Can You Inherit Credit Card Debt?

By Minh Tong Reviewed by Nima Vahdat Updated Feb 21, 2024
Can You Inherit Credit Card Debt?

Generally, credit card debt cannot be inherited, but it is important to know the rare situations in which it could be.

A survey by Experian, a credit reporting agency which monitors over 245 million consumers, revealed that 73 percent of Americans are expected to pass away while still carrying debt.

One question that often puzzles many Americans is whether credit card debt can be inherited.

Dealing with inherited debt is probably among the last concerns you want to face when a loved one passes away.

However, this topic is crucial, and due to the lack of discussion around it, it’s often misunderstood. This leads to confusion regarding what happens to debt after one’s passing and who ultimately bears the responsibility for it.


  • Recognize Debt Responsibility – Credit card debt typically does not transfer to family members after death.
  • Critical Post-Death Actions – Important measures are required to handle the financial matters of the deceased.
  • Identify Inheritable Debts – Be aware that specific debts, such as those with co-signers or joint accounts, may be passed on to others.

What Happens To Credit Card Debt When You Die?

There’s a widespread belief that credit card debts are automatically canceled upon death, but this is a misconception.

When a person dies, their credit card debts don’t simply vanish. 

Instead, their estate becomes responsible for settling any owed debts. An estate encompasses all that a person possesses at their time of death, ranging from bank savings and personal belongings to any outstanding debts.

The executor or administrator of the estate, often mentioned in the will, handles this process. If the estate doesn’t have enough assets to cover the debts, they are typically written off by the creditors.

That’s because family members are generally not required to pay off a deceased person’s credit card debt using their own funds. 

However, there are exceptions, such as for joint account holders and specific state laws that may differ (more on this later).

First Steps To Follow When A Credit Cardholder Dies

Although the bereavement period can be stressful, it is important to start organizing and closing out the decedent’s financial affairs, including their credit accounts by doing the following…

Organize All Financial Documentation

Collect every financial document related to the deceased. 

This includes all credit card statements, bank statements, loan documents, and any other records pertaining to debt. 

Review these documents to understand the total amount owed. This step is critical in settling the estate and understanding the financial obligations left behind.

Inform Credit Card Companies Of The Death

Contact all credit card companies where the deceased held an account as soon as possible. 

Inform them about the cardholder’s passing. This notification is necessary to stop future charges, prevent interest accrual, and begin the process of closing the accounts. 

Stop Further Credit Card Use

It’s important to ensure that no one uses the deceased’s credit cards posthumously. 

Using a deceased person’s credit card is illegal and constitutes fraud. Family members should be informed about this to avoid unintended legal complications.

Request For Multiple Death Certificate Copies

Secure multiple copies of the death certificate. 

Most financial institutions, creditors, and government agencies will require an official death certificate to process any changes to accounts, transfer assets, or close accounts. 

Having several copies is practical as it expedites multiple simultaneous processes.

Demand A Credit Freeze From Credit Bureaus

Request a credit freeze on the deceased’s accounts from the major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, & TransUnion). 

A credit freeze restricts access to the deceased’s credit report, making it hard for identity thieves to open new accounts in their name. This is an essential step in protecting the deceased’s estate from fraudulent activities.

Understand Your Rights Before Paying Debt Collectors

It’s crucial to understand your legal rights in relation to the deceased’s debts. 

Generally, relatives are not personally responsible for the deceased’s debts. The estate typically settles debts. 

However, laws vary by region and situation, especially if there are joint account holders or cosigners involved. In some cases, spouses might be responsible for certain kinds of debt. 

It’s advisable to consult with an attorney for guidance specific to your circumstances.

What Debts Can Be Inherited?

Certain debts can be passed on to survivors, such as…

Co-signed And Joint Debts

When you co-sign a loan or a credit card, you are agreeing to be equally responsible for the debt. 

This means if the primary borrower passes away, the co-signer becomes solely responsible for repaying the remaining balance. 

It’s crucial to understand this responsibility when co-signing any financial agreement, as it can have significant financial implications.

Home Equity Loans On Inherited Houses

Inheriting a property often means inheriting its debts as well. 

If the house comes with a home equity loan, the inheritor may be responsible for continuing the payments. Failure to repay this loan could result in foreclosure. 

The inheritor has to decide whether to keep the property and take over the loan payments or sell the property to pay off the debt.

State Laws And Community Property

In community property states, the law views the debts incurred by either spouse during the marriage as joint debts. 

This means that when one spouse passes away, the surviving spouse could be held responsible for any debts acquired during the marriage, even if they were not directly involved. 

These states include Texas, Arizona, Idaho, California, Louisiana, New Mexico, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Washington, and residents in these states need to be aware of how these laws can affect their financial responsibility in the event of a spouse’s death.

Pro Tip: Understanding the types of debts that can be inherited is crucial for financial planning and managing the affairs of a deceased family member. It is always prudent to seek legal counsel to navigate these complex issues and understand the specific implications based on individual circumstances and state laws.

How Credit Card Companies Can Reach You

Dealing with credit card debt after losing a loved one can be really tough, especially when you start getting calls from debt collectors. 

It’s good to know that these companies have to play by the rules set by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). This means they can reach out to the deceased’s spouse, parents, guardian, executor, or administrator, but they can’t falsely claim you owe the debt if you don’t, and they definitely can’t be mean or sneaky about it.

Remember, you always have the option to ask the collector to stop bugging you, whether you’re responsible for the debt or not. If you do have to pay, they might contact you just once more to talk about what’s going to happen next, like maybe a lawsuit, or to let you know they won’t be contacting you again.

If a collector does contact you about the debts, feel free to tell them how you’d prefer to communicate in the future. 

They’re supposed to give you certain important info, so be sure not to share any of your personal details until you’re absolutely sure they’re legit. And, if possible, chat with a lawyer before you pay anything to steer clear of any hiccups. You can even ask the collectors to talk to your lawyer instead of you. 

If you’re having a concern with debt collection, feel free to submit a complaint with the CFPB.

Final Thoughts About Inheriting Credit Card Debt

In most cases, credit card debt isn’t directly inherited by family members. 

However, if you’re a co-signer or if state laws apply, there might be exceptions. Understanding these nuances is crucial in managing the financial aftermath of a loved one’s passing.

At Americor, we understand the importance of managing your finances wisely. 

As America’s trusted source for debt relief solutions, we aim to empower you with financial knowledge that can lead to informed decisions, whether it’s about savings, investments, or managing debt.

If your debt has become unmanageable and you have difficulty making your debt payments each month, then you should consider a free consultation call with one of our certified Debt Consultants, who can provide personalized advice tailored to your specific needs.

By taking proactive steps today, you can put an end to your financial stress and work towards a brighter financial future. 

Remember, there is always hope for debt relief, and our team of experienced professionals are ready to guide you on your journey to regaining control of your finances.

For more information on Americor’s debt relief services, contact us today to see how we can help you eliminate your debts, and get on the fast-track to becoming completely debt-free!


Minh Tong

Minh leverages decades of experience in marketing, sales management and technology to provide high-level advice and lead new initiatives. Minh has a Bachelor of Science in Business/Managerial Economics from University of California at Irvine. He brings over 20 years of sales and executive management experience to the company and his responsibilities include customer service improvement, professional development, and carrying out communications and marketing. Originally from the east coast, Minh resides in southern California and enjoys spending time with his family, going to the beach, and playing a variety of sports.