Q&A: What Should I Do About My Deceased Parent's Credit Cards?

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Question: My mother recently passed away and I'm the executor of the will. She had several credit cards and there's a balance on one card. There isn't enough money from her estate to pay the debt. I was an authorized user on the account. Am I responsible for paying this debt and closing her credit card accounts? - Jennie

Answer: Hi Jennie,

I'm so sorry for your loss. It's difficult to sort through a loved one's finances while you're also processing your own grief.

I can put your mind at ease a little bit. Being an authorized user does not make you responsible for any debt on the credit card. If you were a co-signer on the credit card account, you would be jointly responsible for the debt. Fortunately, since you aren't a co-signer, you aren't responsible for paying the debt from your personal funds.

If there isn't enough money in her estate to pay the debt after her assets have been distributed, then the credit card company will most likely write off the debt. Credit card debt is unsecured debt, so banks often end up writing it off as a loss if someone passes away and the estate is insolvent. If you can pay part of the debt, that helps.

If anyone else in your family is an authorized user, make sure they understand that the credit cards can no longer be used. Using a credit card, when you don't have responsibility for paying the bill, is fraud.

Now, as the executor of her will, you want to notify the credit bureaus and the credit card issuers as soon as possible and let them know your parent has passed away. Why the credit bureaus? Because this minimizes the chances of identity theft. Unfortunately, there are criminals out there who try to open accounts in a deceased person's name.

You can contact each credit bureau (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) and ask what they need to update your mom's file. You may be requested to provide a copy of the death certificate along with other pertinent personal information. To make it easy for you, I've linked each bureau's name to their contact information page: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.

Notifying the credit card issuers promptly will also help prevent the possibility of credit card fraud. You say only one card has a balance. For the credit cards that have no balance, contact the issuer by phone and let them know she has died and ask what steps you need to take to close the accounts.

For the account that has a balance, you'll need to explain that you're the executor and that the estate is insolvent. Let the company know if you can make a partial payment, but if you can't, leave it at that. The company will let you know what they need to proceed with closing the account.

If the credit card company doesn't forgive the debt and they start calling you, then you will need to consult with an attorney. Don't make a payment out of your personal funds just to get rid of the problem. Talk with an estate attorney who is familiar with the laws in your state and find out what your best approach should be at this time.

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