Banking Category Banking: the easy, simple banking guide

A Wife's Responsibility for Her Husband's Debt

When you get married, you promise to take your husband "for richer or for poorer." However, this doesn't necessarily mean taking responsibility for his debts.

If you marry a debtor, you aren't marrying his debts, unless you live in a community property state or he adds your name to his accounts. Similarly, you may not be responsible for your husband's debts after his death, although you will continue to be responsible for joint debts.

Old Debts

If one spouse incurs debt before marriage, in most cases, his creditors cannot collect the debt from his spouse. However, if you add your new spouse's name to an account after the marriage, creditors can come after both of you for the debt, even if you default on the debt without your new spouse ever using the account. In addition, in community property states such as California, creditors may consider debts to belong to both parties in the marriage.

Community Property States

In community property states, debt incurred for the benefit of both parties is considered to belong to both spouses, even if only one spouse entered the debt.

However, if your husband goes into debt to get an item only he uses, you are not liable for that debt. You must be able to prove that you get no benefit from the debt to receive this exemption.

Cosigning on Debts

If you cosign any loan papers for your husband, you will be responsible for that debt if he defaults. This includes signing joint credit card applications, as well as traditional loan documents, such as student loan or mortgage papers. In most states, if your husband makes you an authorised user on his credit card account but leaves the account only in his name, you are not liable for his debt if he defaults on the account.

Debts After Death

You are not responsible for your husband's unsecured debt after his death unless your name was on the account. You must contact the credit card company to inform them of your husband's death. If you are the executor of his estate, you may be able to pay the debt using his estate's assets; if not, the credit card company must write off the debt. If you and your husband had any joint accounts, you must ask your creditor to take his name off the account and continue making payments until the account is paid off.