Spouse's liability for debt

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Latest post 03-16-2006 5:19 PM by Fxston. 5 replies.
  • 03-15-2006 8:20 PM

    Question [=?] Spouse's liability for debt

    My common law husband died without a will, with no assets and lots of debt. He had medical bills that had been sent to collection agencies, credit cards (All cards but one were in his name only) and a huge student loan debt. I was told this was not worth opening an estate over, that I was only responsible for the one credit card we held together. The medical collection agency has switched the collection from his name to mine saying I am responsible for all debt incurred while we were married. It is a small amount (less than $300) but I don't want to pay if I am not responsible, but I will to save my credit. I don't want to pay it and then have other collectors think I have to pay them.

    Am I responsible for student loans, credit cards not in my name and the medical bills? How do I respond to these creditors without a lawyer? I notified the credit card people of the death(sent copies of death certif) but the bills are still coming in my spouse's name, do I actually have to spell out - Cancel the account?
  • 03-16-2006 8:10 AM In reply to

    • Drew
      Consumer
    • Top 10 Contributor
    • Joined on 03-30-2000
    • PA
    • Posts 49,508

    re: Spouse's liability for debt

    Laymans view:

    1. You need to develop a think skin and deaf ear. Send the creditors a note that he died, no more commentary. Dig in.
    2. You are likley NOT obligated for cards in his name alone. Perhaps you may be if they were for "necessities"--varies by state.
    2.1 You don't owe for his student loans.
    3. If creditors seek to raise his estate to try to collect thats thier choice.
    4. If the medical firm thinks you owe it under some necessity arguement let them tell it to the judge that way--my guess is they are trying to buffalo you.--but there is a possibility that you owe for his necessitites --I simply don't know under IA law--my suggestion--offer to pay half and if thats a go--confirm it in writing that its full satisfaction --many times such bills are settled for a fraction---
    5. You are entitled to enter a counter comment on your credit if they try to put it there.
    6. You are obligated as to any joint debt.



  • 03-16-2006 1:30 PM In reply to

    re: Spouse's liability for debt

    Iowa ain't a community property state. Unless you co-signed or guaranteed a debt, you shouldn't be responsible for it. Contact an IA estate-probate lawyer if you need help with transferring any of the husband's property.

    The collection agency likely has no right or power to change the name of the account to yours. I would write them a letter advising that the debt is disputed, that they are violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and will find themselves on the receiving end of a lawsuit in federal court if they do not cease and desist contacting you.

    You are responsible for any joint credit card account, however.

    If your credit report shows any derogatory entries, you write to the reporting agency and demand validation. If the collection agency just sends it some statement print-out it manufactured vs. an original of the underlying bill that has your name and/or signature on it, I'd argue that is not validation.

    You may want to visit the message boards on creditnet.com for more info on how to deal with the creditors-agencies.

  • 03-16-2006 4:10 PM In reply to

    Disagree [)*(] re: Spouse's liability for debt

    I disagree somewhat.

    In most states, spouses are legally liable for each other's medical bills. The collection agency for the medical bill may have been within its rights on that one.

    Federally insured student loans are cancelled or forgiven when the debtor dies. Send the student loan company a certified copy of the death certificate. The student loan lender will then apply for the Federal insurance for the amount owed. If it was a private student loan, this provisio may not apply. However, it doesn't make you legally liable.

    You are legally liable on the one card that you had as a joint account holder.

    IA is not a community property state. It is going to be tough for collectors to get you to pay for debts on credit cards that were in his name only. However, if you did own any property (i.e., real estate) jointly be sure to promptly transfer title to your name only. If the property was owned jointly with right of survivorship, it should be a relatively simple procedure to get title formally changed. You probably need to go down to the court house with a certified copies of the death/marriage certificates (and probably some valid idenfitification), complete a simple form, and likely pay a recording fee. While title may pass automatically, it would be easier and simplier if you did this BEFORE some creditor slaps a lien on the property rather than after the fact.
  • 03-16-2006 5:19 PM In reply to

    re: Spouse's liability for debt

    You can always talk with an IA attorney about IA's position on this, and whether the medical bill in question was a "necessity" (what was it for?).

    If the original creditor (and you can write the collection agency to buzz off and you'll only deal with original creditor) wants to expend possibly quite a lot of money going after you for $300 and proving this bill was a necessary expense, great. I still say they are not within their rights to change the name on the account, though they're free to change it to "estate of".



  • 03-24-2006 2:03 PM In reply to

    Question [=?] re: Spouse's liability for debt

    Thank you for your advice. I have not yet heard from any of the credit card companies or the guarantor of his student loan. The collection agency for the medical bill calls me a lot telling me I am responsible for the bill.

    I was just told Iowa is a joint debtor state and I am responsible for his bills. Does anyone know anything about this? I've tried reading the Iowa Code but it is all mumble jumble to me.
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