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Does a debt die with a person?


What happens to debt when someone dies? The classic legal answer to most questions applies here: it depends. It depends on factors such as what type of debt, who signed the paperwork and where do you live. Because each factor can change the answer, it is important that you ask an attorney in your area for information based on your particular facts.

Typically, if you have cosigned a legal instrument, say a mortgage or car loan, if the other cosigner dies, you are contractually responsible for what was a joint debt. On the other hand, if you did not sign any paperwork and are not mentioned on the loan documents, you are not liable for the debt.


However, because of the Marital Property Act (MPA), things in Wisconsin are more complex. When someone is deceased, their estate is typically obligated to pay their debts. If their estate is small, creditors may look to other parties in an attempt to satisfy those debts. In Wisconsin, the estate of a deceased person would include their individual property and half of their "community" property.

If the debt consisted of credit card debt or medical debt, even if they are the sole party on the debt, if the debt is determined to be "necessary," the creditor could demand the surviving spouse satisfy the debt.

Because Wisconsin is a community property state, the intersection of contract law, family law, estate law and bankruptcy law can make this a very complex assessment of this matter, and discussing the issue with an attorney is essential.

Source:, "My Spouse Is Dying — How Do We Handle Credit Cards Now?" Gerri Detweiler, September 29, 2015

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