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Law Educator, Esq.
Law Educator, Esq., Attorney
Category: Estate Law
Satisfied Customers: 99872
Experience:  Experienced in Trust and Succession Law, including Louisiana Laws
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Re Responsibility for credit card debt when a spouse dies.

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Re: Responsibility for credit card debt when a spouse dies. My mother-in-law, living in New York state (non-community prop state), recently passed away and had $70000 of credit card debt with only about $900 of assets in her name, so her estate will be insolvent. We have a credit report which shows some of her credit card accounts as individual, some joint, and some that are individual with her husband as an authorized user.

I know the husband will be held responsible for the joint accounts, and should be exempt from the accounts that were individual if he was not an authorized user. But what about the ones where he was only an authorized user? Is he legally responsible for those, and even if he isn't, will the credit card companies likely try to make him responsible anyway? As executor, how should he proceed to clear this up? None of the companies have been contacted yet. Is the determining factor whether his signature is on the credit app? Thanks.
Submitted: 5 years ago.
Category: Estate Law
Expert:  Law Educator, Esq. replied 5 years ago.
First off, believe it or not and as crazy as it may sound to you BOTH attorneys are correct. First, you are not normally personally liable for any separate debt of your spouse. When a spouse dies leaving separate debt, their estate is liable to pay off that debt before any heir can collect anything from the estate. Thus, the second issue comes up, if he was part owner on the house, then they can place a lien on his share of the ownership only meaning it can still pass to his heirs but with the lien that must be paid off by the heirs before they can get clear title. Additionally, if they creditor alleges that the card was used for marital necessities, they can also try to seek the other spouse liable for the debt, but this is a bit harder since they have to prove the use of the card was for items typically used and needed in a marital community.

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Customer: replied 5 years ago.

The house was jointly owned, but you're saying it could still be used to make him responsible for even the credit card debt that was hers alone if her estate is insolvent?


Would the credit card companies try to get him to make payments before they would place a lien on his property? He would not be able to make even the minimum monthly payments so would be forced into bankruptcy, so would bankruptcy stop them from placing the lien? Thanks.



Expert:  Law Educator, Esq. replied 5 years ago.
The estate is not insolvent as long as there was a house owned in joint tenancy and he gets her 1/ 2 ownership of that house outright, but her share of the house can be subject to the lien since it is a part of her estate. He could make some arrangements to repay, but that is up to the creditors. Bankruptcy would not force them to stop placement of the lien because they are placing the lien on her share of the house and not his share. He really should be using a probate attorney on this matter to best resolve it in a manner to least impact him and his ownership of the house.
Law Educator, Esq., Attorney
Category: Estate Law
Satisfied Customers: 99872
Experience: Experienced in Trust and Succession Law, including Louisiana Laws
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