In addition to the grief of losing your spouse, you might wonder who bears the responsibility of paying off his outstanding credit card balance. Credit card debts are unsecured. Because of this, the credit card company lacks the right to seize any of your deceased husband's assets for nonpayment. In certain situations, however, the credit card company can legally pursue you for payment.
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When an individual dies, any assets and debts he left behind go into probate. The probate court releases a public notice that it is currently settling the estate. Your deceased husband's creditors must file claims against his assets in order to obtain payment. State laws regulate how long your spouse's assets remain in probate. After paying off any outstanding debts, the administrator of your deceased husband's estate allocates family inheritances. If the credit card company does not file a timely claim with the court, it is not entitled to recover the debt your husband owed through probate.
Joint Credit Cards
If you and your husband shared a joint credit card account, the credit card company will not file a claim with the probate court. Because you and your husband shared ownership of the account, the entire balance owed on the credit card becomes your sole responsibility. If you were merely an authorised user on your husband's credit card account, however, you are not liable for repaying your deceased spouse's credit card debt, even if you were the only one who made purchases on the card.
Community Property States
In community property states, the laws regarding liability for debts left behind by deceased spouses vary greatly. Community property states consider all assets accrued over the course of a marriage the property of both spouses, regardless of who earned the money and purchased the assets. Debts too, fall under community property laws. Because community property laws primarily apply to divorce rather than death, each community property state treats the obligations of a surviving spouse to her deceased husband's creditors differently.
Debt Collection Procedures
Unless you held a joint credit card with your deceased husband, or the two of you lived in a community property state, you are not legally liable for his debts upon his death. Creditors, however, may inform you otherwise.
If your husband's credit card company does not file a timely claim with the probate court, it might sell the defaulted debt to a collection agency that will then contact you about arranging payment. Although the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from threatening to use collection methods they are not legally entitled to, such as suing you or reporting the debt on your credit report, unethical collectors violate these laws in order to frighten and coerce you into paying a debt you do not legally owe.
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- Dummies.com: Probing Probate -- What You Should Know
- Clearpoint Credit Counseling Solutions: Dealing With Debt Management After the Death of a Spouse
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- Federal Trade Commission: The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (Section 807/p.7)