Ifa spousedies, is the surviving spouse responsible for the hospital bills?

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Ifa spousedies, is the surviving spouse responsible for the hospital bills?

My family was forced to drop their insurance because they could not afford it. My dad just died recently and has a huge hospital bill. There is no money in the estate but there is one life insurance policy. However the policy will not even cover the outstanding debt. Is my mom going to be held responsible for this bill or could we just maybe pay like $20 a month on it and then they will leave us alone. Is she responsible at all? The hospital bill only states the one who has died.

Asked on July 23, 2011 South Carolina

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

The general rule in such a case id that the surviving spouse is not responsible for their deceased spouse's medical bills.  However there are exceptions that would impose liability on the surviving spouse.

  1. If the non-debtor spouse signed an agreement that legally obligated them for re-payment, such as signing for their spouse's hospital stay (you did not indicate this to be the case); 
  2. If the spouses lived in a community property state (SC is not such a state); or 
  3. If the state of residence imposes liability based on the legal theory of the "Doctrine of Necessaries",  which holds that the non-debtor spouse is responsible for repayment of all necessary expenses relating to the maintenance of the household, including medical bills (my research suggests that SC is not one of those states). 

However, his estate will be responsible for the payment of these bills, so you may be indirectly affected (you will have less to inherit after they are paid). At this point you should still consult directly with an attorney in your area to confirm your legal rights/responsibilities.


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