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  • Writer's pictureLinda Varga

Is Unpaid Child Support Payable From the Deceased Parent’s Probate Estate in California?

Is Unpaid Child Support Payable From the Deceased Parent’s Probate Estate in California?

The death of a parent can leave many unresolved issues, including unpaid child support obligations. In California, understanding whether unpaid child support is payable from a deceased parent’s probate estate is essential for ensuring that the financial needs of the child are met. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how unpaid child support is handled during the probate process in California.

1. Understanding Child Support Obligations

Child support is a legal obligation that parents must fulfill to provide financial assistance for their children’s upbringing. These payments cover essential needs such as housing, food, clothing, education, and medical care. When a parent with child support obligations passes away, any unpaid child support does not simply disappear; it becomes a debt of the deceased parent's estate.

2. Priority of Debts in Probate

In California, the probate process involves settling the deceased’s debts before distributing the remaining assets to beneficiaries. The state has a specific order of priority for paying debts from the estate:

  1. Funeral Expenses

  2. Administration Costs

  3. Debts and Taxes with Preference under Federal Law

  4. Secured Debts

  5. Judgments Rendered Against the Decedent During Their Lifetime

  6. All Other Claims

Unpaid child support falls into the category of debts and must be addressed by the estate’s executor or administrator.

3. Filing a Claim for Unpaid Child Support

To ensure that unpaid child support is paid from the deceased parent’s estate, the custodial parent or legal guardian must file a claim with the probate court. This claim must be submitted within the statutory period for creditor claims, which is typically four months from the date the executor or administrator is appointed.

The claim should include:

  • The Total Amount of Unpaid Child Support: This includes any arrears accumulated before the parent’s death.

  • Documentation: Copies of court orders, payment records, and any relevant correspondence that support the claim.

4. Enforcing Child Support Judgments

If there is an existing court order for child support, it can be enforced against the deceased parent’s estate. California law provides mechanisms to ensure that child support judgments are treated as a priority claim. The probate court will review the claim and, if valid, direct the executor or administrator to pay the arrears from the estate’s assets.

5. What If the Estate Lacks Sufficient Assets?

In cases where the estate lacks sufficient assets to cover all debts, including unpaid child support, the debts are paid in the order of priority until the assets are exhausted. Unfortunately, this means that if the estate is insolvent, some debts, including child support arrears, may not be fully paid.

6. Life Insurance and Child Support

If the deceased parent had a life insurance policy, the proceeds from this policy typically go directly to the named beneficiaries and do not become part of the probate estate. However, in some cases, life insurance policies can be contested if it is believed that they were intended to cover child support obligations. It’s essential to consult with a legal professional to explore this option.

7. Seeking Legal Assistance

Navigating the probate process and ensuring that unpaid child support is addressed can be complex. Seeking legal assistance from a probate attorney can provide clarity and help ensure that the claim is filed correctly and in a timely manner. An attorney can also assist in exploring other potential sources of payment, such as life insurance or other assets outside the probate estate.


Unpaid child support is a significant obligation that does not end with the death of a parent. In California, it is considered a debt that must be addressed during the probate process. By filing a timely and well-documented claim, custodial parents can seek to ensure that the financial needs of their children are met from the deceased parent’s estate. Given the complexities involved, consulting with a probate attorney can provide valuable guidance and support in navigating this process effectively.



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