Credit Cards and Surviving Spouse’s Rights and Obligations

Surviving spouses (and their families) routinely come to me after their spouse has passed away. Most times they have been receiving phone calls or written demands to pay by credit card companies. The surviving spouses many times pay before they consult with me. If they have not, I guide them through the credit card companies’ rights to pursue against a surviving spouse.

It is important to know if the deceased was the primary and sole person on the credit card account. The deceased spouse may have had their spouse on the credit card as merely an “authorized” user only. If the surviving spouse is only an authorized user; and did not sign the agreement with the credit card issuer and agree to be responsible, then the surviving spouse is not responsible for charges before death.

The surviving spouse should not charge, nor anyone in the family, on the credit card of the deceased after death, or they could be responsible for these charges. Each credit card company should immediately be notified, preferably in writing, of the death of the spouse, and the card shredded and removed from any automatic and electronic payments.

The surviving spouse should also notify the three credit reporting agencies; and request the credit report of their deceased spouse to which they are legally entitled to obtain to make sure all creditors are notified and identified. Annualcreditreport.com is a FREE service; or notifications of death and to freeze the credit card, and request for credit reports can be made by calling or contacting all three (3) of the credit reporting agencies:

• Equifax. Equifax.com 1–800-685‑1111
• Experian. Experian.com 1–888-397‑3742
• Transunion. Transunion.com 1–888-909‑8872

Most credit card companies will want the death certificate, either a copy or an original based on their internal practices. Some companies, like Discover independently verify. This will “freeze” this credit card and prevent possible identify theft or family use of the credit card, after the spouse’s death.

Indiana law (every State differs) provides that unsecured creditors, such as a credit card companies, only have nine (9) months from the date of the death of the spouse to formally open an estate and pursue their claim/bill. If an estate is formally opened before this time, notice in the paper and sending written notice by the personal representative to known creditors will start the three (3) month time for a credit card company to file a claim in the estate; but still subject to the absolute nine (9) month deadline from date of death for claim to be filed in deceased spouse’s estate.

It is important not to quickly pay a credit card company so they don’t “jump the line” ahead of other creditors who have priority, or even administration expenses or taxes lawfully owed by the decedent.

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