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Can estate creditors claim the entire estate of a decedent in Utah?

Creditors will sometimes threaten to seize all assets of a deceased person's estate in order to satisfy debts.  Some may even threaten to seize life insurance policy proceeds, or threaten to sue the decedent's personal representative to satisfy the decedent's outstaning debts.  Under Utah law, a personal representative is normally not liable for the debts of a decedent.  And while creditors do have a claim against the estate of a decedent to satifsfy unpaid debts, certain property is exempt.  Two of these exemptions or allowances are intended specifically to preserve at least a part of the estate in order to provide for the decedent's surviving spouse or children.

Utah's homestead allowance, Utah Code Ann. 75-2-402, a surviving spouse or surviving minor dependent children are entitled to claim $22,500 from the decedent's estate.  This claim has priority against all other claims by creditors that may be made against the estate.  If the spouse survives, then he/she is entitled to that entire sum.  If the decedent leaves no surviving spouse, then any surviving minor dependent children share the homestaed allowance equally.  (Note that the homestead allowance is only effective if the estate actually has assets valued at that amoun.)

Utah law also contains an additional exemption under Utah Code Ann. 75-2-403 which provides that a suriving spouse or children (who need not be minors or dependents of the decedent) are entitled from the estate to a value of $15,000 in household furniture, furnishings, appliances, automobiles, and personal effects.  If the decedent's estate does not have $15,000 worth of exempt property, this value can be made up for with other estate assets.  This amount is in addition to the homestead allowance.

Life insurance is typically also exempt from claims by creditors of the decedent.  Because the proceeds of a life insurance policy typically pass outside the estate of the estate of the decedent, that money never becomes property of the decedent or of the decedent's estate.  The decedent's creditors or the estate's creditors therefore typically will not have claim against the insurance proceeds.

Under most circumstances, a personal representative is not liable for the debts incurred by a decedent.  An exception to this rule can be made if the personal representative pays out or distributes non-exempt estate property to the decedent's heirs or devisees without paying creditors.

For help in creating a will, trust, and other estate planning tools specifically tailored to meet your needs and the needs of those you care for, contact one of our Utah estate planning attorneys today.


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