The probate process doesn’t just transfer a decedent’s property to living beneficiaries. It also pays debts that were in his sole name, at least to the extent that he left enough assets to cover them. If he didn’t, unsecured creditors typically don’t get paid. Joint cards are a different matter. When two people jointly contract with a lender for a credit card, they’re each responsible for paying 100 percent of the balance if the other can’t or won’t pay. Liability for the debt transfers to the living cardholder.
Notifying the Lender
You have an obligation to notify the credit card company that your spouse and co-debtor is no longer living. If you want to keep the account open, you can ask that his name be removed from the account and the card will continue to be active, just like before, but in your name alone. The lender may ask for proof of your spouse’s death, such as a copy of the death certificate, before removing his name from the account and his legal responsibility for paying it.
Paying the Debt
If you decide to close the account, this won’t remove your liability for the debt. Because your name is also on the credit card, you remain contractually liable but you must pay it on your own now. You can continue to use the card if you keep the account open. It’s still yours -- the company won’t issue a new card or open a new account in your sole name. But make sure it really is a joint account and that your spouse didn’t just add you to his card as an authorized user. Authorized users aren’t legally responsible for paying the debt and they can’t continue to make charges after the primary account holder dies.
- Bankrate: At Death, Who Inherits Credit Card Debt?
- FindLaw: Debts after Death
- Bankrate: Life after the Death of a Spouse
- Capital One. "What is an Authorized User?" Accessed July 31, 2020.
- Capital One. "Want to Add or Remove Other Users on Your Credit Card Account?" Accessed July 31, 2020.
- Capital One. "Co-Signers vs. Authorized Users: What's the Difference?" Accessed July 31, 2020.
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally for over 30 years. She is also a paralegal, specializing in areas of personal finance, bankruptcy and estate law. She writes as the tax expert for The Balance.