funeral

What happens to credit card debt after death?

If a relative or spouse passes away, it's important to know who's responsible for their credit card debt.

When you're dealing with the death of a loved one, how you'll handle their debt is probably one of the last things on your mind. Unfortunately, the reality in Australia is that the spouse or children will most likely become responsible for that debt. If you've found yourself in this situation, use this guide to find out how it works, who needs to pay and what the process is when dealing with credit card debt after death.

What happens to credit card debt after death?

When you die, your estate is usually responsible for paying off any remaining debts you have. If the credit card is in a joint account, the other primary cardholders will be liable to pay the remaining outstanding balance. If the credit card debt is only in the name of the deceased cardholder, the liability will be paid out of the deceased's estate. If there's not enough money to cover the cost of the debt, the creditor is likely to offer you a payment plan or write off the debt.

With so many variables, we have outlined what happens to credit card debt after death and the steps you can take to deal with it.

Secured and unsecured debt

The management of debts for a deceased estate varies based on which of the following debt categories it falls into:

  • Unsecured debt. Credit card debt is a prime example of unsecured debt because a credit card is not tied to an asset (such as your car or home). With this type of debt, lenders have limited recourse to claim your assets if unsecured debt is left unpaid. These factors are partly why interest rates and fees can be so high for unsecured products.
  • Secured debt. A mortgage is an example of secured debt that is tied to an asset, such as a house. If you default on your home loan repayments, the lender is within their rights to reclaim possession of the house to recoup the cost of the loan.

How to deal with credit card debt if a spouse or relative passes away

Below are some simple steps you can take to deal with a deceased family member’s finances. We’ve also listed contact numbers for legal aid representatives in each state in the frequently asked questions section of this article. Refer to these contacts if you want to seek free, independent legal advice.

Step 1. Notify your bank

Financial institutions have deceased estate and bereavement specialists you can call to help you work through a difficult process. Here are the contact details you'll need to contact the deceased estate specialists at the Big Four banks.

Bank Bereavement / Deceased Estate Number
ANZ1800 237 170
Westpac1300 130 240
Commonwealth Bank1800 686 153
NAB1300 911 451

Step 2. Give required documents to your bank

You may be asked to provide details of the deceased, as well as your personal information so that the bank or financial institution can provide appropriate assistance based on your individual circumstances. The financial institution may also want to see a certified copy of the death certificate and will. Document requirements vary depending on whether or not you can provide it.

Your financial institution may ask you to complete a “deceased estate notification form”. The information you'll need to provide for this form include:

  • About you. Name, relationship to the deceased, address and contact information.
  • About the deceased. Name, address, date and place of birth.
  • If there is a will. A copy of the will and the death certificate.
  • If there is no will. Something to prove you’re the next of kin such as a letter of administration.

A bank branch manager may be able to assist with on the spot certification of original documents if you take them to a branch.

Step 3. Bank’s assessment

Here, the financial institution will review the deceased’s estate. They will look at current debts and assets, including outstanding credit card debts and savings account balances. If there are outstanding debts, the bank will make an attempt to reconcile the debt with available assets from other accounts. This includes accounts held by the deceased outside of the bank’s network, such as their superannuation funds.

Step 4. Release of funds

If there are sufficient funds to cover the deceased’s credit card debt, the bank will pay the liability first and release any leftover funds to the beneficiaries. If the deceased’s assets are less than the amount owing, the financial institution may contact you to arrange a payment plan. This usually involves a freeze on the interest rate so that interest charges stop compounding. In some circumstances, the bank may write off the debt.

What do you know about funeral insurance?

Credit card debt can be paid from a range of sources linked to the deceased’s estate. Most superannuation accounts, for example, offer some form of life insurance that offer a benefit that covers debts leftover when the account holder passes away.

How to deal with credit card debt after the death of a spouse

olderladycc

George and May lived in Sydney. George suddenly passed away. He left everything to May in his will, including a $10,000 credit card debt. The home was in both their names, and when he died, ownership of the property automatically passed to May. This meant the family home was excluded from George’s will and exempt from any claim by creditors (even though the bank can not claim an asset like the family home to cover an unsecured debt).

George also had a superannuation fund balance of about $800,000. He was a member of MySuper fund, which included insurance with a death benefit. George’s solicitor handled the settling of George’s estate and the $10,000 credit card debt was paid to the bank from his superannuation death benefit. The remaining balance of his assets went to May.

There are plenty of options available to help you deal with credit card debt after the death of a spouse or relative. If you're unsure which strategy is the most appropriate, contact your bank or legal aid to discuss your options.

Find out how life insurance can help your family cover your debts if you pass away.

Frequently asked questions

Free, independent legal advice is available in your state through various government-run and not-for-profit legal associations. Consider these organisations if you’re looking for legal help to deal with a deceased estate. Your bank may also be able to assist.

StateLegal help
NSW
Victoria
South Australia
Queensland
West Australia
Tasmania
Northern Territory

If the deceased has not left a will, you will need to apply for a letter of administration or probate to prove you’re the next of kin and eligible to administer the deceased’s estate.

If you have a bank account in a joint name, ownership of the account will be transferred to your name once the financial institution receives notification about the deceased.

Apply for the grant of probate through the Supreme Court. You must have this document if you’re dealing with estates greater than $50,000 in value.

Back to topPicture: Shutterstock

Sally McMullen

Sally McMullen is a journalist at finder.com.au who is a credit cards, frequent flyer and travel money expert by day and music maven by night.

Was this content helpful to you? No  Yes

Related Posts

American Express Velocity Platinum Card
American Express Velocity Platinum Card

Interest rate

20.74

Annual fee

375
ANZ Platinum Credit Card - Exclusive Offer
ANZ Platinum Credit Card - Exclusive Offer

Interest rate

19.74

Annual fee

87
St.George Vertigo Platinum
St.George Vertigo Platinum

Interest rate

12.74

Annual fee

99

Ask an Expert

You are about to post a question on finder.com.au:

  • Do not enter personal information (eg. surname, phone number, bank details) as your question will be made public
  • finder.com.au is a financial comparison and information service, not a bank or product provider
  • We cannot provide you with personal advice or recommendations
  • Your answer might already be waiting – check previous questions below to see if yours has already been asked

Finder only provides general advice and factual information, so consider your own circumstances, read the PDS or seek advice before you decide to act on our content. By submitting a question, you're accepting our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.

40 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    LilaJune 3, 2017

    I have been separated from my husband for almost twenty years, but not officially divorced. Can I be held liable for any outstanding debts he may have when he dies? Would the law consider me his next of kin?

    • Staff
      JonathanJune 3, 2017Staff

      Hi Lila!

      Thanks for your inquiry.

      Most of the time, you may only be held liable for your spouse’s debt, if you are a joint accountholder. You may get contact with our specific legal aid representatives in your state, by checking our FAQ on this page.

      Hope this clarifies.

      Cheers,
      Jonathan

  2. Default Gravatar
    MaggieApril 22, 2017

    My husband is the primary card holder. I have the card too & can use it independently. What happens to the outstanding balance should he die. We are pensioners & live in a village with a 45 year lease. Will I or my family be responsible for the debt. We do not have any super or savings

    • Staff
      HaroldApril 24, 2017Staff

      Hi Maggie,

      Thank you for your inquiry.

      If the credit card is in a joint account, the other primary cardholders will be liable to pay the remaining outstanding balance. If the credit card debt is only in the name of the deceased cardholder, the liability will be paid out of the deceased’s estate. If there’s not enough money to cover the cost of the debt, the creditor is likely to offer you a payment plan or write off the debt.

      I hope this information has helped.

      Cheers,
      Harold

  3. Default Gravatar
    carolineMarch 16, 2017

    My daughters dad died she is next of kin he has a mortgage of 250000 and credit card debt of 40.000 the house is worth 400000. does it come out of the estate

    • Staff
      MayMarch 17, 2017Staff

      Hi Caroline,

      Thank you for your inquiry.

      Basically, if the cardholder dies, the remaining outstanding balance on his card will be paid out of the deceased’s estate. You’d be best to get in touch with the bank to help you with working out this matter. Alternatively, if you want to seek for a free independent legal advice, you can contact the number (in your relevant state) listed in the FAQs section above.

      Cheers,
      May

  4. Default Gravatar
    ChristineMay 26, 2016

    Hi there,

    My Dads de facto recently passed away quite suddenly and has left behind 15k in credit card debt . They were both pensioners and there is no money left in her estate, the only asset she owned was half of the house they bought together, her will states that the home becomes my fathers until his death.

    My father doesn’t have the funds to pay the credit cards and is now worried the credit card companies will force him to sell the only asset which is his home, can you tell me if this is a likely scenario.

    Thanks

    • Staff
      MayMay 31, 2016Staff

      Hi Christine,

      Thanks for your inquiry and I’m sorry to hear about your family’s lost.

      If your father happens to be a joint account holder or co-signatory, he will become solely responsible for the debt and should shoulder the monthly repayments. If not, what he needs to do is to immediately contact the credit card company to inform them about his spouse’s death and ask that any interests be frozen so that the debt doesn’t continue to increase.

      Although there is no absolute assurance, in case that the debt is greater than the assets left behind, sometimes, the credit card issuer will be forced to write off the debt as a loss. But before they do that, they will still do everything they can that the debt should be paid off. So it’s best that you help your father contact the card company and see what would be their advice and his options as well. He can also prepare a copy of her death certificate if the credit card company would need it.

      I hope this could help.

      Cheers,
      May

  5. Default Gravatar
    January 26, 2016

    Is it normal procedure for a Bank/Credit Union to demand a copy of a deceased persons Will as proof to the identity of the Executor? They say unless they see it they won’t release the bank account funds.

    • Staff
      JonathanJanuary 27, 2016Staff

      Hi Lynne, thanks for your inquiry.

      To ensure that the executor is legitimate and the rightful party to receive the funds it can be normal protocol for the banks to require this documentation.

      I hope this helps.

      Cheers,

      Jonathan

  6. Default Gravatar
    LynneDecember 29, 2015

    My partner has recently passed on leaving an unsecured credit card debt of $17k. I have been told I will probably have to sell the house to pay for this debt. Is this correct

    • Staff
      SharonDecember 29, 2015Staff

      Hi Lynne, thanks for your inquiry!

      Since a credit card is an unsecured debt it will not be the responsibility of any loved ones, unless the credit card is under a joint account. If the card is a joint-account, as soon as one of the account holders dies the remaining account holder will automatically become solely responsible for the debt. If the deceased’s estate is sold and their are not enough funds to pay unsecured creditors, the debt can go unpaid. The deceased’s family can not be held liable for these debts.

      I hope this helps.

      Sharon

    • Default Gravatar
      LynneDecember 29, 2015

      Hi Sharon, does this mean I have to sell the house which we purchased together even though I am not a signatory on the card?

    • Staff
      SharonDecember 29, 2015Staff

      Hi Lynne, thanks for your response.

      If the card is only under your husband’s name, then you will not be responsible for paying off the credit card debt.

      Regards,

      Sharon

  7. Default Gravatar
    KellieNovember 9, 2015

    My father has a credit card that is in the name of a now registered company and he is a pensioner. Who is responsible for this debt?

    • Staff
      JonathanNovember 10, 2015Staff

      Hi Kellie, thanks for your inquiry!

      If the credit card was registered under the company’s name then the company will be held responsible for the debt. The liable party will be the account owner of the card/ primary cardholder.

      Cheers,

      Jonathan

  8. Default Gravatar
    SallyFebruary 27, 2015

    My hubby has a credit card from ANZ ,what happens if he dies ? We have no big assets and we both pensioners ….Can you tell me how we can pay off the credit card faster ? Thanks

    • Staff
      JonathanMarch 2, 2015Staff

      Hi Sally, thanks for your inquiry!

      Since a credit card is an unsecured debt it will not be the responsibility of any loved ones, unless the credit card is under a joint account. For more information on deceased credit card holders please see this page.

      Cheers,

      Jonathan

  9. Default Gravatar
    sharynFebruary 5, 2015

    My mother has a credit card what happens to the balance when she dies do I have to pay it

    • Staff
      JonathanFebruary 5, 2015Staff

      Hi Sharyn,

      Thanks for your inquiry!

      Please see this page for a guide on what happens to credit cards after death.

      I hope this helps.

      Cheers,

      Jonathan

  10. Default Gravatar
    KrishnanJanuary 22, 2015

    My niece an Australian citizen and Indian origin lady in mid thirties with two kids of 7 and 9 years lost her husband a couple of months ago. At the time of his death he had a saving of around 2000 dollars in bank account and a credit card due of almost 18000 dollars. As estate he has only a car worth around 4000 dollars. Other than those only household items like sofa, fridge, washing machines and utensils are his assets. My niece got insurance from the superannuation fund based on a Letter of Administration of Supreme Court and the fund is now lying in a NAB Account on her name. What is the extent of liability of his wife and children towards the credit card dues? I understand that Insurance funds are protected from credit card dues. Is the Solicitor acting as an administrator take possession of the car and sell it without the consent of my niece. ?Kindly advise. Krishnan

    • Staff
      JonathanJanuary 28, 2015Staff

      Hi Krishnan,

      Thanks for your inquiry.

      Credit cards are an unsecured form of credit, the card issuer shouldn’t chase a family member over a loved one’s credit card debt. There are some cases where those left behind will be liable for your credit card debt, and those cases are where you have had a joint account or co-signatory. Where your account has been joint, as soon as one of the account holders dies the remaining account holder will automatically become solely responsible for the debt. If the deceased’s estate is sold and their are not enough funds to pay unsecured creditors, the debt can go unpaid. The deceased’s family can not be held liable for these debts.

      I hope this helps.

      Cheers,

      Jonathan

    • Default Gravatar
      KrishnanJanuary 28, 2015

      Hi Jonathan,
      Thanks for the inputs on credit card recovery of the deceased and the extent of liability of the spouse this being an unsecured liability. Another fundamental question is, can the only asset of the deceased i.e an old car being used by is wife and her two young girls be taken away by the credit card company as a part f recovery of dues. She works in an office and has two daughters aged 7 and 12 years studying in two different schools, where this is their only mode of conveyance. Kindly clarify.
      Regards
      Krishnan

    • Staff
      JonathanFebruary 3, 2015Staff

      Hi Krishnan, thanks for your inquiry.

      Unless the debt has been secured against any assets, loved ones will not be held accountable for the debt. Please see this page for a guide on credit card debts after death.

      I hope this helps.

      Cheers,

      Jonathan

Ask a question
feedback