What Happens to Credit Card Debt After Your Spouse Dies?

After the death of a spouse, the only credit card debt the surviving spouse is generally responsible for is debt from joint accounts. The deceased’s estate pays for all other debt. However, in “community property” states the deceased’s estate may include a portion of jointly-held property like houses or cars. Our article below explains.

The death of a spouse is a world-shattering life event. The last thing the survivors want to do is think about what the deceased loved one owes. In the article below, we explain what happens to credit card debt after a death, including debt from joint accounts, authorized user accounts and debt in “community property” states. We also explain why it’s crucial to notify credit reporting agencies and creditors of the death, and we explain how to do it.

The death of a spouse is traumatic enough without worrying about debt. Dealing with the problem as soon as a survivor is able can stop problems from growing to nightmare proportions.

credit card debt after spouse deathCredit Card Debt After Spouse Death

After the death of a spouse, the survivor is generally only responsible to pay credit card debt from joint accounts. In almost all other cases, the deceased spouse’s estate is responsible for paying all debts, including credit card debts. The executor of the deceased’s estate is in charge of paying off debts, but is not personally liable to pay them.

Credit Card Debt After Death in “Community Property” States

credit card debt spouse death community property

In some states, jointly held property like a house is part of a deceased spouses estate. In those states, credit card companies can claim a portion of it to pay off outstanding debts.

In most situations, someone whose spouse dies is only responsible for the deceased’s credit card debt if the debt was in a joint account. A major exception is in “community property” states. In these states, it’s still true that the deceased’s credit card debt from non-joint accounts is paid for by his or her estate. However, the estate may include jointly held property, such as a house owned by both the deceased and the surviving spouse. In community property states, credit card companies can sometimes force the sale of a family home to pay off a deceased’s credit card debts.

Community property states are California, Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Wisconsin and Washington.

Even in community property states, a legal case can often be made for preventing creditors from going after joint property. If a spouse dies and a credit card company from a non-joint account tries to force the sale of a family home to pay off a debt, the surviving spouse should contact a lawyer.

If there’s not enough money in the deceased spouse’s estate to pay off his or her credit card debt, the credit card company usually writes off the debt. In this case the debt is dissolved.

roth ira rules traditional ira

IRAs and other retirement accounts are generally not classified as community property as long as the deceased named a beneficiary for the account.

What is Community Property?

In most cases, IRAs, 401ks and insurance aren’t counted as community property as long as a beneficiary was named. That’s why it’s important to name a beneficiary for all retirement accounts and insurance. Naming a beneficiary keeps an account out of a spouse’s estate after death, where credit card companies have no legal claim on it.

Community property is generally anything either spouse acquired after the wedding. It does not include anything either spouse received before the wedding, nor does it include anything given as a gift to one spouse or the other during the marriage. It also doesn’t include inheritances.

Credit Score Helped by Credit CardsCredit Card Debt from Authorized User Accounts

If a spouse dies and the surviving spouse was an authorized user on the deceased’s credit card account, the survivor is not responsible for the debt. Credit card debt in this situation is paid for by the deceased spouse’s estate. However, a surviving spouse with an authorized user status on a deceased spouse’s credit card account may want to contact the credit card company and apply for a new individual credit card.

Placing a Death Notice on a Credit Report

Identity thieves often prey on the recently deceased, using their names to open up fraudulent credit accounts. These illegal accounts can rack up new credit card debt after a spouse dies and cause big trouble for survivors. A surviving spouse can save a lot of trouble down the road by notifying the three credit reporting bureaus of a spouse’s death.

credit score reporting bureaus

Surviving spouses should notify all three credit reporting bureaus of a spouse’s death.

The three credit reporting bureaus are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Notifying each of them can stop identity thieves from opening new accounts in a deceased spouse’s name.

To notify the credit reporting bureaus of a spouse’s death, write a short letter to each of them, stating that the spouse has died. Include a copy of the death certificate with each letter. Notifications that a spouse has died should be sent to:


Equifax Information Services LLC
Office of Consumer Affairs
PO Box 105139
Atlanta, GA 30348


P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013


TransUnion LLC
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19022

A surviving spouse should also order the deceased spouse’s credit report. That will show exactly how many credit accounts the spouse has and the standing of each.

credit card debt after spouse death notify creditorsNotify Creditors of the Spouse’s Death

Surviving spouses should notify all creditors of a spouse’s death. That’s because credit card companies and other creditors are prevented by law from charging late fees and annual fees to accounts of deceased people. Notify all credit card companies and other creditors of the death in writing. Include a copy of the death certificate with each notification.

Harassing Credit Collection Calls After a Spouse Death

In some cases, collection agencies have harassed surviving spouses after a spouse died. Normally, the only debts credit card companies are legally allowed to pursue after the death of a spouse are debts from joint credit accounts. In the event that a collection agency repeatedly calls a surviving spouse trying to collect debt from a non-joint account, the survivor should seek legal help.