Stop paying your late mother's credit card debt
If you didn't sign on as an accountholder, you don't owe it
To Her Credit
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for CreditCards.com, and also writes regularly for MSN Money, Interest.com and Bankrate.com, and has guested on Martha Steward Radio and other programs. See her website SallyHerigstad.com
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Dear To Her Credit,
After my mom passed, I began making the payments on her two
credit cards. I have never used them, just made payments. She has been gone
almost five years and there is still over $3,000 on the cards. Is there a way I could stop paying on them? -- Patricia
Yes. Stop paying on your mom's credit card bills now.
Making payments on a relative's credit card for years after
she is gone is not your legal or moral responsibility. Taking care of your
parents while they are alive is great. Trying to pay their debts for five years
after they are gone is not wise use of your resources.
If they're still sending statements and accepting payments after
this period of time, I would question whether the banks even know that your mom
has passed away. Whoever managed your mom's estate five years ago should have notified
them and closed the accounts long ago.
Here's how it's supposed to work when someone dies:
- Activity must stop on accounts owned solely by a deceased person. No one is allowed to make charges on a credit card after
the person dies, unless it is a joint account.
- As soon as they're notified of a death -- and that should be as soon as possible -- banks shut down access to all accounts owned solely by the
deceased, blocking activity until an estate executor (or successor trustee in the case of trusts) gains the legal right to take over the account.
Once the estate executor or trustee gains account access, the estate pays off outstanding debts, using the deceased
person's assets. If there are more debts than money to pay them, the debts are
paid off in an order determined by state law.
The credit card company is paid in full or in part. If
the credit card company does not receive full payment, it writes off the rest
as a loss. Banks do this every day with unsecured debt. It's part of their cost
of doing business -- and it's one reason why credit card interest rates are much higher than those for other forms of borrowing.
At this late date, you should contact the credit card
companies by phone or mail and tell them what happened. Tell them that you are
not responsible for the remaining balance. They may ask for a copy of the death
certificate or other documentation. Once the bank has everything it needs, that should be the end of it.
I'm concerned that you would make payments so long on this
account. It must not be a small amount of money for you, or you would likely
have just paid it off when you thought you were responsible or were somehow
helping your mom. Nevertheless, the money you've been paying needlessly could
have been going toward a retirement account, saving for your next car so you
don't have to make payments or investing in your skill set to improve your
See related: What happens to credit card debt after death?, How to handle collection calls for a dead person's debt
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Published: March 14, 2014