In the case where there is no Will, is the next of responsible for a parent’s final medical bills?

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In the case where there is no Will, is the next of responsible for a parent’s final medical bills?

My mother passed away earlier this year and I have been putting off paying any bills since I did not believe I am responsible for them. There is no estate or assets she left behind other than personal items and some furniture etc. She did have a vehicle though. Do I have to pay the last medical bills she received? If I do pay them, am I making myself responsible for her debt? Should I pay the final Ambulance/Paramedic bill which I had to call in? She died in CA but she was formerly residing in NC. Also. as a follow-up, do I need to file taxes for her and my father who passed away last year? I do not have their tax information so I am unsure how I could do that.

Asked on April 1, 2019 under Estate Planning, California

Answers:

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

Answered 2 years ago | Contributor

As a general rule, a child does not inherit their parent's debt, so is not responsible for any debts left by their parent. However, if the parent gave property to a child shortly before their death, creditors may make a claim against that property if the transfer left too little money in the estate to pay the parent’s debts. Such a claim could be made because based on the property transfer being invalid on the basis of intending to defraud creditors. In such a situation, the child would not be liable for any amounts beyond the value of the property that was transferred since a child is responsible for their parent’s debts. Also, a child may possibly be held responsible for a parental debt under the doctrine of "filial responsibility". Many states with such laws require adult children to care for their parents financially. However when enforced, if at all, typically it is only for reimbursement to Medicaid for nursing home expenses. That all having been said, although a child typically bears no responsibility for parental debt, the deceased's estate does bear such a responsibility. Accordingly, to the extent there are estate assets, creditors of the estate will need to be paid before any distribution is made to beneficiaries/heirs. If there are not enough assets to cover outstanding debts, then those debts extinguish as a matter of law (that means creditors must right them off).

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 2 years ago | Contributor

No, the next of kin or any other heir or beneficiary is not responsible for the deceased's final medical bills (unless, that is, the person happened to personally guaranty them or otherwise took responsibility in writing for them). You do not have to pay these bills; and if you choose to pay a bill voluntarily, paying one bill does not obligate you to pay others.
You also have no personal obligation to file their last taxes. If you are the exector or personal representative of the estate, you are supposed to file an estate tax return and would have to speak to a knowledgeable tax preparer about how to do so.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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