June 15, 2010

Wife May NOT Be Liable for Husband's Debts/Medical Expenses

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Dear Peggy,
Am I liable for my husband's medical expenses? He passed away May 4, and June 7 (my birthday), I received a letter from the insurance company denying coverage based on their claim that it was a preexisting condition. All of my assets are in a revocable living trust.

Dear FP:
It depends. On where you live (which state and/or country), what the medical “expenses” are (hospital? Surgery? Prescriptions? Ambulance? Emergency care? And on and on…) and, what documents YOU may have signed regarding those medical expenses.

Generally - in my state, anyway - you are NOT liable for your husband’s medical expenses just (only) because you were married to each other.

You did not ask – but depending on the structure of the revocable living trust, your husband’s medical expenses may simply not be “collectible” from you. (Your assets would be beyond the creditors’ reach.) Also, you did not ask — but the insurance company’s denial of coverage would not determine anything as to your potential liability. Take care in the manner in which the appeal is approached.

It’s time to actually see a lawyer. The best place to start would be with the lawyer who drafted your trust!

Thank you for your inquiry. I hope my response was helpful! Please remember I am NOT your lawyer just because I responded to your question. For counsel on specific concerns, consult an attorney in your area.

Click here to comment:
Hi Peggy,
FP would not personally be responsible for her husband’s medical bills but wouldn’t his estate and his other assets, even if owned jointly with his wife, be used to pay for debts including the medical bills? I also think she needs an attorney.

Bob Kennaley, RA
Posted by Bob Kennaley on 6/17/2010 at 9:59am

His separate property would be disposed of according to the priorities listed in the probate statute (first, probate costs, then the funeral bill, taxes, ….last of all, unsecured debts (i.e., credit card purchases). It’s not unusual to run out of separate money before everything is paid. Also it's not unusual for a creditor low on the priority list to be paid out of order, because they intimidate the surviving family. Then the person who paid the low priority bill does not get reimbursed from the estate.

Only when the separate resources have been exhausted, does the Court even look to jointly held property – and forcing that property to be sold and divided is not automatic. Some assets are exempt, for instance, when there are children in the home, or the wife cannot work to support herself. Compromises are often worked out.

The easy answer is that it depends on the nature of his property, the nature of his bills, and the situation of the immediate family. And she would likely gain enough by learning what questions to ask, and which bills to pay from which assets, to pay for an attorney.
Peggy ...
Posted by Peggy S. Hedrick on 6/17/2010 at 6:59pm