Legal Question in Credit and Debt Law in Pennsylvania

my husband recently passed away and he owed $6000 on a credit card in his name only which he did use for windows for the house. my name is on the deed to the house, i am the beneficiary on his life insurance which just about covered his funeral. no assets. my attorney said i am responsible for his credit card debt cause i am the estate, i don't understand this. can you explain how i am the estate, is it because i am the executor of his will?? thank you

Asked on 6/02/11, 6:18 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

Yes and no. You personally are not responsble for your husband's credit card debt, but your husband's estate is responsible. If there are assets in the estate, then those funds have to be used to pay the claims. If there is not enough money, then assets may need to be sold and/or claims need to be paid in order of priority. The first thing that gets paid are estate expenses (like placing an ad in the newspaper), attorney expenses, your commission as personal representative and most importantly, your spousal allowance. This gets paid before any creditors. Next thing is funeral expenses, up to a certain amount. Credit cards are dead last and if there is no money, they get nothing.

It does not matter what your husband used the card for. If your name was on the house, did you own the house as husband and wife? If so, the house is not part of probate and it would have passed to you automatically upon your husband's death.

Life insurance also passes outside of probate to the named beneficiary, which is you. The credit card company cannot touch that either. If your husband had no assets, then probate is not even necessary. In such case, you would write to the creditor, tell them the debt was your husband's, that you are not liable for your husband's debts, that he died (send a copy of the death certificate) and indicate there are no assets in the estate justifying probate.

However, your lawyer has access to all the paperwork and you are the personal representative so it is not ethical for me to intervene or second guess the lawyer.

That said, if there are truly no assets, why is he probating the estate? Something is not right. I suggest that you speak with him to go over this and why probate is needed. I would also ask him about what assets exactly he thinks will be in the estate and ask about your spousal allowance (might be called a family allowance) and paying claims in order of priority if there are not enough funds.

If he does not give you satisfactory answers, then I would fire him and get another probate lawyer.

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Answered on 6/02/11, 7:55 pm

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