Am I liable for late husbands credit card balances even though I was not a co-signer?

Full Question:

My husband suddenly took ill and passed away last month. He did not have a living will or Trust set up. He did not own any property. He did have a Life Insurance policy for which I am the beneficiary. He had a small savings account under his name and owned a vehicle. He has outstanding balance on some credit cards that need to be paid. He was the primary card holder on these accounts. Am I liable for his credit card balances even though I was not a co-signer? The credit card companies are sending letters to the Estate of my husband(which does not exist) in order to collect the debt. I have about 10 days left in order to respond to them. What is the best way to handle this so I don't have to face them in court or not damage my credit rating ? Is there an attorney who can guide me through the process?
05/23/2007   |   Category: Debts and Cr... ยป Spouses   |   State: California   |   #5762

Answer:

Generally, a spouse is not liable for the debts of the other as long as it is an individual account, the spouse running up the debt is not an authorized user, surety, guarantor, or cosignor, and the couple does not live in a community property state. However, even in a community property state the assets of the spouse not running up the debt could be at risk. For example, in cases involving, among others, bankruptcy, divorce, or other litigation, creditors may go after assets held jointly by the debtor and non-debtor spouse, such as a bank account in both their names. If your spouse agrees to pay off a joint credit card debt but does not, the bank may successfully sue you for that debt. However, state laws vary about which marriage partner is responsible for certain debts, depending upon when the debt was incurred, the identity of the debtor, or the purpose of the debt.