The growing problem of more Americans leaving behind debt when they pass away is discussed by MarketWatch in "1 in 5 Americans will die in debt." The inability to pay off their debts may create difficulties in planning for retirement as well as problems for estates.
This information comes from a survey conducted by CreditCards.com in which 21% of respondents said they would not be able to pay off their debts. This was up from a similar survey conducted last year in which 18% of people responded with the same answer.
Generally speaking, any debts remaining when a debtor passes away (for which he or she is solely responsible) are paid by their estate. However, if there are insufficient assets to pay all the debts, then the debt disappears. There are exceptions in community property states and for jointly held debts.
Of course, if there are not enough assets in an estate to pay off creditors, then there will be no assets to distribute to any heirs.
If you are concerned about your debt, it would be a good idea to speak with a financial advisor to see if there is any way to lessen that debt as well as an estate planning attorney about the impact of debt on your estate.
Reference: MarketWatch (Dec. 9, 2015) "1 in 5 Americans will die in debt"