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Several years ago my husband divorced his first wife and in the divorce decree, he was given $30,000.00 for his portion of their house, to be paid by his wife within three years after the divorce. She could keep or sell the house as long as he was paid within the the court ordered period. Before the date of payment expired, his ex-wife passed away. She willed the house, worth $450,000 to her son. The son was told about the $30,000, but sold the house and spent all the money and my husband (his father) never received the $30,000 for the house granted in the divorce. Is the son liable for the money?
That is a really good question. The first thing to do is look at the specific language of the divorce decree. The question is, is the $30,000 debt a lien on the house itself? You may need to check with a divorce attorney to answer that, as the decree itself might be silent on the question.
If it is a lien, ordinarily inheritances are taken “subject to” any liens. So, for example, if you have a bank mortgage on your house, that debt stays with the house when your heirs inherit it.
But if the debt wasn’t a lien, then it was most likely a general debt of the estate. When assets are distributed from an estate, the heirs are normally liable for estate debts (up to the amount they inherited).
However, most states have fairly short and strict requirements to make a formal demand for payment in a probate proceeding, or after someone has died. If you’ve missed these deadlines, you may be out of luck. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to check with an attorney to see if there’s a way around them, but you should do it quickly, as the longer you wait the weaker your argument becomes.