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Am I liable for my deceased family member's credit card debt?

When a person who has accumulated a great deal of credit card debt passes away, the survivors may suddenly be thrust into a very uncomfortable situation. Whether they expected it or not, the decedent's creditors, or possibly third party collectors, will take many steps to try to convince the survivors of the individual who owed the credit card debt to pay it. But should you have to pay a deceased person's credit card debt?

Broadly speaking, no — but don't expect the creditors to tell you this! In general, credit card debt does not pass on. In some states that maintain community property laws, a spouse who survives the debtor may share some liability, but Ohio is not a community property state.

There are some specific exceptions, so it is always wise to consult with an experienced attorney about any credit card debt issue against an estate before you make a payment.

In most cases, credit card lenders may only pursue payment from the estate of the deceased — unless you or someone else has cosigned to the debt.

Of course, collectors will try to be very persuasive about how you should pay this debt. Losses are a part of the credit card lending model, and you should not feel any ethical obligations to pay your deceased loved one's credit card debt if you have no legal obligation to do so.

Knowing how to handle debt can be very difficult, especially because the laws surrounding debt and the options you might have to discharge it are not always intuitive. Of course, there are circumstances in which you or someone you love is liable for a mountain of debt that seems unpayable. An experienced bankruptcy attorney may be able to help you explore legal options for creating a fresh financial start after some bad financial luck.

Source: Findlaw, "Debt after Death," accessed April 28, 2017

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