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Your Spouse Might Be Dead But His Debt Could Linger On

Woman holding glasses and reviewing credit card statementDid you know that a credit card company could come after you years after your spouse had died? It’s true and it’s also a lesson as to why it always makes sense to get letters from your credit card company acknowledging that your accounts had been closed.

They can always come after you

While credit card debt is considered to be unsecured debt it is a special kind of debt in that it cannot be erased by either death or divorce. I’ve read stories of people who had given an ex-spouse some asset (such as equity in the house) in return for which, he or she agreed to take responsibility for paying off all credit card debts. But then, a few years later the ex-spouse stopped making the requisite payments and guess what? The credit card company started coming after the other party.

The worst case scenario

The worst-case scenario is what happens after a divorce if the ex spouse dies. No matter what was spelled out in the divorce decree, the past can come back to haunt you. If the credit card was in both your names, the credit card company can come after you for whatever balance was remaining on the card at the time of your ex spouse’s death, plus the accrued interest charges. If this happens to you, you only have two choices. You can either pay off what’s owed or suffer what happens with a bad-debt write-off.

The lessons to be learned

First, if you go through a divorce make sure you get a tight agreement that spells out what accounts will be closed. Then follow up by requesting written confirmation. With most credit cards, either party can shut down a joint account since both would be liable for any charges. Don’t rely on your about to be ex-spouse to take responsibility for closing any joint accounts. If you believe there are balances owed on any of the credit cards, make sure the accounts are closed so they will not continue to accumulate interest charges.

Get your credit report

If you get your credit report from one of the three credit reporting bureaus (or better yet, from all three) you will be able to see what accounts are still open and any balances owed. You can get your three credit reports simultaneously by going to the website or by contacting the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

You may need to get an attorney

If a credit card company does come after you for an old debt from when you were married before or because your ex spouse had died, things can get complicated cat. So it might make sense to hire an attorney to help you. The credit card companies will try to hold you responsible for any debt via the ex spouse’s estate. It can be even more complicated if you’ve remarried and taken on your news husband’s name and moved around several times. This means that credit information on the account can actually be reported to an old, unused name and address. In this case, you wouldn’t know that interest charges were building up month after month until the you received a huge bill from some credit card company you thought had been paid off years ago.
It’s always a good idea to get your credit report

Even if you’re not having a problem with old debt you don’t feel is even yours, it’s a good idea to get your credit report at least once a year. It’s what your credit score will be based on. You could have an error on one of your reports that’s dragging down your credit score and wouldn’t know about it unless you got and reviewed your reports. You’ll find these reports are not very much fun to read but it could be well worth the time if you do find a serious error and get it deleted from your file.

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