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Am I Liable for Deceased Spouse's Credit card Debt in WA?-even though the company tells me I'm not.

Anacortes, WA |

I live in Wa state. My husband died 18 mos ago and left a will. Since that time I have been paying all credit cards monthly- including the ones on which he is Primary and I am a cardholder. I am still paying on our mortgage. I finally have come to realize that financially (now live on SS income) I simply can't continue to pay on the cards in his name. For the first time in 3 yrs I was late with a payment on which he was Primary. When the company called (one of 2 gas cards in his name) they asked for my husband, I replied this is Mrs. B, how can I help you? They said they were calling about so&so card payment and stated "You are not responsible for this bill " I asked what they meant and he repeated it and he said "Oh, we're required by law to tell you that you are not responsible for this bill because you aren't the Primary card holder." Now, I know that WA is a community property state and everything Ive read here says I assume the credit card liability after his death. I have only notified 2 companies of his death I notified on only after I paid that card off. The other switched the acct to my name, which was fine with me.
Because the charges on one of the gas cards was cash withdrawal, the interest is close to 30%. On my limited income I won't be able to pay it off in my lifetime. I have not used that particular card since his passing. I have used the other gas card in his name.
Both of these gas cards are thru the same bank (citibank).
My FIRST question is: Can I legally refuse to pay on those 2 cards? "Estate wise", we're talking about a mortgaged home and a couple of cards. I still have his name on our checking acct. Ive tried for 18 mos to do the right thing but am now at the point where I have to pinch every penny I spend.
My SECOND question is did I break the law by not posting anything or notifying the credit card companies of his death?
I hope I've given you enough information.

Correction: "I notified ON only after I paid that card off " should read : I notified ONE (cc co.) after I paid that card off. Correction: "Estate wise', we're talking about a mortgaged home and a couple of CARDS "should read: a mortgaged home and a couple of CARS.

Attorney Answers 2


I am not licensed to practice law in your state.

Generally speaking, you are not liable for your late husband's debts. If your husband left a will, you really should talk to a local attorney about probating the will. This will help you resolve the credit matters and prevent significant problems for you if you want to sell the house or cars and for remaining relatives after your death.

This information is given for educational purposes only. No attorney-client relationship exists between us.

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I'm sorry for your loss.

You are able to probate your husband's will yourself, if you wish. Washington law is user friendly, inexpensive, and relatively quick. See RCW Title 11. This would resolve your debt issues, by putting the onus on the creditors to make their claims against his estate, once you properly notified them of his death. Then you, as personal representative (PR) (also called executor in some states) would only pay those claims that were valid.

You likely are liable for his debts. There is a presumption that debts are for the benefit of the community (family or couple) and that makes the community liable for them. There are a couple very old cases that found a cheating husband's debts that were acquired during his infidelity were not community debts, as they weren't for the benefit of the community (car accident with mistress and car bought for mistress), but I would not rely on them. It is likely that the credit card employees would not know whether you were liable for the debt though, because they only have names on accounts to go by, are likely not in a community property state, and aren't aware of the laws necessarily.

You do need to inform your financial institution and all creditors of your husband's death. You won't get in trouble for doing it late, but it needs to be done and his name needs to be taken off of the accounts. The bank will need to see an orignial death certificate.

I hope this helps. Feel free to email if you have further questions.

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