My Best Friend Died. Is Her Husband Liable for Her Secret Debt?

Dear Penny,

My best friend was recently killed by a drunk driver. I’m helping her husband sort everything out, and we’ve discovered she was hiding credit card debt. She also had several student loans he didn’t know about.

His name wasn’t on any of it. Is he liable for these debts?

-Picking Up the Pieces

Dear Picking Up,

What a senseless and heartbreaking loss. I’m glad the two of you are supporting each other at this awful time.

In all likelihood, your friend’s husband won’t be responsible for the money she owed. When someone dies with debtthe debt becomes part of their estate. Family members aren’t responsible for paying it off, though there are a few exceptions I’ll discuss in a moment. If the estate doesn’t have enough assets to pay off the debt — and I’m guessing your friend died without much money if she was carrying secret debt — creditors typically won’t get paid.

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All that gets sorted out in probate court. However, some assets avoid probate altogether and go directly to the person…

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