Can the IRS Come After Me for My Parents’ Debt?

Navigating the Complexities of Inherited Tax Debt

In the United States, debts are not directly passed on to heirs upon the death of a family member. However, if there are any assets within the deceased individual’s estate, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has the first claim to settle any outstanding tax liabilities. This means that while beneficiaries do not inherit unpaid tax bills, these debts must be resolved before any distribution of assets can occur.

Understanding the IRS’s Collection Authority

The IRS possesses significant authority in pursuing estate tax liability, with a collection statute expiration date (CSED) of 10 years. In certain cases, this pursuit can extend beyond the 10-year mark. It is crucial to note that estate planning, estate taxes, and income taxation are distinct categories, each requiring careful coordination and professional guidance to ensure compliance with both current and past laws.

What Happens to Tax Debt After Someone Dies?

Any income earned by a deceased individual up until the date of their passing must be reported on their personal tax return. Income generated after their death is accounted for on the estate’s tax return for that calendar year. Surviving spouses are responsible for reporting the deceased individual’s income on their next joint tax filing.

While federal student loans are forgiven upon the borrower’s death, tax debt is not automatically extinguished. The executor of the will who fails to file taxes for the deceased individual risks triggering a federal lien against the estate and incurring personal financial liability.

Inherited Tax Debt: Your Responsibilities

Technically, children are not obligated to pay off their parents’ tax debt. However, this does not guarantee that the inheritance received will remain untouched if the deceased owed money to the IRS.

“The money and property you inherit is subject to being used to settle the tax debt of the deceased,” explains Derek Jacques, a general practice attorney at The Mitten Law Firm in Detroit. “So, if your parents owed taxes in the sum of $30,000, the IRS could sue to have $30,000 taken out of whatever inheritance you receive.”

In cases where the inheritance includes cash, the IRS may seize the funds up to the amount of the outstanding debt, effectively resolving the issue. However, if the debt is substantial and involves property that the heir wishes to retain, options such as partial payment installment agreements or offers in compromise, where the IRS agrees to accept less than the full amount owed, can be explored.

Steps to Take When Inheriting Tax Debt

If you inherit tax debt from your parents, it is advisable to consult with a tax attorney to review the will or trust, if applicable. The following steps can provide guidance:

  1. Determine Responsibility: Establish who is liable for the specific debt. If you are not the executor of the will, reviewing the document with the designated party is a prudent first step.

  2. Contact the IRS: Reach out to the IRS to clarify the situation. Assessing taxes early on can help determine if heirs are entitled to any inheritance, as wrongful distribution from an insolvent estate may result in additional costs, interest, and liability.

  3. Consider Payment Options: If the tax debt is significant and involves property you wish to inherit, inquire about possible partial payment installment agreements or explore an offer in compromise with the IRS.

  4. Consult a Tax Attorney: Seek professional advice to become fully aware of potential tax pitfalls and explore all available options.

Tax Debt Relief Options

While avoiding tax liability is a worthwhile pursuit during one’s lifetime, it is not a viable strategy when inheriting tax debt. However, there are options available to alleviate the burden of inherited tax debt:

  1. IRS Payment Plans and Debt Forgiveness: The IRS offers payment programs that are more flexible than in the past, provided that tax relief standards are met. An offer-in-compromise, where the IRS agrees to settle the taxpayer’s liability for less than the full amount owed, is a longshot but may be worth exploring in specific circumstances.

  2. Debt Consolidation: Debt consolidation involves combining multiple debts into a single payment, potentially reducing interest rates and monthly payments. This can provide financial relief and help individuals navigate unexpected financial emergencies or manage high-interest debts.

  3. Settling Tax Debt with the IRS: The IRS offers avenues for settling tax debt beyond installment plans. However, hiring a tax attorney with experience in dealing with the IRS is advisable, especially for substantial debts. It is crucial to adhere to the terms of any agreement made with the IRS, as deviations can result in severe consequences.

  4. Bankruptcy: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy filings may offer some allowances for tax debt, but generally, tax debt is not discharged through bankruptcy. Pursuing tax forgiveness through bankruptcy is only viable if it can be proven that the taxes resulted from fraud. Otherwise, bankruptcy is not a reliable solution for tax debt relief.

  5. Taking Out a Loan: In certain situations, taking out a loan to pay off tax debt may make financial sense, depending on the loan terms and the amount of taxes owed. However, it is essential to be vigilant against loan scams that target vulnerable individuals.

Additional Debt Relief Options

Debt can have detrimental effects, including compromising one’s ability to stay current on tax payments. In the case of inherited debt, whether as a co-signer on a deceased parent’s accounts or in the form of a tax lien against an estate, it can significantly reduce inheritance.

If you find yourself in debt or inheriting debt, there are debt relief options available:

  1. Credit Counseling: Addresses the root causes of debt, assists in developing budgets, managing finances, and negotiating settlements or payment plans with creditors.

  2. Debt Settlement: An agreement where a lender accepts a lump sum payment, often significantly less than the amount owed. It is particularly beneficial for borrowers with high balances on high-interest credit cards.

  3. Debt Management: Nonprofit credit counseling agencies offer debt management plans that provide a structured approach to paying down debt. They reduce credit card interest rates and make monthly payments more manageable, allowing consumers to pay off debt within 3-5 years.

Debt can be overwhelming, especially when compounded by high credit card interest rates. Avoiding debt is not always possible, but seeking professional help is a wise move to manage debt effectively and secure your financial future.

Can You Inherit Your Parent’s Debt?


Can the IRS come after you for your parents debt?

Upon death if there are any taxes owed to the IRS by either parent only that individual is liable for that debt. The IRS can’t collect that debt from the surviving spouse or from the children.

Can IRS come after family members?

If a deceased person owes taxes the Estate can be pursued by the IRS until the outstanding amounts are paid. The Collection Statute Expiration Date (CSED) for tax collection is roughly 10 years — meaning the IRS can continue to pursue the Estate for that length of time.

Does IRS debt transfer to children?

The debt becomes an obligation of the deceased’s estate, which is subject to an IRS lien. If the estate includes a home or other property, the lien will reflect that. The bad news is, none of the estate’s assets can be distributed to beneficiaries or used to pay off debts.

Does IRS debt pass to heirs?

If the final return shows a tax liability due or if the person died while owing a tax debt, their estate will pay the bill during the probate process. Probate is a legal process that pays off your debts and distributes the remaining assets to your heirs.

Do children have to pay off their parent’s tax debt?

Technically, children won’t have to pay off their parent’s tax debt. But that doesn’t mean what you have coming in a will is entirely yours if the deceased owes money to the IRS.

What happens if your parents owe taxes?

“So, if your parents owed taxes in the sum of $30,000, then the IRS could sue to have $30,000 taken out of whatever inheritance you receive. “However, if your parents left you $10,000 in cash when they passed away, the IRS would seize the $10,000 and then the issue would be resolved.

What should I do if I have a tax debt?

If the tax debt is significant and involves property you’re inheriting and would like to keep, ask the IRS about possible partial payment installment agreement. Or, if desperate times call for it, ask about an offer in compromise in which the IRS might agree to accept less than what is owed.

What happens to tax debt if a person dies?

While some debts disappear after the debtor dies, that’s not true of tax debts. That debt is now owed to the IRS by the deceased’s estate, and the IRS will attach a lien to it for the amount owed. If the estate includes property, like a home, the lien may include that property.

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