Must I Pay for Spouse’s Debt If They Die?

If husband and wife did not own together or separately any land, a house, a boat etc. but only rented a home and had no children, is the surviving spouse responsible to pay medical bills that insurance did not cover?
carol grant spouses debt

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Who has to pay medical bills when a spouse dies?” says that a creditor may pursue collection against a spouse for an expense incurred by the other spouse for “necessaries” only where the financial resources of the spouse who incurred the expense are insufficient unless both spouses agreed to pay the debt.

In situations where both spouses incurred the debt, or agreed to pay the debt, or one spouse guaranteed the debt of the other spouse, the creditor may go after either or both spouses.

However, if one spouse incurs a medical expense or other expense deemed necessary — including, in some cases, legal fees or clothing — the creditor must first look to the spouse who incurred the expense.

Note that only if the spouse’s assets are insufficient to pay may the creditor seek payment from the non-debtor spouse.

It is also important to know that each spouse holding his or her assets in separate names doesn’t avoid responsibility for the debtor spouse’s medical bills, if the debtor spouse’s assets are insufficient to pay such bills.

Signing a pre-marital or post-marital agreement, in which each spouse agrees to be responsible for his or her own medical expenses, also doesn’t prevent a creditor from pursuing payment against the non-debtor spouse if the debtor spouse, or the debtor spouse’s estate, lacks the ability to pay.

Spouses also may not be able to avoid a creditor seeking reimbursement with respect to `necessaries’ merely by separating.

For issues like this guidance should be sought from an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: nj.com (Aug. 3, 2022) “Who has to pay medical bills when a spouse dies?”

 

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