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

UPDATED: Jan 20, 2011

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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


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

Answered 12 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.

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 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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