What is a surviving spouse’s responsibility for medical bills?

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What is a surviving spouse’s responsibility for medical bills?

The unpaid medical bills would be the out-of-pocket expenses incurred (deceased had medicare HMO insurance plan by AARP). No separate assets were maintained; checking and investment portfolio was in both names. Surviving spouse did not sign any papers regarding financial responsibility with any medical provider. I have seen the term “doctrine of necessaries” stated as “may be responsible” which seems vague.

Asked on June 2, 2011 under Bankruptcy Law, Missouri

Answers:

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

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

In most states one spouse is not typically responsible for the debts of the other. However, as you are aware, there exists something in the law known as the "Doctrine of Necessities".  In some states, MO included, debts incurred for medical treatment are generally considered "necessities". Accordingly, a deceased spouse's estate is primarily liable for medical bills. If the deceased spouse maintained no separate assets, then the state invokes the doctrine of necessities to determine whether or not the surviving spouse would be liable for the such bills. Bottom line, under the doctrin, a spouse may be held liable for necessary medical services provided to the other spouse if the other spouse maintained no separate assets.

At this point you should consult directly with a probate attorney in your area as to your specific rights/responsibilities. 


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