I am not responsible for the credit card of a deceased spouse

the plastic effectUrban Legend Number 18: My spouse passed away, leaving a large amount of credit card debt on our one credit card. My spouse accumulated all of the credit card debt. However, the credit card was issued in both of our names, and I was a co-signer on the credit card application. Since I did not incur any of the credit card debt, I am not responsible for paying it off because my spouse is deceased.

The Reality: False.
Since you signed the credit card application as a co-signer and a joint account holder, you will be held liable for the debt, along with the estate of your spouse.

However, if you had signed the credit card application as an authorized user instead of a co-signer, even if you had charging privileges on the card, you would not be responsible for the credit card debt………..

………A credit card issuer can’t legally force someone else to pay credit card debt for a deceased person if they have not co-signed on the credit card account. Children, friends, or relatives of a deceased person cannot inherit credit card debt.

Polly’s Pearls of Wisdom: It is a good idea to make a list of all your credit cards, including the issuers’ contact information and your credit card account numbers. Such a list is valuable in the event of a death or in the event a wallet or purse has been stolen. Put a copy of the list in your safety deposit box and keep a copy in safe place at home for easy reference,

If your spouse has passed away, the CARD Act of 2009 now requires the credit card issuers to provide a final credit card balance in a timely manner when requested by an executor of an estate after the death of a cardholder. The CARD Act also requires credit card issuers to immediately stop charging all late fees, non-payment fees, and all other fees during the time period an executor is trying to settle a credit card account after the death of a cardholder,

Unfortunately, the FTC enacted new rules in 2011 giving debt collectors more freedom to contact the spouses, children, friends, and relatives of the deceased. Many debt collectors routinely set up obituary-watching services, and map names of the deceased to those with delinquent accounts in their own databases. It is routine procedure for many debt collectors to immediately call the widow or family of the deceased, and, at a time when the widow or family is grieving and not thinking clearly, demand payment of the outstanding debt.

The debt collection rules vary greatly from state-to-state. So check the rules for your state to determine what debt collectors can and cannot do when trying to collect the debt of a deceased loved one.

In reality, most credit card debt is unsecured debt and credit card issuers are considered unsecured creditors (See Urban Legend 14). So, if a dispute arose between an estate of a deceased person and a credit card issuer, it is very unlikely a credit card issuer would be able to collect the credit card debt from the estate of the deceased.

As part of your estate planning, you should consider options other than a Will. A Will can go into probate and be subject to the FTC rules and other probate rules. When a Will is admitted to probate, it becomes a public document as part of the public court record for anyone to see and read. Many probate courts put all Wills online so they are available via the Internet to everyone all the time.

When you do your estate planning, consider establishing trusts and other legal entities (other than Wills) that can privately control assets after a person dies. As there are many tax advantages to creating trusts instead of using Wills, be sure to discuss the matter with your accountant or financial planner as well as with your estate planning attorney.

A death or other major loss, such as the loss of a home or job, is likely to trigger many different emotions, including many negative emotions. In spite of the situation, try to stay as aware as possible of who is contacting you and what they are asking. Don’t be afraid to ask for help during the grieving process.

Whether you are grieving the loss of a loved one, the loss of your home, or the loss of your financial stability, it’s important to be aware that the feelings that accompany your grief are legitimate.

The Kübler-Ross Model developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, also known as The Five Stages of Grief, suggests that everyone experiences the following five emotional and mental stages when grieving a loss or facing their own impending death. These stages include:

Denial – “This cannot be happening.”
Anger – “This isn’t fair! I need to blame someone!”
Bargaining – “I’ll do anything you ask if you can keep this person with me for longer.”
Depression – “There’s no reason to go on now.”
Acceptance – “I can deal with this, even if it’s not easy.”

Take some time to reflect on your current emotional state. Consider your reactions to situations like attempts made to collect the debt of your loved one. See if you can identify any changes in your usual reactions to this type of situation. You may find clues to help you identify if your behavior is being affected by these stages of grief.

Plastic Reactions
Are you grieving the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, the loss of your home, or some other impending loss?
Can you identify any of these grief stages that you have already experienced or are currently experiencing?

There are many organizations that assist with the grieving process, both for loss of a family member and for other major life transitions. Whether you are grieving from a death or grieving from financial loss, there are resources available to help you. Here are just a few of the organizations you could contact:

The Association for Death Education and Counseling. This is a large interdisciplinary organization that focuses on dying and bereavement. Members include medical and mental health professionals, clergy members, educators, and volunteers. Their website can help you find a specialist ideal for your needs. Their website: (www.adec.org).

AARP Grief and Loss Programs  AARP offers a variety of resources for dealing with many kinds of grief, including online forums, local partnerships, brochures and other publications. Their website: (www.aarp.org/relationships/grief-loss).

National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization  This nonprofit group is dedicated to quality, compassionate, end-of-life care and has an informative website with lots of helpful information. Their website: (www.nhpco.org).

Center for Loss and Life Transition – This group provides support for mourners, caregivers, and supporters. They offer local training and other resources to assist with the grieving process on all fronts. Their website: (www.centerforloss.com).


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The Arizona Daily Independent has received permission to reprint portions of a timely new book “The Plastic Effect” focused on the urban myths of credit cards and their usage written by Polly A. Bauer, CPCS and Stephen Lesavich, PhD, JD. Future issues of the ADI will feature “Polly’s Pearls” included in each Urban Legend Myth. “The Plastic Effect” is Copyright by Coconut Avenue, Inc. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or duplication is permitted without written permission of Coconut Avenue, Inc.

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