Credit Account Access After a Spouse Dies

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Credit Card Question: I have a few credit cards in my own name but I’m also an authorized user on my husband’s credit cards. My husband is very ill. If something happened to him, will I still have access to his credit cards? -- Nancy

Answer: Hi Nancy,

I’m sure it was difficult to ask this question and I commend you for doing so. I’m glad you have a few accounts in your own name. While it could vary depending on the credit card issuer, if something happened to your husband you would probably no longer have access to his accounts.

Here’s how it works: As an authorized user on your husband’s account, you’re allowed to use the card, but he’s the owner of the account. If something happened to your husband, you must notify the issuer -- and you might lose access to that card. Just so you know, from a legal standpoint, any unpaid balances on your husband’s accounts will become the responsibility of his estate.

But since you have a history as an authorized user, you can always contact the credit card issuer and ask if you can have a card in your own name. You’ll probably be asked to fill out an application as a new cardholder. Whether or not you’re approved depends on your credit score and credit history. But keep in mind that you have that option.

The rules for being a joint account holder are different. If you were a joint account holder with your husband, then approval for the credit card would be based on both of your credit histories and on the information you both gave on the application. When you’re joint account holders, you’re both legally responsible for paying debts on the account. So if something unfortunate happened, you’d be responsible for the debt, but also still be able to use the credit card because you’re a joint account owner.

Whatever happens in the future, I’m glad that you have credit cards where you’re the sole account holder. If you suddenly find yourself alone, you’ll know you have credit cards available for emergencies.

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