Topics on this page:
- Am I responsible for my spouse’s debt?
- Can my non-marital property be taken to pay my spouse's debt?
- What about my spouse’s medical bills? Am I responsible for paying those?
- What happens to my spouse’s debt when they die?
- My spouse recently passed away and I suddenly started receiving calls from creditors saying I owe them money – do I need to pay?
- Can a creditor take my house if my spouse owed them lot of money?
- What if my partner and I live together but are not married?
- Are non-heterosexual couples treated differently?
In general, spouses are not responsible for each other’s debts.
However, there are certain situations where a spouse may become liable for their partner's debt. This occurs when the spouse willingly agrees to be personally responsible for the debt, such as by co-signing a loan or jointly opening a credit account. If you are unsure about your liability for an account, check the account paperwork. If your name is on the account or you signed the agreement, you are most likely responsible for paying back any debt that may arise under that account, regardless of who incurred the debt.
Example: Instead of getting two individual credit card accounts, Jane and Joe decide to open a joint credit card account together. Jane and Joe are married and are responsible for the debt on the account. If Joe dies, Jane is likely still on the hook for this debt, even if Joe was the only one who made purchases with the card.
You are NOT responsible for the debt of your spouse if:
- You did not sign an agreement holding you personally responsible for the debt.
- The debt arose before your marriage.
- The debt arose after your divorce.
- You can prove that the debt was a result of fraud.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Family Law, § 4-301
“Non-marital property” is protected from your spouse’s debts. This means that a creditor cannot attach your spouse’s debt to any property that you own independently of your spouse, like a personal bank account (NOT a joint bank account).
If your spouse incurred medical expenses (for example, in a hospital or a hospice) and you did NOT sign onto the agreement, you are NOT responsible for these bills.
State law determines “who gets what” after someone dies. When your spouse passes away, any property they held individually will be sent into a court-controlled process called probate. Property that was individually held by your spouse becomes part of your spouse’s estate.
My spouse recently passed away and I suddenly started receiving calls from creditors saying I owe them money – do I need to pay?
Most likely not, but you need to figure out how the particular debt arose. If the debt claimed by the creditor is from a personal account held by your spouse, you are not responsible for the debt. After your spouse passes away, your spouse’s creditors (the people or institutions to whom they owed money) will likely file claims against your spouse’s estate. These claims do not affect you – they are against your spouse’s estate. If the creditors cannot get paid through your spouse’s estate, they cannot take any money from you. Those creditors are not legally entitled to any of your money.
If the debt claimed by the creditor was incurred on a joint account, you are responsible for the debt. When co-signing a loan or jointly opening a credit account you willingly agreed to be personally responsible for the debt.
Most likely not. But, it depends on how you and your spouse own the house.
If you and your spouse bought the house as a married couple, you own it as a Tenancy by the Entirety (TBE). This means that you own the house as an indivisible unit. When one spouse dies, the surviving spouse retains the right of survivorship. Under the right of survivorship, the house will automatically pass to the surviving spouse. It cannot be used to pay the debt of the deceased spouse. In Maryland, you and your spouse are presumed to own the house as a TBE, and one spouse's debt cannot attach to a property held as a TBE.
If you and your spouse do NOT own the house as a TBE your situation is different. For example, if you owned your home before getting married and your spouse moved in, ownership of the home would not be as a TBE.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Family Law, § 8-201
Maryland law regarding spouse’s debt only applies to married persons. This also means Maryland’s laws that determine what happens when someone dies without a Will (“intestacy” laws") do not apply either.
You and your partner can create a Domestic Partnership Agreement to express and clarify your wishes. In such an Agreement, you can affirm that you are both responsible for debts incurred jointly but remain individually responsible for debts incurred individually.
Related articles: Unmarried Cohabitants’ Benefits and Unmarried Cohabitant’s Right to Support and Property
No. While Maryland’s laws use “husband” and “wife” as the two units of a legal marriage, sexual orientation and gender are no longer grounds for determining the validity of a marriage. Maryland law is “orientation-blind” and applies equally to all married couples.