How Student Loan Debt Fits Into Your Estate Planning

When a debtor with student loan debt passes away, the fate of the outstanding loans depends on various factors, such as the loan type, the terms of the loan agreement, and the applicable laws. Read on for some scenarios about what could happen with student loan debts after the debtor's death. 

  • Federal Student Loans: In the case of federal student loans, most loan programs offer a death discharge, which means that the debt is forgiven upon the borrower's death. When the borrower's death certificate is provided to the loan servicer or the Department of Education, the remaining loan balance is typically discharged, and the estate or the borrower's family is not responsible for repaying the debt.
  • Private Student Loans: Private student loans are not subject to the same federal protections as government loans. The policies regarding loan discharge after the borrower's death may vary among private lenders. Some lenders may offer death discharge options like federal loans, while others may hold the estate or co-signers responsible for repaying the remaining debt. 
  • Co-Signed Loans: If someone co-signed a student loan, their obligations may differ based on the loan type and the specific agreement with the lender. In some cases, co-signers may become solely responsible for repaying the remaining debt upon the borrower's death. It's crucial for co-signers to review the loan terms and consult with the lender to understand their obligations and potential options.
  • Community Property States: In community property states, where assets and debts acquired during the marriage are considered jointly owned, the surviving spouse may have responsibility for the student loan debt incurred during the marriage, regardless of whether they were a co-signer or a borrower. However, laws can vary, so it's important to consult with an attorney familiar with the laws of the specific state.
  • Estate Claims: In general, outstanding student loan debt is considered an obligation of the borrower's estate. This means that if there are sufficient assets in the borrower's estate, creditors, including student loan lenders, may make claims against those assets to recover the outstanding debt. However, if the estate does not have enough assets to cover the debt, the remaining balance may be discharged.

It is essential for the borrower's family or executor to notify the loan servicer or lender of the borrower's passing to initiate the necessary process and provide the required documentation. Consulting with an attorney experienced in estate matters can provide valuable guidance in navigating the specific circumstances and legal requirements related to student loan debts after a borrower's death.

Contact a local estate planning attorney to learn more.