Aftera person dies, who is responsible for paying their medical bills?

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Aftera person dies, who is responsible for paying their medical bills?

My father-in-law was just placed in hospice. My stepmother-in-law cancled his life insurance before he got sick. He has nothing.

Asked on January 20, 2011 under Estate Planning, Wisconsin

Answers:

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

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Generally, one spouse is not obligated to pay the medical bills of the other spouse. However, there are several exceptions to this rule. The first exception as to do with just where a spouse lives. If it is in a community property state, the surviving would typically bear responsibility for such a debt. However, WI is not such a state. The second exception would be if a spouse signed (or in some other way) agreed to be legally bound for re-payments on the other spouse's the debt or medical bill.  For example, if upon a spouse’s admission to the hospital, the other spouse signed (or co-signed) any papers that would obligate them for payment of any bills incurred during their spouse’s hospital stay. This is true no matter what state that they live in. The last exception falls under something called the "doctrine of necessities". This doctrine was established at common law, and while many states no longer follow it, some states have actually made it law. Under this doctrine, one spouse is liable for the "necessary" expenses incurred by the other spouse during marriage. This holds true for any debt but particularly for medical bills which are deemed to almost always be “necessary”. Also, in the case of a deceased spouse, even in a situation that did not fall into one of the above exceptions, the deceased’s estate would still be liable for repayment; therefore, indirectly as surviving spouse could be affected financially.

Note: A child does not inherit debt and bears no responsibility for a parent's medical bills or any other parental debt.


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