A reader is contemplating his mortality and his money.

Question: “I have credit debt, but my wife isn’t a user on the card. What happens to my debt when I die? Will she be responsible?” I feel like that is more conversational and still fits the KW.

— Bill in Oklahoma

Howard Dvorkin answers…

First, I hope this is a general question and not something serious. If it is serious, I hope you recover, and I applaud you for thinking about others at such a time.

Second, the answer to your question depends on where you live, and on some other details as well. Let’s break it down.

Where you live

Nine out of 50 states are community property states. Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin consider all the property and debt acquired in marriage to belong to both partners. That’s true even if only one spouse made money or lost money.

Fortunately, Bill, you live in Oklahoma. So that’s one less problem you must face.

What debts you have

I assume when you say “credit debt,” you’re referring only to credit cards and nothing else. It’s an important distinction because some debts are different after death. For instance, a surviving wife might be responsible for her deceased husband’s private student loans — even if they don’t live in one of those community property states.

How you set up that debt

If your spouse has co-signed any loan, they’re responsible for that debt. That goes for anyone, not just married couples. You mention that your wife isn’t a “user” of your credit card, but the more important question: Is it a joint card? Even if she doesn’t use it, if her name is on the account, she’s on the hook for the balance.

In general

If this all sounds sort of vague, it’s intentional. When it comes to death and debt, there are loopholes and exceptions all over the place. Generally speaking, however, a surviving spouse isn’t obligated to pay the debts of the deceased spouse.

What to do NOW

Whenever I’m asked questions like this (and that’s often), I’m always glad when it’s not related to a serious illness. That means there’s still time to take steps now before we all face the inevitable. While planning for our own deaths is certainly not fun, it’s definitely important.

[For further information, check out What Happens to Your Debt When You Die?]

Have a debt question?

Email your question to editor@debt.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and/or policies of Debt.com.

Meet the Author

Howard Dvorkin, CPA

Howard Dvorkin, CPA

CPA and Chairman

Dvorkin is the author of Credit Hell and Power Up and Chairman of Debt.com.

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Article last modified on January 22, 2019 Published by Debt.com, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: If I Die, What Happens To My Wife And My Debts? - AMP.