Handling a Deceased Spouse’s Credit Card Debt in Wisconsin

When a spouse dies, most people are understandably overcome by grief. Unfortunately, in Wisconsin, a surviving spouse may also be burdened by their deceased loved one’s credit card debt.

In most states, when a credit card debt is in only one spouse’s name, the debt will be paid out of the estate. Any credit card debt that exceeds the assets in the estate is never paid and a spouse cannot be forced to pay the debt.

Wisconsin, however, is one of ten marital property states. This means any debts incurred by either spouse are generally deemed to be jointly held. According to Wisconsin law, a surviving spouse will generally be held responsible for the individually acquired credit card debt of a deceased spouse.

Important exceptions do exist. For example, a surviving spouse may not be held responsible for a debt that was acquired by their deceased spouse before or during the marriage if used to pay an obligation that preceded the marriage. In some cases, a surviving spouse may only be required to pay those debts he or she directly benefited from such as utility or healthcare payments. A surviving spouse is always responsible for any outstanding debts related to a jointly held credit card.

After one member of a married couple passes away, the executor of his or her estate must provide notice of the death to all creditors, including credit card companies. A copy of the notice letter should be maintained in the executor’s records.

The Credit CARD Act of 2009 provides that no late or annual fees may be charged by a credit card company while a decedent’s estate is being settled. In addition, the estate is also provided with 30 days during which to pay the final outstanding balance on a credit card without incurring additional interest charges. If you are contacted by your deceased spouse’s creditors, you should refer them to the executor of your spouse’s estate. If you are the executor, you should not discuss the debt until you determine what assets remain, whether the debt is valid, and whether you are responsible for the debt. If your spouse died with outstanding credit card debt, you should contact an experienced will, trusts, and estates lawyer to assist you in settling your spouse’s estate.

To discuss your deceased loved one’s estate with a knowledgeable attorney, submit a consultation request via our online form. Our experienced attorneys are available to answer your questions about serving as an executor or the process for closing an estate. We assist clients with probate matters, wills, trusts, powers of attorney, health care documents, and a host of other estate planning tools.

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