Is my mom responsible for her deceased husbands credit card bills?

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Is my mom responsible for her deceased husbands credit card bills?

My stepdad passed away 12/25/10 and had approx. $10K in credit card debt. My mom was not on his accounts however they are now harassing her to pay up. We live in MN which is not a community property state (I believe). I think the house was in his name as well. However with the economy she is upside down with value so there are no assets to pay his debts. Is she obligated to pay this?

Asked on April 13, 2011 under Bankruptcy Law, Minnesota

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Generally, one spouse is not obligated to pay the bills of the other spouse. However, there are several exceptions to this rule. If the couple lived in a community property state, a spouse would typically bear responsibility for such a debt (you are correct MN is not such a state). The second exception would be if the spouse signed or in some other way agreed to be legally bound for re-payments on the debt (you did not indicate that totbe the case here). The last exception falls under something called the "doctrine of necessities" (many states have abandoned this doctrine but some still follow it).  Under the doctrine, one spouse is liable for the "necessary" expenses incurred by the other spouse during marriage. This holds true for any debt but particularly for medical bills which are deemed to almost always be “necessary”. 

Absent any of the above, your mom bears no responsibility for your step-dad's debts. However, in the case of a deceased spouse, even in a situation that did not fall into one of the above exceptions, the deceased’s estate would still be liable for repayment; therefore, indirectly as surviving spouse could be affected financially.


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