Which debts are paid first when someone dies?
Sometimes, there is not enough money in the estate to pay off all debts. The question then becomes, “Who gets paid?” In California, under the Probate Code, debts of the decedent are paid according to a schedule of priorities.
Probate Code Section 11420 states the following:
“(a) Debts shall be paid in the following order of priority among classes of debts, except that debts owed to the United States or to this state that have preference under the laws of the United States or of this state shall be given the preference required by such laws:
(1) Expenses of administration. With respect to obligations secured by mortgage, deed of trust, or other lien, including, but not limited to, a judgment lien, only those expenses of administration incurred that are reasonably related to the administration of that property by which obligations are secured shall be given priority over these obligations.
(2) Obligations secured by a mortgage, deed of trust, or other lien, including, but not limited to, a judgment lien, in the order of their priority, so far as they may be paid out of the proceeds of the property subject to the lien. If the proceeds are insufficient, the part of the obligation remaining unsatisfied shall be classed with general debts.
(3) Funeral expenses.
(4) Expenses of last illness.
(5) Family allowance.
(6) Wage claims.
(7) General debts, including judgments not secured by a lien and all other debts not included in a prior class.
(b) Except as otherwise provided by statute, the debts of each class are without preference or priority one over another. No debt of any class may be paid until all those of prior classes are paid in full. If property in the estate is insufficient to pay all debts of any class in full, each debt in that class shall be paid a proportionate share.”
Case law has essentially defined “expenses of administration” as the costs and expenses which have arisen specifically because of the need to probate the estate. One example that falls under this category is attorneys’ fees.
If you have to start a probate case, you should consult with an attorney first. The attorney will make a list of debts and assets and see what will be available when the process is complete.
Helix Law Firm can help with estate administration
Have you been named executor in a deceased person’s will? Do you plan to seek appointment as personal representative of someone who died without a will? If so, we can help you file the probate petition and manage the administration from beginning to end.
If you’re interested in learning more, please call us at (619) 567-4447 to schedule a free consultation.