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Credit Cards and Probate Information

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Mark Cappel
UpdatedMar 23, 2023
My mother had 3 credit cards on which I have my name, they have gone into probate. Will I be responsible for them now?

My mother had 3 credit cards on which I have my name. They have gone into probate and it seems that one of them has been researched. I phoned and the woman I spoke to said that there was nothing to claim on the estate and that in 30 days the file would be closed. The other 2 are a lot more aggressive. When I notified them of my mother's death, they all said that I was not liable for the debt. I need to know what will happen if I do not assume these debts. If I do claim these debts, it will surely drive me to bankruptcy. I am consulting a bankruptcy attorney tomorrow. Can you tell me what will happen if I do not claim these debts? Thank you.

What action you will need to take depends on whether you were a joint cardholder or if you were an authorized user on the accounts. In order to be considered a joint account holder, you would have needed to sign credit applications along with your mother when she first applied for these credit cards. As a joint account holder, you would be fully liable for the debt, and the creditor could pursue you for collection of the obligation. On the other hand, you may be an authorized user on these accounts rather than a full-fledged account holder; to make you an authorized user, your mother would have simply needed to request another card on her account with your name on it. Creditors will issue cards for authorized users, but the credit is actually extended to the account holder, in this case your mother. Since authorized users do not apply for credit or sign a credit agreement, they are not legally liable for the debt. While credit card companies can, and often do, call authorized users and ask them to make payment on delinquent accounts, authorized users cannot be sued to collect on an unpaid debt. Since the creditor you contacted after your motherÂ’s passing told you that you are not liable for these obligations, I would assume that you are an authorized user rather than an account holder on these cards. Were you an account holder, the creditors would have almost certainly contacted you to demand payment when the accounts became delinquent.

As an authorized user, these accounts can be listed on your credit reports; if you do not pay the debts, they may appear on your credit profile as derogatory items, which could damage your credit rating. I would encourage you to obtain a copy of your credit report from each of the three major U.S. credit reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—to determine if these accounts are showing up in your credit file. If they are, you may wish to contact the creditors to have yourself removed as an authorized user on the accounts; having your name removed as an authorized user will probably not remove past information from your reports, but it may prevent future derogatory data being reported to the credit bureaus by these creditors. To learn more about credit, credit reporting, and credit scores, I invite you to visit the Credit Resources, page.

Assuming that you are listed only as an authorized user on these accounts, there is little reason to begin making payments on these accounts, especially if you think that paying the accounts will force you into bankruptcy. If you do not pay these accounts, it may have a negative impact on your credit report, but I would think that this impact is better than creating a financial nightmare for yourself by committing to payments which you cannot realistically afford. If, on the other hand, you are an account holder on the accounts, you may be liable for the debts, and bankruptcy may be the best solution available to you. I am glad that you have an appointment with a bankruptcy attorney, as consulting with a qualified attorney is imperative given the uncertain nature of your financial situation. Hopefully your attorney can review your accounts with you, help you determine your liability, and then advise you of the best course of action for your financial circumstances.

If you would like to read more about the various options available to consumers who are struggling to pay their debts, I encourage you to visit the Debt Help page.

I wish you the best of luck in resolving these obligations and hope that the information I have provided helps you Find. Learn. Save.



Debt statistics

Debt is used to buy a home, pay for bills, buy a car, or pay for a college education. According to the NY Federal Reserve total household debt as of Q4 2022 was $16.91 trillion. Auto loan debt was $1.55 trillion and credit card was $0.99 trillion.

According to data gathered by from a sample of credit reports, about 26% of people in the US have some kind of debt in collections. The median debt in collections is $1,739. Student loans and auto loans are common types of debt. Of people holding student debt, approximately 8% had student loans in collections. The national Auto/Retail debt delinquency rate was 4%.

Each state has its rate of delinquency and share of debts in collections. For example, in Wisconsin credit card delinquency rate was 2%, and the median credit card debt was $371.

Avoiding collections isn’t always possible. A sudden loss of employment, death in the family, or sickness can lead to financial hardship. Fortunately, there are many ways to deal with debt including an aggressive payment plan, debt consolidation loan, or a negotiated settlement.

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