Is the surviving spouse legally obligated to pay the the outstanding bills of the deceased spouse?

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Is the surviving spouse legally obligated to pay the the outstanding bills of the deceased spouse?

My father died in February and my mother is getting a lot of remaining bills and co-pay due bills. She never signed any documents accepting financial responsibility. My father’s insurance terminated when he was 82; he died at 86. My mother has no money to pay this. She is very nervous and thinks that she has to pay everything. What are her financial obligations?

Asked on March 21, 2011 under Bankruptcy Law, Illinois

Answers:

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

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

The answer depends on just what your father's bills were for.  Under the IL Family Expense Act, if they were for “family expenses” then as the surviving spouse your mother is jointly liable.  If they were not for such expenses, then she not liable for their repayment.  That is unless she specifically agreed to be, which from the facts that you gave, she did not. 

Unfortunately, the law doesn’t specifically list exactly what a family expense is.  However, the courts have determined that they include: medical bills, funeral bills, clothing, jewelry (sometimes), rent for the family apartment, carpeting for the family home, and wages for a domestic servant.

Note:  Your father's estate is however liable for these bills.  So indirectly, your mother could be affected as well.


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