After divorce, ex dies with card debt; am I responsible?

It's unlikely, but check divorce decree, credit reports


Credit Smart
Credit Smart columnist Susan C. Keating
Susan C. Keating is the president and chief executive officer of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. Prior to joining the NFCC, Keating spent 29 years in financial services. She was the highest ranking female CEO of a U.S. bank holding company, serving as president and chief executive of Allfirst Financial Inc., the largest U.S. holding of AIB Group. She currently serves on Bank of America's National Consumer Advisory Council and is a board member of the Council on Accreditation. Keating also participates in the Financial Regulation Reform Collaborative, a nonpartisan group committed to finding solutions for reforming financial services regulation.

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Dear Credit Smart,
My ex-husband recently passed away. He had three credit cards with balances owed on each. Am I responsible for these debts? We lived in Arkansas and he had no estate or money. Thank you for your answer.  – Sue


Dear Sue,
Arkansas is not a community property state, which helps when it comes to how a debt can be collected. If you were already legally divorced at the time your husband obtained these credit cards and incurred the debt, there should be no recourse from the creditors to you.

When a person dies with outstanding debt, the creditors will first look to the estate for repayment. If you are correct and your ex-husband had no money or estate, the creditors are likely out of luck for collecting on these cards. Remember that his estate will include all of his property, so there may be more than you know. However, since credit card debt is unsecured, these debts go to the back of the line for collecting from an estate. Once the resources from the estate have been exhausted, there is no place else to turn.

However, if the cards were obtained prior to your divorce and you are named as a joint owner, you may be responsible. Even if you don’t believe you signed up for these cards, I would strongly advise you to check your credit reports and see if any of these accounts show up. You can get a free copy at This is the best place to find out for sure if any of these cards are associated with your name as well as your ex-husband’s.

If the accounts were opened jointly, it could be that part of your divorce decree said that your husband would be responsible for paying the credit cards. Divorce decrees often spell out who will pay for what and this can often include credit card debt. But a divorce decree cannot change the facts of who signed for accounts in the beginning. If the credit card company cannot collect from one, they will look to the other for payment. The divorce decree will not matter to the credit card company even in a non-community property state. You will be considered responsible for the debt.

If you are correct in your claim that these are your ex-husband’s accounts alone, they will not be on your credit report and you will not have to worry about being held responsible in any way. It will be in your best interest to find out for sure now.

However, if you discover that you are a joint cardholder, you may want to seek legal advice for help in deciding what to do next. A good place to start might be your divorce attorney, who should know what was included in your divorce decree and what your options are.

Remember to always use your credit smarts!

See related: What happens to credit card debt after death, U.S. sets rules for contacting relatives of deceased debtors

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Published: April 16, 2016

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Updated: 10-27-2016

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