Am I responsible for the large credit card debt my wife left when she passed?
The executor named in the will will be granted authority by the court in the probate process to handle the decedent's affairs, such as paying debts owed and distributing their assets. It is the executor's responsibility to collect and distribute the property of the decedent and pay the decedent's creditors.
A deceased's debts should be paid with the property in their estate (the property left at their death). Heirs don't inherit the decedent's debts unless they created a co-signor/guarantor/surety/joint account relationship to the debt, so that the heir's name is on the debt also, and it isn't a separate debt. Only after the debts are paid will the remaining assets be distributed among the beneficiaries of the will. Be advised that when an heir inherits property that is collateral for a debt -- for example, a car that is not paid for or a house with a mortgage -- the debt comes with the property.
Courts have held that property owned by husband and wife as tenants by the entireties may not be sold to satisfy the debt of only one spouse. However, property held as joint tenants who are not tenants by the entireties, may be sold to satisfy the a sole debt of one owner, up to the amount of that debtor's equity in the property. The non-debtor owner will receive the balance of his share of equity in the property from the sale.
If there is insufficient money or assets to pay all creditors, then the estate must be divided up as equally as possible, with secured creditors receiving priority. This means that if the deceased died with little or no money in their accounts and didn't own a home, unsecured debt, such as credit card debt will not be paid to the creditors.
The executor has a duty to act in a trustworthy and authorized manner in handling the estate of the decdent. If the executor acts outside the scope of his/her authority, in bad faith, or against the wishes of the decedent, the exectutor may be personally liable.