Q: Is the surviving spouse liable for the deceased spouse's credit card debt if only in the deceased's name?
If credit card debt was taken out by the deceased spouse in their name only and without the surviving spouse's knowledge, what rights does the surviving spouse have? Are they still liable for the debt? There is no will or estate.
A: That's tough to answer as there are many variables and ways it could go. A general rule in probate is that a person (spouse or otherwise) is liable for debts (even if they didn't know about it) to the extent they received assets from the decedent. So if the spouse received money/assets at death then arguably they may be liable. However, if a probate isn't necessary it may be harder for a creditor to collect. Often in a spousal death a full probate is not needed so it may be that the creditor could be avoided. Additionally, even if a full probate is required many creditors will walk away from debt rather than sue. Thus a person could reject the debt in probate and very often walk away without paying anything. There are other options as well. Hiring an experienced probate attorney would be key here in my professional opinion. Good luck. -John Palley
A: California is a community-property state. Therefore, property and debts acquired after the date of marriage and before the death of the spouse are community property and usually community debts. Creditors may be able to enforce and collect a community debt against your late husband’s estate or even you. If no probate proceeding was required or opened, which sounds like your case, the debts may be enforced against you. But the credit card company will need to take formal legal action to collect on the debt.
If the credit card company refers the account to a collection agency, the agency will make calls to you. Although collection calls may make threats of legal action, the threats are not the same as legal action itself. Ultimately, the creditor will need to bring a lawsuit. In California, the time frame for a creditor to bring a lawsuit to collect on the debt of a decedent is limited to one year from the date of death. So the passage of time here can be your best weapon in the fight against the credit card company’s collection efforts. Depending on the size of the debt and the amount of time left to collect it, the credit card company may decide whether to file suit or fold.
Deanny Lungu agrees with this answer
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