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Are credit card debts collectible after you die?

Responsible adults don't want to leave a mountain of debt for their heirs to muddle through in the midst of their grief. But when death comes suddenly, sometimes it can't be helped, as in the case of outstanding credit card debt.

Who is responsible for repaying card debt after the debtor's death? Under most circumstances, this is an unsecured debt that only the decedent is on the hook for. That applies to individual accounts, but not necessarily to joint accounts held by married couples. In those cases, the surviving spouse could be pursued by credit card companies for the outstanding amounts.

If your estate has enough funds to cover the debt, all is well and good. Your executor will handle the debts and disburse what is left to your heirs, if anything remains. When there is not enough money to pay them, the creditors usually have to bite the bullet and absorb the loss, because family members cannot be forced to pay the debts of their loved ones after they pass on.

Authorized users typically get a pass as well, as they aren't held accountable for the debts the way joint account holders can be.

But that doesn't mean that creditors might not try to pursue heirs for repayment, even though those heirs have no legal responsibility to follow through. Debt collectors may appeal to the heirs' sense of responsibility and decency, implying that they should "do the right thing" and clear up these outstanding balances.

If you find yourself in that untenable position, wanting to clear your parent's, sibling's or spouse's good name and pay off their debts, it's important that you understand that you are under no obligation to do so. In fact, if these creditors repeatedly harangue you over these sums, they may have run afoul of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Keep in mind that simply a debt collector saying you're responsible for a deceased loved one's debt doesn't make it so. Demand proof of the legitimate debt. Don't let old, uncollectable debts force you to the brink of bankruptcy. If creditors continue their harassment, you may wish to seek the counsel of an attorney.

Source: U.S. News & World Report, "What Happens to Your Credit Card Debt After You Die?," Matt Schulz, accessed Nov. 11, 2016

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