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 wrote for MSN Money, Interest.com and Bankrate.com, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs.
Dear To Her Credit,
My father-in-law had two credit cards. Because he didn’t have a checking account, I let him link his credit card accounts to my checking account to pay the minimum payments.
One credit card has a balance of $14,380 and one has a balance of $5,600. Neither card is near the credit limit.
While my father-in-law was traveling out of U.S., he got sick and passed away. He was a U.S. green card holder, not a U.S. citizen, and he didn’t have any estate in the U.S. He didn’t have much of an estate outside of the U.S., either. He was in Iran when he died, and the U.S. has no relations with Iran.
I could log in to his credit cards and delete my checking account. Three weeks ago, I reported to the credit card companies that he passed away. The credit card companies keep calling and asking to talk to the estate executor. Because that is not me, they won’t talk to me.
Can they come after my checking account because it was connected to his credit card accounts? Should I close my checking account? How can I protect myself? Am I liable for his debts? Can they sue me? I would really appreciate it if you can help me out. – Ashley
By all means, log in and disconnect your checking account from your late father-in-law’s credit card accounts. I’m assuming the accounts were set up to pay the minimum amounts automatically. Now that he has passed away, you have no obligation to pay his bills and you should not do so.
Once the accounts are unlinked and the automatic payments stopped, you have no connection to the card issuers or to your father-in-law’s business. As you’ve noticed, the credit card companies won’t even talk to you.
Having paid his bills with your account does not make you liable for the balances, nor does it give the creditors any reason to sue you. You shouldn’t have to close your checking account in fear that they will somehow reconnect the accounts and take your money.
The problem of what becomes of his estate when he dies, as a noncitizen, in another country is interesting. If your father-in-law had U.S. income the last year of his life, the personal representative for your father-in-law’s estate generally must file a final individual income tax return. In addition, if your father-in-law’s estate had U.S. income, including any income connected with his trade or business in the U.S., the fiduciary must file income tax for the estate using Form 1040NR, U.S. Nonresident Alien Income Tax Return. If your father-in-law had no assets, such as real estate or a business, to transfer, there may be no estate or need to file any tax returns.
Regardless of whether your father-in-law needs a personal representative for his estate, it’s certainly not your responsibility to take that on. No one can be forced to act as someone’s personal representative. You’ve notified the credit card companies – there’s nothing else you can do or need to do.
In the future, if it is necessary to pay someone else’s account, I recommend you authorize payments one at a time. I don’t recommend linking a checking account to anyone’s credit card account but your own. You’re not a bank, and you shouldn’t have to substitute for one. Your life will be simpler and more worry-free if you never agagin entangle finances with someone who is not your spouse.
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