Am I Responsible for My Spouse’s Medical Debt?

Brooklyn elder law litigation lawyers help clients understand their legal rights & obligations.One of the most common questions our Brooklyn elder law litigation lawyers are asked is whether a surviving spouse is responsible for their deceased spouse’s medical debt. Generally, the answer is no. However, there are certain exceptions to this rule, many of which vary according to state law.

Exceptions to the General Rule

In general, people are not required to pay other’s debts. However, there are certain legal exceptions to the general rule that widows do not assume the debt of their deceased spouse. The exceptions come from:

State Law

Each state follows a certain model for the division of assets upon divorce – either community property or equitable distribution. The manner in which assets and debts are divided upon divorce is relevant to how they shall be divided upon the death of a spouse.

  • Community property – In community property states, property is split equally (50-50) upon divorce. All property and debt that either spouse acquired during the marriage, including medical debt, is considered community property. Therefore, the surviving spouse may be required to pay their deceased spouse’s medical debt with those assets.
  • Estate law – A state’s estate laws may require the administrator or executor of the deceased person’s will to pay any outstanding debts from the proceeds of property that was jointly owned by the spouses.

Contract Law

If one spouse signed a contract agreeing to pay for the other spouse’s medical debt while he or she was alive, the surviving spouse may be responsible for paying it upon their spouse’s death. For example, a spouse who co-signs a loan to pay for their spouse’s medical services may still be responsible for paying those bills if his or her spouse dies and is therefore unable to satisfy the debt.

Common Law

The common law doctrine of necessaries may apply, depending on the state. The doctrine of necessaries holds that a spouse is financially responsible for the necessary expenses incurred by the other spouse during the marriage. Therefore, if the financial resources of the deceased spouse are insufficient to cover the debt, then the surviving spouse’s financial resources may be used to pay for it.

Responsibility for a Deceased Spouse’s Medical Debt in New York

In New York, surviving spouses are not automatically required to pay for their deceased spouses’ medical debt under the doctrine of necessaries. They will only be responsible if:

  • The necessary expenses were furnished based on the non-debtor spouse’s credit, and
  • The non-debtor spouse has the ability to pay for the medical bills.

Necessary goods or services are considered those that are necessary for the health or wellbeing of either spouse. Creditors seeking to recover debts against non-debtor spouses must show that the necessary goods or services were provided on the non-debtor spouse’s credit and that the non-debtor spouse has the ability to pay the debt.

Brooklyn Elder Law Litigation Lawyers at Korsinsky & Klein, LLP Help Clients Understand Their Legal Rights and Obligations

If you have questions concerning elder law, trusts, estates, or any other civil litigation matter, contact a Brooklyn elder law litigation lawyer at Korsinsky & Klein, LLP. We can explain your legal rights and obligations and fight to obtain a favorable outcome in your case. Our experienced attorneys represent clients throughout New York, including those in Manhattan, Long Island, and Westchester from our offices located in Brooklyn, New York and Lakewood, New Jersey. For a case evaluation, please contact us online or call us at 212-495-8133.