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What happens to this IRS debt when a person dies?

By Karin Price Mueller | for

Q. What happens if a person dies owing the IRS and was having payments taken out of his Social Security check? He has no estate and no will. Social Security was notified by the funeral home. He had a live-in girlfriend and was estranged from his children. Who has to pay?

— Not me, I hope

A. In this case, no one.

When someone dies without a will, it’s called dying “intestate.”

Normally, an heir of the deceased would ask a probate judge to put them in charge of the deceased’s estate, said Bernie Kiely, a certified financial planner and certified public accountant with Kiely Capital Management in Morristown.

But you said in your question that the deceased had no estate and the children were estranged.

“There may be no one to stand up and accept responsibility,” Kiely said. “If there are no assets, no one would want to get involved.”

You said the deceased lived with his girlfriend. If they lived in an apartment, then there is no property there, Kiely said. If the deceased owned his home, then there may be some net worth in the home, he said.

“If the deceased died with no assets, then the IRS is out of luck,” Kiely said. “In this country, children do not inherit their parents’ liabilities.”

Email your questions to

Karin Price Mueller writes the Bamboozled column for NJ Advance Media and is the founder of Follow NJMoneyHelp on Twitter @NJMoneyHelp. Find NJMoneyHelp on Facebook. Sign up for’s weekly e-newsletter.


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