Paying off credit card debt

January 10, 2011

Learn whether you are responsible to pay off debt in your deceased spouse's name.

Q: My husband died recently, leaving more than $3,000 in credit card debt. Am I responsible for paying that off?

A: As with many financial questions, the answer here is, "it depends." The first issue is how the credit card was held. In the case of a married couple, cards can be held either individually or jointly. Jointly held credit cards (and in some cases where the living spouse had been added as an authorized account user) do become the responsibility of the living spouse.

In the case of cards held individually by the deceased, the general rule is that creditors usually have 6 months to file a claim to collect unpaid credit card charges. In situations where the surviving spouse can't pay the outstanding charges, the credit card company will make arrangements to collect from the estate.

If, however, there is no estate to collect from, credit card companies cannot pursue collections from the family. They can ask surviving family members to remit the credit card debt, but they can't legally force them to pay.

Be aware that different states have different laws about handling this type of debt. To be sure you are getting the correct information for your situation, you should contact a licensed credit counselor or qualified financial adviser. He or she will be able to advise you on all your financial and legal obligations resulting from the death of your spouse.

Send your money management questions to medec@advanstar.com
. Answers to our readers' questions were provided by Minoti Rajput, MBA, CFP, founder of Secure Financial Strategies in Southfield, Michigan; and Joe Gordon, CFP, CIMA, AIF, cofounder and managing partner of Gordon Asset Management in Durham, North Carolina.

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