FAQs on the liability of the debts of one’s spouse/partner
Can you be liable for your spouse or partner’s debts?
The general rule is that you are not responsible for the debts of your spouse or partner if those debts are in their name only. However, if the debt is in joint names and/or you have joint and severable legal responsibility (i.e. for contracts or financial investments made jointly) then you will be liable.
Are there any exceptions?
There are some types of debts that will apply to both spouses/partners jointly. In England and Wales, council tax must be paid regardless of whose name it is registered in.
What about debts incurred before marriage?
Married spouses are not responsible for the debts of their spouse that were incurred prior to the marriage. Those debts are solely the legal responsibility of the person in whose name they are in.
What about guaranteed debts?
If you have guaranteed a loan on behalf of your spouse or partner, you may be liable to repay it if they default on the loan. Being a guarantor for a loan entails assuming the responsibility for the repayment of the whole of the debt if the primary loan holder fails to repay it. It is important to approach such liabilities very carefully and to always seek legal advice from an independent solicitor before signing any major loan document.
What happens to the debts after your spouse or partner’s death?
If a person dies with outstanding debts, those debts become part of the deceased person’s estate. The estate of a deceased person includes all of the assets, financial resources, debts and liabilities of the deceased person. No one can receive an inheritance from a deceased person’s estate until all of the debts and liabilities have been paid out of the estate. In this way, the amount of money available to a spouse or partner to inherit from a deceased person’s estate may be reduced due to the amount of their debts and liabilities.
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