The death of a spouse is devastating. If one spouse passes away and leaves substantial credit card debt, the question arises of who is responsible for paying off those credit card bills. In many cases, especially with elderly couples, one surviving spouse can be on a fixed income and unable to pay high bills. They may have to use up their lifetime savings to do so.

While no one likes to imagine life after the death of a partner, there are some steps one can take to provide some financial protection in the event a spouse with debt passes away.

It is a good idea to make sure credit card debt stays manageable. A surviving spouse should contact a credit card company right after the spouse passes.

Find out who is the actual owner of the debt. Much depends on the location in which the account was opened and what state the account holder’s resided in at the time of death.

In Wisconsin, the law implies that any debts are part of community property. If there is no estate, however, a credit card company may not wish to pursue a dead-end issue.

Other factors include whether the credit card accounts were in both names and if both spouses were listed as authorized users. In many cases, the credit card company could require documentation to prove the individual has passed to determine what to do.

If you are a surviving spouse in the state of Wisconsin dealing with credit card debt, it is wise to seek advice from a person or agency that can act on behalf of person grieving the loss of a spouse. Managing finances can be traumatic. There is a long list of actions to take care of following a death of a partner. If you find yourself in such a situation, it is in your best interest to get help from an informed source who can help you unravel the tangled mess of who is responsible for credit card debt.

Source: The Eagle Tribune, “Is widow responsible for husband’s credit card debt?” Rosanne DiStefano, Mar. 24, 2014