Yes, the Bills Can Wait

By Tina M. Patterson, Esq.

Originally Published: June 19, 2019

While losing a loved one is inevitable, it is never easy. We grieve for our loss while holding on to the precious memories we cherish so dearly. Yet no pain may be worse than that of a mother losing a child, something that once in our lives, we cannot imagine a life without. Even if the child is a fully grown adult male, his mother will feel the loss like no one else on Earth. 

During this most difficult time, a mother should be comforted by the love of family and friends, and met with patience and understanding from third parties like doctors, landlords, and other administrative officials an adult may have dealt with in life. Instead, imagine a grieving mother being met with an insistent demand that she pay a $3,000 water bill left behind by her son who just died of cancer at the relatively young age of 46 years old.

This true story is a reminder than even in death, we must focus on what is most important in life: the well being of our family and friends. That can be hard to do when we are faced with a loss, and as a family, must not only grieve to heal, but must tackle challenges left behind by our loved ones in order to move ahead. Barring the funeral bill and emergency situations, do not rush to pay creditors or outstanding debts. Here’s why:

                                                         Time to grieve and process loss

We’re all humans with emotions, and we each handle every situation differently. You may have the desire to handle affairs of a loved one, but not be in the right state of mind emotionally or mentally to take on such a task. Additionally, you may not have the skill-set needed to handle certain affairs (like accounting for bills, valuing assets, patience), and in case a will exists, you may not be the person identified to deal with such tasks anyway. Take it one step at a time, one day at a time.

                                        Creditors cannot take anything immediately

Legally, an estate must be opened in probate court before any creditors can stake a claim for their debt, meaning the deceased individual must have a case open for a creditor to try to collect on any debt he or she may have owed. Most importantly, this means that until that case is open, the creditor cannot collect, so do not be intimidated or pressured by notices, phone calls, settlement offers and the like. Additionally, do not pay any debts out of your own pocket, as you may not be liable for them.

                                        Outstanding debts may not be collectable

Furthermore, under some circumstances, a creditor may be barred from collection. Once a case has been opened in probate court and notice has been sent to a creditor, that creditor has four months under Michigan law to assert a claim. Once that time runs out, the claim is barred forever. Additionally, if the deceased individual left an insolvent estate (no assets or less than what is owed), no creditor notice is required and creditors will be unable to collect outstanding debts.

Do not be in such a rush to move on that you put yourself at risk of paying a debt that can wait or a debt that you are not obligated to pay. Save yourself time, money, and energy. Grieve first, go to court later. And as always, contact an attorney to help navigate what can be a confusing and time-consuming process. 

Need help? Make an appointment with TMP Law for your consultation today. Don’t rush into decisions without the full and appropriate legal advice and backing.

Tina M. Patterson is the Principal Attorney of TMP Law, PLLC. She is an attorney licensed in the State of Michigan and Federal Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

To reach TMP Law, Call (313) 799-2123 or email

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