February 12, 2021
Summary: Your marriage vows included a promise that will last throughout sickness and good health. But are you responsible for their medical debt? Find out what you'll have to pay even if your spouse has passed away.
Generally, you are not responsible for the debts of your spouse, nor are you responsible for debts from before your marriage. Despite this being a general rule, when it comes to medical debts, sometimes you are.
If you live in a community property state, then you will be responsible for the medical debt of your spouse incurred during the marriage.
Another reason you may be responsible is if you have signed a document that claims responsibility for medical payments. Often this will occur if your spouse is admitted to the hospital and requires a co-signer.
If you sign on as a co-signer, then you are responsible for payments if your spouse does not pay them. Regardless of the state you live in, this is the law.
Community debts are those that you are both responsible for, which means that there are other debts that you are both liable for. Marriage essentially brings all of your debts together while in the marriage. Regardless of if it is in your name, or your spouse's name is on the debt, you both are liable. This includes credit card debt and loans as well. So, trying to convert your medical debt into another type likely won't help.
The death of a spouse is not only financially stressful, but it can be emotionally stressful as well. For the most part, a spouse is not responsible for the credit card debt or loans of their deceased partner unless they are mutually owned. Typically though, after death, the debts of the deceased will go through the probate process in which the estate pays them off.
There are three reasons why you may need to pay off your spouse's debt.
In most states, there is another reason why you are responsible for your spouse's medical debt other than your commitment to marriage. This responsibility is due to the Doctrine of Necessities.
The doctrine of necessities applies to a variety of items, such as utilities, rent, food, clothing, and any other life necessities. Typically though, a lawsuit using this doctrine is doing so in relation to collecting medical debts.
The original purpose of the doctrine was to support spouses and children to ensure access to the necessities of life. This included medical treatment and shelter. In modern times, this doctrine is creating huge problems.
In some cases, spouses have obtained a divorce to avoid the financial ruin that occurs with medical debt. What began as a law to protect the need for necessities has become outdated and harmful. Regardless, this does not help you when it comes to being sued for your spouse's medical debt.
In two states there have been instances of fighting the Doctrine of Necessities. These cases found the doctrine unconstitutional for two reasons:
When you marry someone you are essentially agreeing to stay with them in sickness and in health, and in paying for their sickness or health. If your spouse incurs medical debts during marriage, you will be liable for that debt. You can even be separated and brought to court as liable for the debts of your spouse.
In most states, regardless of if the medical bills are in the name of your spouse only, you will be liable. In all states, if you sign for the debt, then you can be sued for it.
Sometimes your best action is to negotiate the settlement, or slowly pay it off over time. Just remember, you are liable, and you can't do much about it. Always be sure to respond to the debt to avoid destroying your credit or making matters worse.
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Here's a list of guides for other states.
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