1. Getting the debt relieved without a bankruptcy route
- You can attempt to enter into negotiations with the credit card companies to reduce the debt owed or write it off. The fact that the debtor is no longer alive and there are arguably no assets (except for the Tennessee house) which are subject to judgment, you have a good chance to get them to agree to a reduction.
2. The Tennessee house
- As I understand it, this house is in your father's name. To be able to buy the house, you would first need to actually transfer the title
of the house to your mother. As they are domiciled in California, the court in California will be the able to issue an order that you can then take to Tennessee and file in the court's to show that the house now belongs to your mother. Then you can purchase the house from her. As it stands now, the Tennessee house is actually a asset which is subject to judgment, as it is not the owners' homestead. Thus, if the credit card companies go get a judgment on the debt owed (say, because you stopped paying them), you could potentially lose the house.
I think you should really try the negotiation route to see if they will work with you on the amount of the debt. I also recommend your mother transferring the title of the house to her name and then setting up some sort of sell to you to get the asset out of her name. In the end, if she sales all the assets which are liable to a judgment, then she can simply stop paying the credit cards. If there is nothing they can seize with a judgment, then all they can do is affect her credit score. This may or may not matter to her, and further she can challenge it.
The first thing though is to go ahead and file a small estate administration with the California Courts to get the property and bank accounts transferred to your mothers name. The bank accounts are subject to seizure upon judgment by a credit card company, so you want to be careful and do things quickly.