It depends on the type of student loan. A student loan backed by the federal government is automatically cancelled and the debt is discharged if a spouse dies or is permanently disabled. These types of loans include the four components of the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program: Stafford Loans, Unsubsidized Stafford Loans, Federal PLUS Loans, and Federal Consolidation Loans. Federal Perkins Loans are also forgiven at death or permanent disability.

Whether or not private student loans are forgiven at a person’s death depends on the lender. Some lenders do forgive the loan, while others do not. It’s always a good idea to check with private lenders to find out what each one’s policy is. If a private loan is not forgiven at a person’s death, the lender may try to collect the outstanding debt from the borrower’s estate.

Even if a private education loan is not forgiven at a spouse’s death, a surviving spouse who is not listed as a co-signer or joint account holder will not be responsible for a deceased spouse’s outstanding private loans, unless they reside in a so-called “community property” state, such as: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin (Alaska allows couples to opt into a community property agreement). To complicate this even more, however, many community property states offer exceptions to education loans so that the surviving spouse is not liable for the debt.