As estate planning and elder law attorneys we receive this question all of the time. As a general rule of thumb, the answer is no, you are not liable for the debts of another individual. However, there are some exceptions to that general rule, which is why it is essential to seek professional advice when a loved one passes, especially a spouse who had debt in his or her name alone.
For example, there are a few situations where a spouse would be liable for the debt of a spouse, and they are a few of the following:
- If a spouse co-signs on a loan for a spouse, then they also own the debt.
- If a spouse is a joint account holder of a credit card with their spouse, then they are also liable for the credit card as a joint owner.
- If a spouse has jointly owned property, and that property has liability, then the joint owner would as well.
These exceptions are obviously pretty clear, which all point to the situation where the spouse is either an owner or co-signed for the debt one way or another.
However, in the State of Pennsylvania, there is a doctrine called “The Doctrine of Necessities.” Essentially, it provides that a spouse is liable to provide for the necessities of their spouse. While this is certainly not a doctrine that is used all the time, it is possible that a spouse could be held liable for their spouse’s debt that was incurred prior to death if it is deemed to be a necessity and is deemed that the spouse has a duty to support the other spouse.
Although this is rare, it is definitely something not to overlook and, again, is why we recommended that you seek legal counsel when a spouse passes away to make sure that everything is taken care of properly and that you don’t assume any personal liability for any inadvertent omissions.
Please, if you have any questions or concerns about your financial future should your spouse die, contact us at (717) 845-5390 or fill in our contact us form and we’ll get back to you.