From our “Ask a Question” mailbag: My husband died a resident of Burlington County without a will. All his assets were owned joint accounts with me. This week, I received a form letter in the mail saying a bank had issued a statement and proof of claim against my husband’s estate and requesting immediate payment in full. It is addressed to his estate, but came in the mail to me. What should I do?
When someone dies without a will and all their assets are held jointly with a spouse, there is no need to file a will. The assets pass to the surviving spouse because of the joint ownership. That being said, avoiding probate this way does not mean that your husband avoided his creditors.
If you are not responsible for the debt yourself, then creditors cannot legally pursue you for payment as the wife, regardless of what a debt collector might say when trying to convince you. However, they can ask that the payment be made from his share of the joint accounts.
To enforce this claim, though, they will have to retain a probate attorney to open the estate as an unpaid creditor and then pursue the joint asset. This is an expensive process, so unless the debt is large, they will likely not pursue the claim. However, if they were successful, those funds would likely come out of the joint account and they will likely seek attorney’s fees for having to pursue their claim.