For the Love of Your Family

My mother died with credit card debt. Am I responsible for paying that debt?

Clarifying Questions

Q: My mother recently died with lots of credit card debt. Am I responsible for paying that debt?

-Worried Son

A: Dear Worried:

Unless you’re a co-signer on the credit card, you aren’t responsible for that debt. As with nearly all other creditors, credit card companies cannot force surviving adult children to pay for a parent’s debts—even though bill collectors may try to guilt you into paying.

However, if your parents left behind any assets, the credit card company can collect on the debt from your parent’s estate, which may reduce your inheritance. But if the estate has insufficient assets to pay the debt, the debt is typically wiped out.

What’s more, credit card companies are viewed as a low-priority behind just about every other type of creditor, so even if they do try to collect on the estate, you might be able to negotiate a reduced payment.

When it comes to other types of debt, like funeral expenses, taxes, and mortgages, it’s a similar situation—creditors can collect on the estate’s assets, but not the children’s. The only exception is the roughly 30 states with “filial responsibility” statutes, which can hold adult children responsible from some types of unpaid medical debt incurred by parents. But even those cases are still quite rare.

Contact a Personal Family Lawyer® for help navigating all matters related to your parents’ estate—and your own.

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