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Credit card confusion after spouse dies

Posted by Mitch Lipka  June 11, 2012 03:23 PM

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Q. I recently contacted Citi Cards to have the Social Security number changed on my credit cards from that of my late husband to mine. Citi Cards immediately cancelled the card I called about and a second card we had. They claimed this was their policy. One card was issued in 1977 and the second in 2004. I was an authorized user of the cards and paid all the bills. The bills were paid, in full and on time.

One of the cards was rejected the next day, at the grocery store, and I didn’t know this was going to happen. Needless to say, I was very embarrassed.

Is this a common practice? Any input you can give me regarding the shabby way I was treated by Citi Cards would be greatly appreciated.

Esther Bass, Bedford

A. The practice of canceling cards issued to a deceased spouse is common. Communicating that, on the other hand, could have been done better.

Being a user on an account opened by a spouse doesn’t automatically transfer the credit to you. Similarly, if money was owed on the card, you technically wouldn’t be personally responsible. Rather, the estate would have to pay the debt. If you applied for the cards jointly, they would stay active upon a spouse’s passing.

“We strive to treat family members with sympathy during this difficult time,” Citi Cards spokeswoman Emily Collins said. “When we are notified that the responsible cardholder passes away, we close the account. The account is then referred to a special group of representatives knowledgeable in probate matters, who may contact a family member to obtain information on the probate estate. If the surviving spouse is interested in having a credit card account, we invite him or her to apply for a new account.”

Federal law requires applicants to be judged on their own merits, so once that account is closed, the surviving spouse has to start from square one. That’s going to seem unfair to an awful lot of people, particularly those like you, who were the ones paying the bills.

This is a hurdle that most people don’t expect – and one that is raised at such a tough time. In this case, an apology would have been nice.

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About the author

Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs TheConsumerChronicle.com. He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at ConsumerNews@Aol.com

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