If the estate of the deceased spouse has cash or assets, the executor will decide how these will be used to pay off debts before inheritance is distributed to heirs. You may have to pay a portion of the balance along with the estate. If there are no assets in the estate, you are responsible for paying off the debt.
Expect creditors or collection agencies to call. If there is money in the estate, they will go after it and may pressure you and attempt to bully you for payment. Refer all questions about payment to the executor. Don't answer questions about this until you know what assets you have, what you are responsible for, and what bills must be paid. If collection agencies or credit card companies start calling, make sure the debt is valid, that you are responsible for it, and it is not past the statute of limitations (three to six years, varies by state and situation). If they are pursuing debts that aren't valid or that you shouldn't be responsible for, it may be necessary to hire a lawyer to fight the actions of a credit card company or collections agency.
If you must assume payments for the debts, but don't have the money, immediately contact the credit card companies to work out a payment plan. They may accept a portion of the payment to close the account. This is another issue where it may be helpful to have an attorney working for you. Seek legal advice from someone who specializes in estates, wills and trusts.
Experts suggest certain measures to protect yourself and your spouse, such as paying off debts as quickly as possible, making sure both partners are informed, and also having a credit card in your own name to establish strong individual credit.
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