Am I responsible for the bills of my deceased spouse?

September 24, 2017 bscott

Question: Am I responsible for my deceased wife’s credit card bills? The cards were only in her name but the credit card companies keep calling me for payment. Do I have to pay the bills in her name?

Answer: This issue sometimes arises after the death of a spouse, when the surviving spouse starts going through the mail and discovers for the first time that their deceased spouse had credit cards or other debts they did not know about. Many times the amounts owed on these bills have high balances which the surviving spouse simply cannot afford to pay. The surviving spouse quickly becomes concerned whether or not he or she is liable for the debt the deceased spouse left behind.

If the credit card or debt is something that was solely in the name of your deceased spouse and you never signed anything agreeing to be liable for it, as a general rule you will not be personally liable for the bill.

This is true of credit cards, personal loans, car notes, business debts, mobile phone contracts, and other bills. Such items are debts of your deceased spouse and become liabilities of his/her estate and the creditor must seek payment through the succession proceeding.

There is one caveat however that you must be aware of. Although the creditor cannot pursue you personally for payment of the bill, the creditor is however permitted to pursue and collect against any community assets you owned with your deceased spouse.

For instance, even though you are not personally liable, the creditor may nevertheless be able to garnish a bank account that was jointly owned between you and your deceased spouse.

The rule of law in Louisiana permits creditors to pursue community property to satisfy both separate and community obligations. As such, even though you are not personally liable, it may not be prudent to ignore the bill collectors of your deceased spouse if it puts your community property at risk for being taken.