Q. My dad passed away almost two years ago. We have been paying $10 a month on his credit card. My mom is on a fixed income. Is she responsible for the debt? The credit card company is saying we have to pay even though my mom never signed when my dad got this card.
— Worried for mom

A. We’re sorry to hear about your dad’s death and that the lingering debt is causing a financial hardship for your mother.

At the time of your father’s death, his estate may have gone through the probate process and the executor would have used assets to pay off obligations, said Claudia Mott, a certified financial planner with Epona Financial Solutions in Basking Ridge.

In general, Mott said, secured debt such as a mortgage or auto loan and funeral expenses are paid off first.

“If there are remaining assets, then unsecured debt such as a credit card balance can be addressed,” she said. “This is the case for any credit card that your father held in his own name or which may have listed your mother as an authorized user.”

If there are not enough assets in the estate to completely eliminate the unsecured debt, then the outstanding credit card balance is often written off, she said.

Also, the assets in retirement accounts such as IRAs and 401(k) are not used to fulfill a deceased’s debt obligations. The executor of your father’s estate should have notified all of the debt holders of his death in order to receive a final balance due them, Mott said.

If your mother’s name was not listed as a joint card holder, your best course of action may be to contact the credit card company directly, she said. If your family worked with an estate planning attorney to help close your father’s estate, contacting that individual for some help might be worthwhile, she said.

“If the card is in fact joint, you may be able to negotiate with the credit card company to reduce the balance by proving the financial hardship this is causing and your mother’s limited income,” Mott said.

Email your questions to Ask@NJMoneyHelp.com.

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