How can I collect against a debtor if they died and there are no assets in their estate?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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How can I collect against a debtor if they died and there are no assets in their estate?

I have a judgment against a debtor who has now died. There are now no assets in the estate because everything he owns is held by middle-men. Is there a way to

Asked on September 20, 2018 under Bankruptcy Law, New York


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

You could file a claim against the estate--i.e. sue the estate for the deceased's debt. But if there are truly no assets--everything is owned by others--then you will not recover anything. You'd have to show that the assets "held by middle-men" are not in fact held by them--that they were actually owned by the deceased when he died. You'd also have to show that if there were any liens, mortgages, security interests, etc. on those assets (e.g. on any real estate with a mortgage; any cars that were financed; etc.), that those liens, etc. were fraudulent, since if they were valid, they would take precedence over your claim. 
In short, while in theory you could contest this, since as the person suing (plaintiff) the "burden of proof" (obligation to prove your case) would be on you, and proving the true ownership of assets or disproving validity of liens, etc. on them could be very difficult, you could spend a great deal of time, effort and (if you hire a lawyer) money on a difficult case and end up getting nothing. Not all debts an be collected  on.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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