Get Out of Debt Guy

My Dad Passed Away. Does My Mom Have to Pay His Credit Card Debt?

Posted April 27, 2013

Reader Question

"Dear Steve,

Dad recently passed away. He had one credit card in his name, with mom as an authorized user. Balance on the card is approx 10K.

All assets were put in moms name months ago in case she passed first. All assets would then go in a trust for his nursing home care. He has no assets whatsoever. She is living on social security and cannot afford to pay this bill.

Is mom responsible for the credit card bill? What does she need to send to the credit card company? What should she tell them?"


First off, I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your father. These are trying times indeed.

My mother just passed away last year so the emotions of the loss and having to deal with similar issues, hit home for me as well.

The good news here is there is a process to deal with such situations. Since your mother was only an authorized user she is not responsible for the debt. But we need to make sure the creditor is informed of your fathers passing as soon as possible.

There are several ways a creditor is notified of the death of a responsible party. In the case of my mother the funeral home notified Social Security she had passed and within a week her credit card had been cancelled by the bank before we could notify them. Apparently some banks monitor the Social Security death index. Smart.

But in this case, if you know there was only one credit card, I think I can help simplify it for you.

To make sure this is dealt with quickly and comprehensively I would suggest you send a letter to the creditor by some sort of traceable means to prove delivery and include:

  1. An original copy of the certified death certificate.
  2. A copy of the last monthly statement.
  3. A letter explaining your father passed away, the cards have been destroyed, and the account should be closed.

Typically this will deal with the account and it will be closed.

Most importantly, your mother should NOT use that credit card at all, any more.

Please post your responses and follow-up messages to me on this in the comments section below.

Steve Rhode
WRAL Get Out of Debt Guy

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  • steverhode Apr 30, 2013

    We need to consider this situation from an institutional perspective and not on the individual level. When a creditor extends credit they assume a certain amount of risk. They are compensated for that risk by the rate they charge, plus profit of course.

    If creditors never wanted to assume this risk of lending and having some people passing away unexpectedly, they would just never lend. But lending is about profiting on a pool of borrowers and not just one.

    Every day is a risk for each one of us and every loan is a risk to the lender. It just is what it is.

  • snowl Apr 30, 2013

    I feel that no one should have a "joint" credit card. They are not secured, so why take on someone else's debt? and, Don't worry about the financial institution, they are making enough money to cover the debts of the deceased and then some!

  • Southern Gal Apr 29, 2013

    It's too bad so many don't take responsibility for their actions.
    If nothing else, have enough term life insurance to cover ones own financial obligations.

  • steverhode Apr 29, 2013

    "I'd be horrified to know i went to my grave & my debts were not settled." It happens thousands of times a day.

  • Southern Gal Apr 29, 2013

    Folks should pay their debts.
    I'd be horrified to know i went to my grave & my debts were not settled.

  • steverhode Apr 29, 2013

    @Terkel All I can do is answer the question submitted with the facts at hand. We have no idea what the value of those assets was but they appear to involve some sort of trust planning which might make them protected.

  • Terkel Apr 29, 2013

    Agree, 68_d. I also wonder how "all assets were put in Mom's name" and in the next sentence, "He had no assets." Come on. That's a technicality. It may be legal, but so is letting a murderer go because the evidence was collected without proper procedure.

    Gotta say it gets a little old reading about people who run up debts and then want to know how to get out of paying them.

  • 68_dodge_polara Apr 29, 2013

    "All assets were put in moms name months ago"

    The right thing to do would be to pay the debt out of those assets.

About this Blog:

Steve Rhode has had careers in opthalmology, real estate and as the head of a nonprofit debt counseling firm. On his blog, he offers hard-won, free advice about getting out of debt, consolidation and making the right choices as you manage your money.