In your will, you can leave instructions for forgiving debts after your death. When you do, your forgiveness functions much the same as giving a gift; those who were indebted to you will no longer be legally required to pay the money they owed. Keep in mind, however, that releasing people or institutions from the debts they owe you may diminish the property that your beneficiaries receive under your will.
Limitations to Forgiving Debts
Here are two caveats for forgiving debts in your will:
- You may not be able to use your will to forgive debts if your estate is insolvent. In other words, if there isn’t enough money in your estate to pay your own debts, you may not be able to forgive debts owed to you. If you think you might die owing large debts, see a lawyer for advice. Also, learn about Leaving Instructions in Your Will for Paying Debts.
- If you made the loan while you were married or legally partnered, you may only have the right to forgive half the debt. There is a special need to be cautious about this possibility in community property states. If your debt is a community property debt, you cannot cancel the whole amount due unless your spouse or partner agrees to allow you to cancel his or her share of the debt—and puts that agreement in writing. See an attorney for help with this.
Describing the Debt
When you make your will, carefully describe any debt you wish to cancel—including the name of the person who owes it, the approximate date the debt was incurred, and the amount you wish to forgive. This information is important so that the debt can be properly identified.
Don’t Explain Why
Although forgiving a debt is likely to come as a pleasant surprise to those living with the expectation that they must repay it, do not use your will to explain why you are forgiving the debt. Instead, explain your reasoning in a separate letter that you keep with your will. Learn more about Writing an Explanatory Letter for your will on Nolo.com.
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You can also learn now to Leave Instructions in Your Will for Paying Debts.
And if you decide to get some help from a lawyer, Nolo can help with that too. Try searching for an estate planning lawyer near you using Nolo’s Lawyer Directory.