Is a surviving spouse liable for their deceased spouse’s debts?

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Is a surviving spouse liable for their deceased spouse’s debts?

My mother-in-law just passed away. At the time of her death she had credit card debt on 8 separate accounts totaling over $20,000. She is the only person listed on the accounts. Her husband was unaware of the debt. Can he or anyone else be held responsible for the debt? And how is the best way to inform the accounts of the death and stop the collectors from calling?

Asked on March 6, 2013 under Estate Planning, Utah

Answers:

Catherine Blackburn / Blackburn Law Firm

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

Unless your state law makes a spouse liable for the other spouse's debts, or the credit card agreement somehow makes the husband responsible, then he is not responsible.  The husband should inform the credit card companies that the cardholder is deceased and they should stop calling.  If they do not stop, talk with a lawyer or search the internet for actions you can take under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

If the family opens an estate, the credit card companies will file a claim.  If you don't open an estate, the credit card companies can open an estate for your mother in law if they are sufficiently motivated to do so.  If she had assets in her name alone, those assets would go into the estate and could be taken by the credit card companies.  Everything she had in joint name with her husband automatically goes to her husband, not into her estate.

I suggest you tell the credit card companies to stop calling or you will take action under the FDCPA.  Then see what they do.  If they open an estate, her husband will be notified.  At that time, you can consult a lawyer to assist.  It is likely the companies will just go away.


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