Does wife owe dead husband’s debt?

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Q. If a husband has large credit card debt and the credit cards are in his name only, upon his death, is the wife responsible for the credit card debt?
— Planning ahead

A. You’re smart to look closely at debt and how it might impact you over time, especially if the debt comes with your marriage.

But unless the spouses reside in a community property state, the surviving spouse generally is not liable for the credit card debt of a spouse unless the surviving spouse signed the credit card agreement, said Shirley Whitenack, an estate planning attorney with Schenck, Price, Smith & King in Florham Park.

New Jersey is not a community property state.

“Her husband’s estate, however, will have the obligation of repaying his debts before the assets are distributed to the estate’s beneficiaries,” Whitenack said. “If the estate is small, the credit card companies may agree to compromise or write off the debts.”

Good luck to you on this one.

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The post was originally published in November 2017. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.