Am I responsible for my husband’s credit cards after his death?
In our law firm, we see lots of financial losses by widows and widowers in this area. The credit card companies and the collection agencies come calling very quickly after someone’s death. It is definitely to the creditor’s advantage to persuade you to pay quickly before you get any advice. If your social security number is not tied to those credit cards then they are not your personal responsibility. If your loved one left money or other assets behind, then they might have to be paid from those assets and they might not. That will depend very much on the types of debts and the types of assets. Good advice can save you a fortune in sorting this out before you go paying for things you shouldn’t. Here are some tips to help you save some money and keep yourself out of trouble.
- Do not believe any of the hype you get from unsecured creditors about the urgency to pay them. (An unsecured creditor is a debt with no collateral like a credit card. These tips do not apply to secured creditors, the type where there is an asset that is collateral like a mortgage or car loan. If you don’t keep paying secured creditors they will repossess or foreclose the asset. If you are not sure which is which, get legal advice immediately.)
- Be aware that all creditors are not equal. There is a law in Georgia about which creditors should be paid, in what order and when. If creditors get paid out of order and then there isn’t enough to pay them all, you can become responsible for the debts.
- Do not talk to debt collectors on the phone. Many will lie or use tricky language to get you to pay them when maybe you should not.
- When a creditor calls, have a notebook and pen ready. Write down the date and time. Write down the caller’s name (and company id if they use that). Write down the name of the company the caller works for. Write down the name of the original creditor if the caller is with a collection agency. After you get that info, let them know the debtor died. Then ask them to send anything they need you to know through the mail. Then tell them not to call anymore. There should not be any more discussions after that. After you hang up make a note of what you told them. They can be sued under the Fair Debt Collections Act if they continue to call. The damages in that kind of suit can be 3 times the debt they were calling about.
- Consult with a probate attorney because there are some unique protections in Georgia probate law. A lawyer that practices probate regularly can help you decide whether some of the special protections for wives, husbands and/or minor children would be beneficial. (Don’t see an attorney who does a little bit of everything. A probate attorney will be the most knowledgeable about the proper use of some of the lesser-known and misunderstood procedures.)
- It is important to give yourself some time to grieve. However, do not wait too long to get some legal advice. Some of these probate procedures have deadlines. Also, visiting a knowledgeable attorney can help you shift the emotional burden of some of these financial issues off of your plate so you can focus on your grieving and healing process.