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What Happens to Credit Card Debt After the Death of a Spouse?

What Happens to Credit Card Debt After the Death of a Spouse?

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What Happens to Credit Card Debt After the Death of a Spouse?

If your spouse has recently passed away, you are likely dealing with grief alongside trying to organize their affairs. The process accompanying the loss of a loved one can be unbearable. 

You’ll likely need to organize their funeral, notify other close family and friends, as well as handle administrative affairs including the settlement of their estate. If your spouse had a significant estate, they likely left most of it to you and any children that you shared. 

While you may be dealing with a variety of different factors, you must also consider credit card debt and the death of a spouse. If your spouse had credit card debt in their name, you’ll need to review their credit accounts and any jointly held debts so that you can make on-time payments as needed. 

If you’re wondering what to do about credit card debt after the death of a spouse, reach out to the team at Morgan & Morgan by filling out our simple online form to schedule a free consultation.

Credit Card Debt and Death of Spouse: How to Handle Joint Accounts

If you hold joint credit card accounts with your deceased spouse, you’ll need to continue to make regular payments. You should also notify the lender that your spouse has passed away. Once the lender receives notification of the death, they will report your spouse as deceased when they send their account updates to credit bureaus. 

Once a credit bureau receives notice of the death, your spouse’s credit report will be flagged to indicate that he or she is deceased. This helps protect their identity from potential fraudulent individuals who may attempt to apply for credit in their name. 

Creditors cannot legally close joint credit accounts or modify their terms due to the death of a spouse. However, they will usually ask you to reapply for credit in your own name. Based on the results of your application, they have the right to decide whether to continue extending credit to you or adjust your credit limit. 

Credit Card Debt and Death of Spouse in a Community Property State

If you and your deceased spouse lived in a community property state, you are automatically a joint account holder of any accounts opened in their name while you were married. This means that you will be responsible for the repayment of these debts. 

Your spouse may have had accounts that you weren’t aware of or may have forgotten about, so make sure to keep a close eye on any incoming bills and make payments on time to avoid credit damage. 

Community property states include Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. Any debt assumed while living in these states during your marriage is considered joint debt, and each spouse has an equal obligation for its repayment. 

It does not matter if you agreed to the debts or even if you knew about them. You will still have an obligation to repay them. 

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  • Am I Responsible for My Deceased Spouse’s Debt If I Don’t Live in a Community Property State?

    With credit card debt and death of spouse, you may not be responsible for repaying it. The debt of a deceased person is paid from their estate. The estate consists of all of the assets that they owned at death. 

    If your spouse had a will, the executor they named will use the estate to pay off any creditors. If there was no will, a probate court judge will decide how to distribute the estate and will choose an administrator to carry out the duties. 

    Typically you are not responsible for your spouse’s credit card debts unless you held a joint account, cosigned for a loan, or lived in a community property state. Even if you did live in a community property state, the laws may be different from one state to another. 

    In some cases, it may be possible to limit your exposure to credit card debt in these states if you did not cosign the loan and had no knowledge of it. For specific state advice, contact an experienced attorney at Morgan & Morgan for a free case review

  • What Does It Mean When Debts Are Transferred to the Estate of My Deceased Spouse?

    Your deceased spouse’s estate consists of all of their property, money, and belongings that are left behind when they die. If your spouse has left a will, their property and assets will be itemized within it. 

    The will should also identify the administrator of their estate who is responsible for handling all of the financial issues of the deceased. That includes any debt they may leave behind. 

    In most cases, debt obligations are settled when someone dies. This will happen before there is any payout from the estate to the beneficiaries. Thus, the value of the overall estate will be diminished by any outstanding credit card debt that is owed by your spouse. 

    In many cases, property that was owned by the spouse—such as vehicles, real estate, or other valuables—may be liquidated to pay off the debt obligations of the estate. 

  • Credit Card Debt and Death of Spouse: What if My Spouse’s Estate Doesn’t Cover Their Credit Card Debt?

    In cases where the estate does not have enough value to pay off all of your spouse’s credit card debts, you have not cosigned on them, and you do not live in a community property state, the lender cannot collect on them. 

    Credit card companies may send debt collectors after you to try to get you to pay towards your spouse’s debt, but understand that you are not responsible for its repayment.
    It’s very important that you not agree with any debt collector to pay towards an old debt that you are not responsible for. Doing so can result in you being held liable in some jurisdictions. 

    Sometimes they may be very pushy, which can leave confused heirs feeling like they need to pay something to the lender, or assume responsibility. Unless you have sought legal guidance and they have advised you that you are responsible for the debt, ignore the debt collection calls. 

  • Will My Spouse’s Retirement Accounts or Life Insurance Benefits Be Impacted by Credit Card Debts?

    Creditors may pursue your spouse’s estate for repayment of credit card debts, but they are not allowed to collect from retirement accounts or life insurance benefits. Money in a retirement account such as a 401k or Roth IRA will go directly to the beneficiary of the account. 

    This is also true for life insurance benefits. Retirement and life insurance benefits are not part of the probate process that settles debts owed by an estate. 

    One exception is if life insurance beneficiaries are no longer living. In this case, death benefits may revert back to the estate and may be pursued by creditors. This is why it is important to keep your will and beneficiary information on retirement accounts and life insurance policies up to date. 

  • What if I Am the Executor of My Deceased Spouse’s Estate?

    If you are the executor of your spouse’s estate, nothing really changes. You are not responsible for paying their credit card debt unless you have assumed it jointly, cosigned for it, or live in a community property state. You will need to carry out their wishes for their estate and attempt to settle the debts through the assets that they had. 

  • What Are My Responsibilities to Credit Reporting Agencies After the Death of My Spouse?

    Credit card debt and death of spouse results in certain responsibilities. If your spouse recently passed away, you will want to contact all three of the major credit reporting bureaus and ask for a copy of both you and your spouse’s credit reports. 

    These reports will list all of the accounts that are held by you and your deceased spouse. Accounts that appear on both credit reports are considered joint accounts, and you will need to continue making regular payments on those.

    If you find discrepancies or don’t believe that you are a joint account holder of a particular credit card account or other types of debt, it’s important to reach out to the lender or the credit reporting agency. 

    See if you can locate a copy of the initial agreement to find out whether you did cosign on a loan and have simply forgotten about it. If you did, or find that you do have joint responsibility for the account, you will need to continue making payments to avoid negative marks on your credit account. 

    You may contact each of the three credit reporting agencies using the phone numbers below to obtain a copy of the reports you need:

    • Equifax: 1-800-685-1111
    • Experian: 1-888-397-3742
    • TransUnion: 1-800-888-4213

    In addition to asking for copies of you and your spouse’s credit reports, you may also let them know that your spouse is deceased. They will likely require a copy of the death certificate so that any credit accounts can be closed.

  • What Should I Do About Joint Secured Accounts?

    If you jointly owned property such as a car or a house with your deceased spouse, things may become more complicated. If the secured account is a joint account, you may talk with the creditor to have the debt transferred solely into your name. 

    If it is not a joint account, then the heir of the property involved must make arrangements to pay the debt, otherwise the property can be repossessed or foreclosed upon. Talk with creditors as soon as possible to avoid potential issues.

  • Do I Need Copies of My Spouse’s Death Certificate?

    Yes, you will need copies of your spouse’s death certificate. Banks, financial institutions, mortgage companies, email providers, and social media sites will need you to provide a certified death certificate to verify that the person has died before any accounts are closed down. 

    Depending on how much activity your spouse had with different organizations and entities, you may need more than a dozen copies. A funeral director can assist you with obtaining copies, or you may order them from state or local records offices where the death occurred.

  • Can My Deceased Spouse's Creditors Contact Me?

    In the United States, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act protects consumers from debt collectors who use abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect a debt. It also protects relatives after a family member has died. 

    The Federal Trade Commission advises that debt collectors may contact a deceased person’s spouse, parents, guardian, executor, and anybody who is authorized to pay off debts with assets from an estate. 

    You may insist that creditors stop contacting you by sending a letter stating that they should not contact you again. After the letter is sent, the creditor may contact you one more time to let you know they received the correspondence.

  • Handling a Spouse’s Death

    If you are unsure of your responsibilities for your spouse’s debts after they pass away, you may need legal assistance. An experienced attorney from Morgan & Morgan can review your personal circumstances and provide you with appropriate legal advice. 

    Fill out our simple online form to schedule a free legal consultation today. 

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