Friday, June 17, 2011

Who will Carry the Load for Your Credit Card Debt after Your Death?

What happens to your credit card when you die?There's no one-size-fits-all answer. A number of factors, including where you live and who applied for the card, can radically alter the situation.

Here's the simple part: If the card was yours alone, with no joint account holders, the debt is yours alone, too.

When you die, your estate is responsible for paying off the balance. If the estate goes through probate, your administrator or executor will look at your assets and debts and, guided by law, determine in what order bills should be paid. Remaining assets will be distributed to heirs by following your will (if you have one), or state law (if you don't).

States that employ community property laws: Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. Not all community property states play by the same rules. "All states have variations."

So if your husband or wife has a separate card account and runs up debt, at death "it's possible that debt could pass to the spouse," says Kerr. But it isn't always cut and dried. "I think there is case law going either way," he says.
Generally speaking, the estate is responsible for the debts of the decedent. If a person owned any property at the time of their death that property comprises the estate and their estate must be probated. Depending on the size of the estate, many jurisdictions have less formal procedures for small estates. The decedent's debts must be paid before there can be any distribution to the heirs. If the assets of the estate are not sufficient to pay those debts the estate is declared to be insolvent. There is no liability for personal debts if the estate cannot pay. The lender can repossess property in the case of any secured debt such as one for the purchase of an automobile. Of course, in the case of a mortgage, the lender can foreclose and take possession of the property.

Creditors have a statutory period in which to file a claim against the estate. State laws vary. You need to check the laws of your state to determine if any special provisions may apply. In community property states, credit accounts opened in one name during a marriage may automatically become joint accounts. The situation changes in the case of JOINT account holders. If you are a joint account holder or co-signer with the decedent then you will be held responsible for full payment of the outstanding balance.

Note that many creditors will try to get payment from heirs. Check with an attorney before making any payments toward any debt of a decedent. If there is no estate, most creditors will close the account upon the receipt of a death certificate. Once a death certificate is received by the creditor along with a letter explaining that there is no estate, creditors usually forgive the debt, close the account and write it off. In the case of a persistent creditor, an estate may need to be filed even if there is no estate in order to satisfy the creditor that the debtor has died and there is no estate.


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