When you die, does your credit card debt go with you? The answer may surprise you.
Credit card debt does not instantly vanish upon death. The credit issuers don’t just walk away. They go after the funds through the estate of the deceased or any joint cardholders.
Let’s take a look at how this process works and what a family can expect after losing a loved one who had credit card debt.
Joint Cardholders Are Stuck With the Bill
If you have a joint account with your spouse and pass away, your spouse is stuck with the debt. While this seems far from ideal, that is exactly what you signed up for when opening the account.
If you are an authorized user on a card but not named as an account holder, you are not responsible for the debt unless you live in a community property state. Still, if you’re an authorized user of a card owned by someone in poor health, you may want to consider getting yourself removed from the account just to be on the safe side. You don’t want a credit card company to come after you for debts you didn’t incur yourself.
Divorce Doesn’t Mean You’re off the Hook
The financial portion of most divorce settlements focuses on dividing assets, but credit card debt is an important part of any divorce as well. Deciding who carries the liabilities going forward is also a decision that should be part of your settlement.
If two people share a joint credit card and the account is not updated after the divorce, it’s probable that the ex-spouse is still listed on the account. It may also include children, new partners, and other authorized users. This could make the post-mortem credit card experience a nightmare.
After a divorce, the best option is to close any joint accounts and remove your ex as an authorized user. Also, make sure you are removed from any accounts that your ex-spouse used as a primary cardholder. This helps to ensure you don’t get stuck paying bills for your ex if he or she passes away.
The Estate Pays Debts Before Benefits
When someone dies, all of that person’s assets generally become a part of an estate. Even if the deceased’s will promises to pay each family member $100,000, that doesn’t happen until after all debts and liabilities are paid by the estate.
Settling the credit card debt for someone who has died sometimes requires selling off assets. And credit card companies have been known to go after adult children and other relatives to recoup their losses.
If you have any doubt about this process, your best option is to work with a qualified estate attorney who can guide you and other beneficiaries through the process.
Staying Debt-Free Makes Things Easier for Everyone
Death is an unfortunate reality, but the process of managing an estate and other financial matters after losing a loved one does not have to be miserable or difficult.
With the right planning, managing an estate can be a fairly simple process. But it is even easier if the deceased did not leave any outstanding debt.
So what happens to credit card debt when you die? If there is any way to collect, the credit card companies will chase the opportunity. But if you can pay off those debts before saying goodbye, things will be much easier for those you leave behind.