If your mom carried credit card debt at the time she died, you might wonder whether you'll need to pay it off. The good news is that you usually won't have to because your mother's estate generally takes care of this. But the issue of whether you need to pay your mom's credit card bill is not always so clear-cut.
What Usually Happens
Your mom's estate is responsible for paying her debts. Whatever your mom owes is taken from the estate's assets. If your mom's estate doesn't have enough assets to pay the credit card debt, the credit card company usually takes the loss and writes off the balance owed. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act protects you from being responsible for your mom's debt.
What You Should Do
Cut up the credit card after your mom dies, says Jeffrey Field, a certified financial planner, on Credit.com. Send the cut pieces to the credit card issuer with a copy of the death certificate or with a statement letting the issuer know your mom died. Send this certified mail so you have proof you sent it. That action prevents the credit card issuer from trying to come after you to pay the bill.
When You Would Be Liable
If you are a joint account holder with your mom on the credit card, you are responsible for paying off the credit card debt when your mom dies. You become a joint account holder when you open and sign for the card along with your mom. Your mom might have wanted you to establish credit. Putting you on the card jointly with her was one way to accomplish that. However, if you are an authorized user of the card -- which means you are not a joint account holder, but were allowed to use the card -- you are not responsible for your mom's debt.
About Debt Collectors
If you aren't responsible for paying your mom's credit card debt because you were not a joint user of the card, that will not necessarily stop bill collectors from trying to get you to pay anyway. If a debt collector calls you, do not take what he says at face value. He might tell you that you are liable for the credit card debt when you really aren't. The debt collector might have the right to contact you if you are the executor of your mom's estate. If that happens and you were not a joint user of the card, tell the collector that you are not responsible for your mom's credit card debt because you were not a joint owner of the card.
- Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images