Managing Credit After the Death of a Spouse

Discover the obligations of credit after the death of a loved one.

The loss of a partner is not only devastating, but the myriad of credit issues that come with such a death can be overwhelming. While nothing can ease the pain of losing a spouse, the following can help simplify necessary monetary decisions and protect your future financial security.

  1. Obtain your spouse’s credit report
    You need to discover all outstanding financial obligations and determine your own financial responsibility. If you and your spouse had a joint line of credit, you will most likely need to take on payments moving forward. For example, if your home isn’t paid off, you will be solely responsible for making future mortgage payments. On the other hand, if your partner had their own credit line, and you were not a joint owner, you may not be liable for the outstanding debt that was in their name. If, however, your partner maintained their own separate estate (the executor of the estate will have this information), you could utilize that money to help pay off your partner’s debt.

    Because a credit report details every open account, you’ll have a working list to help ascertain which items need to be addressed going forward, and which simply need to be closed. To obtain a free credit report from one of the three nationwide credit reporting companies, visit annualcreditreport.com or call 1.877.322.8228. You will need to provide your spouse’s name, address, social security number and date of birth, to verify identity.

  2. Close your spouse's credit file
    Many people believe that upon death, the credit file is closed. In reality, when someone’s life comes to an end, their credit file lives on. According to ID Analytics, the identities of nearly 2.5 million deceased Americans are used annually to fraudulently open credit cards, apply for loans, get cell phones or other services. To protect against this, the executor of the will or a family member should officially notify one of the three official reporting agencies…EquifaxExperian, or TransUnion…of the death (the other two will receive notification from the first). In addition to the items needed to obtain the credit report listed above, a copy of the official death certificate should be sent via certified mail with a request for proof of receipt. Once informed, the credit agencies will place a “block” on the deceased individual’s credit line to prevent identity thieves from obtaining and using the recently active credit line.
     
  3. Determine your benefit eligibility
    To help offset any debts and maximize future security, it's important to discover if you're eligible for any benefits that might arise from your partner's death. One of the most common, Social Security, can be investigated here: ssa.gov. If your partner served in the military, then Veterans Affairs would be the place to explore benefits. You may also be entitled to your spouse's pension depending on the type of benefits established with his/her employer as well as any life insurance/annuity claims.
     
  4. Get some financial help
    The difficulty of dealing with a partner’s credit accounts after such a loss can be magnified by calls from collection agencies or bills from unknown sources. If you feel overwhelmed trying to deal with the situation, get some help. Whether your accountant, a lawyer, a financial planner, a fiscally savvy friend/family member or all of the above, build a financial support group that can help you through the challenges and alleviate some stress.


Facing the loss of a partner or spouse can be daunting for so many reasons. Fortunately knowing what to do with your finances can bring peace of mind and help you take the vital steps necessary to move forward.

Learn more about estate and legacy planning, probate and more from Wills and Wellness. You may also be interested in our Dos and Don’ts Blog