: If there are still assets remaining after the payment of secured debts, taxes, and unsecured debts, they can be used to pay off other miscellaneous obligations.

What is an Estate Executor?

An executor, appointed through the deceased's will or by a court, is responsible for managing the estate, which includes settling all debts. Their duties involve identifying all existing debts, notifying creditors, and ensuring that valid claims are paid out. Only after all debts and taxes have been settled can the executor distribute the remaining assets to the heirs.

What Happens if the Estate Can't Cover the Debts?

If the estate lacks sufficient funds to cover all debts, it's considered insolvent. In such cases, Canadian law prioritizes certain debts such as funeral expenses and taxes. Secured debts, such as mortgages or car loans, are tied to particular assets and must be settled if the asset is to be inherited. Unsecured debts, like credit card bills, may be written off if there's not enough in the estate to pay them. 

Heirs are not personally responsible for the debts of the deceased unless they co-signed or guaranteed those debts.

Joint Debts and Co-Signed Loans

If the deceased has joint debts or co-signed loans, the living co-signer or joint account holder will typically assume full responsibility for the outstanding balance. It's imperative for individuals to understand their liability in shared debt arrangements.

Special Considerations for Spouses

The matter of inheriting debt can be more complex for spouses, especially depending on provincial laws and the nature of the debt. In some cases, a spouse may be responsible for certain debts if they benefited from the borrowed funds or if the debt was related to maintaining matrimonial property.

Life Insurance and Death Benefits 

Life insurance and death benefits are often designed to be safe from creditors. They go directly to the named beneficiaries and are not considered part of the estate, unless the estate is named as the beneficiary.

Conclusion

In Canada, debt is not inherited in the sense that family members are directly liable for a deceased person's solo debts. However, the deceased's estate plays a critical role in settling those obligations. To ensure your loved ones are not burdened by uncertainties, it's important to plan ahead by having a clear will and discussing finances with family members.

At Parachute, we're committed to empowering our clients with tools to manage debt effectively and avoid leaving a financial burden for family members. Our debt consolidation services help individuals to streamline their debts into one manageable loan, potentially saving hundreds of dollars per month, and ultimately aiming to improve their overall financial health.

If you want to learn more about how you can better handle your debts or assist a loved one in managing theirs, visit us at Parachute. We're here to help you achieve a more secure financial future.

This article is crafted considering both the factual aspects of debt inheritance in Canada and the compassionate approach we value at Parachute. Remember, while dealing with debts, it's essential to consider consolidating high-interest debts to relieve the financial burden, which is where Parachute's unique offerings, like cashback on your debt consolidation loan and significant monthly savings, can make all the difference.

Caitlin Carter
Caitlin Carter, Parachute’s, Head of Customer Success lives and breathes well-being - her passion over the last few years is how well-being is impacted by finances and conversely how finances are impacted by our well-being. She has a 15+ year career helping international brands execute on their global education and development strategy as well as define and monitor their operational KPIs.
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