Am I Responsible for the Debts of My Deceased Spouse?

spousal debt - community debtAn individual’s estate is responsible for repaying any debts that the individual left outstanding at death. The executor of the estate will use the individual’s assets — either cash from bank accounts or money gained from liquidating property — to pay back creditors.

Spouses of deceased individuals may worry that creditors will attempt to collect from them after their husband or wife passes away. As with many questions in the law, the answer to whether you are responsible for the debts of your deceased spouse is: “it depends.”

Spousal liability for debt largely comes down to whether you live in a community property state. In community property states — which include Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin — debt acquired during marriage is the responsibility of both spouses. If you live in one of these nine states, you will be responsible for your spouse’s debts after his or her death.

In all other states, debt taken on for the benefit of the two spouses is considered community debt. Family necessities that you benefit from, such as food or shelter, must be repaid. Personal debts your spouse incurred do not fall to you, however.

It is important to note that death does not wipe out an individual’s debts. Whether you live in a community property state or not, and whether the debt is considered community debt or not, creditors have the ability to collect money due to them from the estate’s assets. Should those funds be depleted before all creditors can be repaid, the debt does not transfer to you unless it is a community debt.

Some non-community property states have made variations to these default rules. Before making a determination as to what debts you are responsible for, you should speak with the estate’s executor, the probate judge assigned to your case, or an estate planning attorney.