Is Mom liable for Dad's credit card debt?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Dad just died. He had approximately eleven credit cards in his name only. Is Mom liable for his debt? She only recently became aware of his credit cards. Mom does not have the money to pay the debt and has a reverse mortgage on the home.

Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

 This sticky but not uncommon situation is handled slightly differently under differing state laws.

 

As a very general rule, your mom might be liable for your dad’s debts, even those on undisclosed credit cards, if she lives in a community property state, where assets and debts are shared. Community property states include Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Idaho and Washington, as well as Texas, Wisconsin and Louisiana. In Alaska, couples can opt in for community property.

 

If your mom does not live in a community property state and was not listed as a joint owner on the credit cards, she has a stronger case for not being liable for the debt your dad incurred.

 

Legalities aside, the reality is that credit card companies will likely at least attempt to collect the debt from your mom—and they can be notoriously dogged. And if your dad died leaving a will, then his creditors had to be notified of his death, and may get in line to be paid out of the estate assets.

 

Despite the credit card agencies doggedness, however, they do not have the right to hector your mom or make her life miserable with repeated calls and requests for payment. And even if your mom is legally liable for some or all of your dad’s outstanding debt, another reality is that given the shaky economy these days, most companies are willing to negotiate payment—often settling for pennies on the dollar.

 

To get free advice and counseling on this matter, encourage your mom to contact the Consumer Credit Counseling Service.