Deceased Spouse Left $33,000 Worth of Credit Card Debt. What Can I Do? – Judy

“Dear Steve,

My husband passed away rhe end of 2008. I had been iill in 2007 and was not working. Other than the horrible fact he died, I did not know we were in financial trouble. Two days after he died, I opened mail I had never seen and found out he had been carrying close to $30,000 in credit card debt, moving it around for better interest but always making the payments. His credit score was even higher than mine which at the time was 776. I was advised it was not my debt and did not pay. I live in California and now they say it IS my debt and coming after me. I then found out he had drained our retirement and borrowed against his life insurance.

I live in California and the credit card companies are saying it is now my debt even though I had never signed for the cards but he had made me an authorized user. I didn’t know the cards existed. Now they have hit my credit rating and are threatening terrible things. I have tried to find work, but stand in line.

I am going to be 69. His pensions died with him and social security is very low. I am terrified. Trying to make it through the pain of his death is so horrible and this has made it unbearable. It is affecting my health.

I don’t know what to do. Can you help? Should I go to debt consolidation, borrow money from a friend, or hire an attorney. It’s affecting my health.. I do not think I will last this out. I shake every morning facing the day. Can you give me advice?


I asked my friend Mike Killian to answer your question for you. I wanted to make sure you got an answer as quickly as possible as I’m a bit backed up at the moment. I’ll be watching the comments on this question and be around to help if you need me.


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Dear Judy,

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As a senior and a widower I can truly empathize with your situation. Let me see if I can assist.

First of all it sounds like your spouse took great care in maintaining good credit and it is simply unfortunate that the debt did not get paid down. But now we must deal with realities rather than “what if…”. I think it the soundest advice to find out from an attorney for absolute certain whether you are responsible for this credit card debt. Each state can have unique legislation and that is the 1st chore. Obviously if legal advice says “no”, then you do not have a concern. But if legal says “yes”, then you need to consider a couple of options.

Lets consider your options. Of course borrowing from a friend would be the easiest solution but do you really want to do that. Borrowing usually has to be paid back and I am not certain you would be too much better off. Additionally, borrowing from a friend can very often strain the relationship and I doubt seriously that you need any strained relationships especially now.

Debt consolidation is another option except where will you borrow from? What will you use as collateral? How will you pay it back?

You did not mention if you have any assets like a house but it seems to me that when you ask the attorney about whether you are obligated to repay that debt, you should open the door to a free counseling session to discuss bankruptcy. Under chapter 7 the debt could wipe out entirely or chapter 13 would arrange for a repayment or forgive part of the debt depending on your circumstance. By declaring bankruptcy you can put all of this behind you and begin the very import process of closure and healing.

I do wish you peace of heart.



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Mike Killian is founder of Learning Credit and Debt Management. He has been writing and teaching about credit and debt management issues for over 12 years. His articles have been referenced by various members of the media, including MSNBC and The Motley Fool. Mike has also offered debt elimination seminars to businesses and community colleges for many years.He has an MS in counseling and is a nationally certified as a Personal Finance Counselor. Mike can be found at LearnCreditManagement.com/.

8 thoughts on “Deceased Spouse Left $33,000 Worth of Credit Card Debt. What Can I Do? – Judy”

  1. my husband passed recently from complications from a pre existing disease. there is no will or trust. the house(under his name) is underwater and i have little money coming in. Since i hadnt been working and taking care of my husband full time. 2 life insurance policies both to the estate and total $30.000. we have been married for 2 years and most of his medical and credit card bills were acquired before we were married and under his name. his pension was left to me.im thinking of foreclosing on the house. if i go thru probate it will only be to collect insurance money and have it turned over to credit card company?. what would happen if i didnt go thru probate? what would happen if i didnt pay on his credit cards or medical bills? im so confused and cant afford to put out any more money that i dont have??

    • Lucy,

      Creditors can only go after his estate for repayment. It seems that if you provided death certificates to all his creditors you’d be able to walk away.

      But for a definitive answer it would probably be a really good idea to talk to a local attorney licensed in your state for legal advice. It won’t cost much and will really be helpful.

      I’m so sorry for your loss.


  2. I am in Ohio and i was left like Carol ,but a little less surprise debt. I too have just received the 1099 c and i want to know how i should file my taxes? Married filing jointly or single ?? If i am to receive a a refund how does this affect it. Thank you.

  3. I live in California. My husband was deceased 1/29/08 and left a little over $60,000 in credit card debt. I found out I was only the authorized user and not responsible for most of the credit cards. I consulted an attorney and the attorney told me that I was not responsible for the cards where I was only the authorized user. Unfortunately, my husband had no life insurance policy and no pension from work. The only thing I have received just recently was a form 1099-C Cancellation of Debt which was addressed to my husband only and with his Social Security Number.

  4. HI
    I am in the same situation although I am quite a bit younger (33).
    I have consulted with several California lawyers and all say that community property is responsible to pay any debts accumlated by either spouse, both before marriage and during marriage. In my situation, my husband also racked up $30K in debts without my knowledge. I also happened to have SAVED close to that amount during our marriage. So my savings is liable to pay off his debts. If I hadn’t have saved anything, I wouldn’t owe anything. It is my understanding that in California, a crude definition of community property is anythign accumulated by either spouse during marriage.

    I had thought of trying to settle but was advised by a bankruptcy lawyer that this will negatively affect my credit score and will be considered taxable income.

    I hope this helps. I am not a laywer. Just a fellow widow.


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