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.

Notifying Creditors

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.

Paying Creditors

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.

Joint Debts

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.

Author Bio

Catherine Hammond is the CEO and founder of Hammond Law Group, a Colorado-based estate planning law firm she founded in 2005. With a strong focus on protecting families from the legal consequences of disability and death, she creates comprehensive estate plans that minimize taxes, costs, and government interference.

A native of Denver, Catherine completed her undergraduate studies at Coe College in Iowa, and her Juris Doctorate from the University of Denver College of Law in 1993, concentrating on estate planning, tax, and mediation. Catherine is a member of various professional organizations, including WealthCounsel, ElderCounsel, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, the Colorado Springs Estate Planning Council, and the Purposeful Planning Institute. Beyond her legal expertise, Catherine provides transformational coaching to support clients and their families through life transitions.

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