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Separated, then Widowed. Who’s Responsible for the Debt?

October 6th, 2011, byMichelle Singletary

Q: My mother recently lost her husband due to a short illness. They had not lived together for over l5 years. My dad left unpaid credit card debt. My mother was unaware that he had applied for these credit cards, and she never signed as a co-applicant. Will she be responsible for these debts?
Albuquerque, NM

A: In some states, if the spouse benefited from whatever was purchased on those credit cards, she or he could be liable for the debt.
But, since your mother was separated from her husband for so long, and she did not co-sign on any of the debt, she is not likely to be responsible for any of the debt. However, contact an attorney with experience dealing with creditors, especially if your mother lives in a community property state.
Your father’s estate is still responsible for the debt. Of course, if there is no money, the credit issuers won’t get anything. Don’t let a creditor guilt-trip your mother into paying the debts if she’s not liable (and some might).
I would also get your mother’s credit reports from all three of the credit bureaus to make sure that, at some point, the debt wasn’t put in her name. It’s possible your father could have put her name on the applications. If he did that without her knowledge, you should have her fill out a police report and tell them she was the victim of identity theft.

To get free copies of the reports go to annualcreditreport.com.

Last modified: October 6, 2011 at 3:05 am