Do I Have to Pay for my Deceased Spouse’s Debts?
When spouses die, the surviving spouse is left with a host of issues that must be dealt with, including the question of who pays for any debts left behind. While some people are afraid that they will be responsible for personal debts a deceased spouse left behind, this is generally not the case. Individual debts are typically only the responsibility of the person who took on the debt, and not their spouses. When the debt holder dies, it is up to the estate to pay off the remaining debt. Let’s take a look at how this process works.
Appointing an Executor
If your spouse dies, someone will have to step in and become responsible for managing all of his or her property. This person is called an executor, or sometimes a personal representative or estate administrator. The executor has the legal authority to manage the property and determine who becomes the new owner.
All the property a deceased person leaves behind is known as an estate, and it includes debts as well as assets. The executor will review and inventory all estate property. He or she will also notify potential creditors that the estate has been opened and that they need to submit a claim if they wish to be paid for the debt.
After identifying creditors, the executor will then use estate money to pay any remaining debts. If there is not enough estate money to pay these claims, the estate is known as “insolvent,” and some creditors will not be fully reimbursed.
It’s important to differentiate between individual and joint debts in estate planning circumstances. Family members do not have to pay for a deceased relative’s individual debts, but any joint debts held with other family members are different. If, for example, spouses have a joint credit card and one of them dies, the remaining spouse is still responsible for the credit card debt.