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Handling credit card debt after death

After California residents die, spouses or others who are left behind may wonder if they are responsible for the decedent's credit card debt. In most cases, they are not. However, it is possible that debt collectors or others may try to convince a surviving loved one to pay it.

An individual is generally responsible for paying a deceased loved one's credit card debt if he or she was on the account. Furthermore, surviving spouses who live in a community property state could be responsible for the obligation if it was considered a joint marital debt. If it was considered a separate debt, an individual wouldn't be liable for paying it off. In the event that neither of these criteria are met, the decedent's estate is generally responsible for paying a credit card debt.

Regardless of whether a person is on the hook for a credit card debt, it is a good idea to notify creditors that a cardholder has died. It may also be a good idea to let the credit card company know if the estate is going through probate. Creditors of any kind will likely need to see a death certificate to verify that an individual is actually deceased.

Typically, the distribution of assets during probate happens after final expenses such as taxes and other bills are paid. Therefore, it is a good idea for an executor or other concerned parties to verify who is responsible for paying off any outstanding debt balances. If the estate is responsible, money paid to creditors may reduce what is available to beneficiaries. An attorney with estate administration experience can often be of assistance in this regard.

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