My spouse has personal debts. Am I responsible for those debts?

Probably not. The general rule is that you are not responsible for the debts of your spouse. However, there is an exception. You are responsible for debts incurred during reasonable and necessary medical treatment of your spouse.  

Spouses are also jointly responsible for debts whenever they both receive benefit from the goods or services. You cannot escape a debt just because it is in your spouse’s name. For instance, your spouse may have a credit card in his or her name only. If you charge something on that card for yourself, then you are both responsible for the bill. 

However, you are not responsible for personal debts that your spouse incurs if you receive no benefit from them. For example, say your spouse buys some golf clubs on credit at a sports store. If the account is in your spouse’s name only, unless you also use the clubs, you are not legally responsible to pay this debt. 

This question is important in estate proceedings. If your spouse dies with independent, non-necessary debts, you are not responsible for those bills. If there is no property in your spouse’s estate to pay those bills, then the creditor cannot simply collect from you. However, depending on how you and your spouse own property, the property may be subject to the debt. At any rate, there is no personal obligation that you must pay the debt. 

If a creditor is trying to get you to pay your spouse’s debts, be certain you have the obligation to pay them before you turn over any money. 

For more information, see: W. Va. Code § 48-29-303 (2015); Philippi Planning Mill, Co. v. Cross et al., 75 W.Va. 303, 83 S.E. 1004 (1914); Larzo v. Swift & Co., 129 W.Va. 436, 40 S.E.2d 811 (1946); Stewart v. Stewart, 177 W.Va. 253, 351 S.E.2d 439 (1986).