We recently had a caller that asked a great question. Her mother had passed away, and she wanted to know what her father’s responsibility was for her mom’s credit card debt. The credit card company was calling him to get him to pay the bill even though the debt was completely in her mom's name.
After someone dies, any money owed to creditors comes out of the deceased person’s estate. This means that the assets that were owned by the deceased are used to pay off his or her debts. In the case of spouses, there can be debt that was incurred by one individually, or in the name of both jointly. If a credit card account was opened by both spouses jointly, then the surviving spouse would still be responsible for that debt, regardless of who made the purchases.
In the case of the caller, her question concerned her mom’s credit card debt that was in the mom’s name only. The dad had not signed on the account and it was the mom’s personal charges. In this scenario, the mom’s estate alone is responsible for the remaining credit card bills. Her assets would be used to take care of this debt that she had incurred personally. Any amount that remained after the assets were used would not then become her spouse’s responsibility.
So if they owned a house together, then the house would likely automatically go to him. If they had joint bank accounts, same thing. If there was an account in her name only with a bank, the credit card company could get a piece of that. Otherwise, they are out of luck despite their attempts to make the family think they were responsible. In fact in this case, the bank reportedly was threatening to sue the caller and/or her dad if they didn't pay even though they had no legal basis to do so.
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