Q: My dad died in March and has credit card debt. He has no real estate or vehicles. He was married, and lived with his wife in Illinois. We do not live there. Who is responsible for the debt? They acquired most of it when they were together.

A: My condolences on your loss.

When someone dies, their assets and debts fall into their estate. It’s the job of the executor of the estate to tally up all of the assets (including ownership in real estate, cars, boats, personal property, brokerage and retirement accounts, etc.) and gather together all of the debts (mortgages, loans, credit card debts, etc.). The assets of the estate are used to pay off any debts that were still owed.

If your father had credit card debt at the time of his death and was single when he died, and in addition had no assets, his debts would effectively die with him. The creditors would be notified that the borrower had passed away without any assets. While they might try to get someone else to pay those debts (like his children), you most likely wouldn’t owe anything on them. (If you had benefitted from the debts in some way, you might have to pay something.)

But since your father was married, if he and his wife incurred these debts together, then she would be responsible for paying them off now that he has died. The question is whether she was a cosigner to these debts or simply an authorized user of the accounts. If she was a cosigner to the credit cards, then she would be primarily responsible for paying them off. If she was simply an authorized user, it’s possible that she would not be liable. She should speak to an estate attorney to go over your dad’s affairs and figure out whether she has liability for those credit card debts.

If you have other questions about these issues, and any responsibility you may have for them, you should also consider consulting with an estate attorney.