Can a parent’s hospital and general debt be passed on to the children if it has not been co-signed for?

My wife’s mother is divorced, let her medical insurance lapse, and is racking up a huge hospital bill right now.

Asked on July 8, 2012 under Estate Planning, California

Answers:

B.H.F., Member, Texas State Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

A third party cannot be held liable for the debt of another unless they specifically agree to join liability for the debt-- this would include co-signing a note or signing paperwork at the hospital saying that the person agrees to accept financial responsibility.  If her mother makes it through, then mom will be liable on the debt personally and individual absent one of these exceptions.  However, if her mother passes away, then her mother's estate will still be liable for the debt.  This means that assets that your wife may have been entitled to inherit may have to be used to pay the medical debts incurred.  Even though it's not the most likeable option, her mother may want to considering filing bankruptcy to deal with the debt load after she is released from the hospital-- this way she can get it resolved at a reasonable rate and still have some funds left over to live on. 


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