This past year 2008 had been a difficult one with the death of my father. As Thanksgiving approached, my mother and I reflected on all the blessings we received throughout the year. We needed to have all our affairs in order, as we had not when my dad died. Through a friend who lives in the area, we were able to find Robert Meyring. He and his assistant Catie facilitated this process for us. We ...

"You're Worth More Dead than Alive!"

As of last report, the US national debt is $15.9 Trillion dollars. When I first wrote about the Debt in June of 2008, the national debt was only 9 Trillion dollars! So in 4 year's time the Debt has increased almost 77%. All American citizens are individually carrying a national debt burden of $51,051.20 per person [1] up from $30,900 4 years ago. I couldn't imagine 9 million of debt then. I cannot imagine $16 Trillion even now.

Debt seems to be an American fact of life. For many, paying the monthly mortgage, second mortgage, credit cards, student loan, or car payments are here to stay. What are the chances you will have some debt when you're gone. Actually the debt passes to you estate. But then what happens to your debt with your estate? Does it go away? Or does it then become the surviving family's debt? That depends.

In a scene from "It's A Wonderful Life," Frank Capra's 1946 classic with Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey. Mr. Potter, the money-grabbing evil tycoon of Bedford Falls, mocked George as he summed up George Bailey's net worth: "You're Worth More Dead Than Alive!" George Bailey couldn't get Potter's words out of his head: "You're worth more dead than alive!" because George's life insurance policy was worth more than the debt he Mr. Potter. In a moment of inebriated haze (after his DUI and crashing his car), George jumped off the bridge, into icy waters below in seeming agreement with Potter's twisted logic.

George should have known that his life insurance policy might have a suicide clause that prevents the payment of insurance if the insured person commits suicide. Contrary to the fictional account by Capra, death or suicide does not grant a debt-pass for the decedent. Debts of an estate are complicated issues with many factors to consider. Sometimes debt of the individual may be eliminated by death and court order, but the court, by law, must consider 1) the gross value of the estate assets and debts, 2) the financial needs and means of the surviving family and children, and 3) the rights of the creditors of the estate.

Generally, if there are enough assets, monies, properties in the estate to pay the creditors, then creditors will often have legal right for payment.

In Georgia there are some protections built in to the Probate Code to help the surviving widow or orphan's handling of estate collection. Sometime's the protection might "save the family home." These protections available by Probate petition are available only 2 years after the death of the family member.

If you believe that debt can never exceed the value of one's life, then a person can never be worth more dead than alive.

* Robert S. Meyring, of Meyring Law Firm offers free 10 minute phone evaluations at 678-217-4369. The Meyring Law Firm is located 200 feet east of the railroad crossing on Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta. More information at www.MeyringFirm.com.


[1] Based on current calculations of national debt/US population or $15,907,138,660,280.97/311,591,917 people = $51,051.20/person.