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Her: "No, my mother was the cardholder."
Them: "Well, I can't cancel a card without speaking to the cardholder. May I speak to her?"


Was there an executor? The executor is responsible for settling the estate. It seems she was going at this alone. It would seem that you need the help of an attorney.

The mother's estate is responsible for the debt. If some of the credit card companies simply cancelled the debt with proof of her death, then that was well above the call of duty for them.

In any case, the debt of the mother will not reflect on the children.
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