Handling the estate of a loved one as an executor is a great privilege and responsibility, but that doesn’t mean that it will be easy. The process can become exceptionally difficult if the estate in question has a significant amount of credit card debt. When it comes to credit card debt, the law actually provides survivors of a debtor some surprising options.
In broad strokes, credit card debt does not have to be paid by the family of a debtor who passes away, although there are some exceptions. In reality, however, the creditors are never going to volunteer that information! It is very likely that the creditors or third party collectors will be very insistent that the survivors are responsible and must pay it back, yesterday if possible. Still, under the law, paying credit card debt on behalf of a deceased debtor is generally voluntary.
Because Arizona is one of only a few community property states that divide marital property equally, it is possible that a surviving spouse who was married to the debtor at the time of death will have some responsibility to roughly half of the debt. Debt, unfortunately, is considered marital property. However, even if this is the case, you should never simply write a check to the creditor or collector. Instead, it is always wise to seek counsel with an experienced attorney first, before acting.
The creditors may also have a legitimate claim against the estate of the decedent, but the urgency that a collector conveys in a collection call is mostly emotional pressure used to coerce family of the decedent into paying a debt. You should always consult with an experienced attorney to determine how you should go about administering the estate of an individual with outstanding credit card debt in order to protect yourself and your rights before paying a cent to a collector.
Source: findlaw, “Debts After Death,” accessed April 28, 2017