It is not always clear as to whether relatives of someone who has died are responsible for the credit card debt left behind. According to financial experts and several attorneys, in general, those kinds of debts require the credit card company to make a claim and are not the responsibility of any heirs. The estate of the deceased is responsible for the payment of all of the decedent's debts, which are usually subtracted from the assets of the estate and then distributed according to priority. If the deceased has no assets or the debts are greater than the assets, then the outstanding debt is written off by credit card companies.
The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act protects most relatives from creditors. In fact, creditors who attempt to track down relatives for the debts of the deceased may be subject to stiff penalties for violations. Once creditors who call heirs are given contact information for the administrator or executor of the estate, they must stop calling heirs. Additionally, collectors and lenders are prohibited from misleading people into believing they are legally responsible for a debt when they are not.
Depending upon the situation, surviving spouses may be responsible for debts. For example, a surviving spouse who was merely an authorized user of a card in the decedent's name may not be liable, but a joint account holder would most likely be. In addition, liability varies according to state law.
Surviving family members who are faced with questions about the debts of a deceased loved one may wish to consult an attorney with experience in dealing with creditors. Such an attorney may be able to offer options as to be best manner in which to proceed, and may be able to negotiate with those creditors.
Source: MSN, "Who pays off credit card debt after a death?", Aaron Crowe, September 04, 2013