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Am I Responsible for My Spouse's Medical Debt?

Chloe Meltzer | April 11, 2024

Chloe Meltzer
Legal Expert
Chloe Meltzer, MA

Chloe Meltzer is an experienced content writer specializing in legal content creation. She holds a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University, complemented by a Master’s in Marketing from California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo.

Edited by Hannah Locklear

Hannah Locklear
Editor at SoloSuit
Hannah Locklear, BA

Hannah Locklear is SoloSuit’s Marketing and Impact Manager. With an educational background in Linguistics, Spanish, and International Development from Brigham Young University, Hannah has also worked as a legal support specialist for several years.

Fact-checked by George Simons, JD/MBA

George Simons
Co-Founder of SoloSuit
George Simons, JD/MBA

George Simons is the co-founder and CEO of SoloSuit. He has helped Americans protect over $1 billion from predatory debt lawsuits. George graduated from BYU Law school in 2020 with a JD/MBA. In his spare time, George likes to cook, because he likes to eat.

Summary: You may be responsible for your spouse's medical debt if you live in a community property state. Luckily, you can settle medical debt for less with the help of SoloSettle.

Your marriage vows included a promise to last through sickness and good health. But are you responsible for your spouse's medical debt?

Generally, you are not responsible for the debts of your spouse, nor are you liable for their debts from before your marriage. Despite this being a general rule, when it comes to medical debts, sometimes state laws may require you to pay your spouse's medical debt. Today, we will discuss when this situation occurs and answer questions such as, is a wife responsible for the husband's medical bills?

Let's get to it.

When are you responsible for your spouse's medical debt?

If you live in a community property state, you are responsible for your spouse's medical debt incurred during the marriage. Community property states have a law which says that when two people get married, they become one unit—from a financial standpoint. This law means that any debt your spouse owes is also owed by you.

The following nine states are considered community property states:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Idaho
  • Louisiana
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

There are exceptions to the shared-medical debt rule from these states. They include medical debt incurred:

  • Before you married your spouse, unless you signed a document agreeing to take responsibility.
  • From a prior marriage.
  • After you were permanently separated or divorced.
  • During your marriage and your spouse failed to disclose to the medical institution that they were married.

Another reason you may be responsible is if you have signed a document that claims responsibility for medical payments. This situation often occurs if your spouse is admitted and requires a co-signer.

If you become a co-signer, you are responsible for the bills if your spouse does not pay them. This law applies in all states.

Let's consider an example.

Example: Before Alison married Greg, she had a medical debt for a minor surgery she underwent to treat a skin condition that cost $900. After they married, she continued using medication to enable a complete recovery. One year into the marriage, Alison lost her job and couldn't pay the medical bills, which had accrued to $1,200. Greg was sued by Aargon debt collection agency, asking him to pay his wife's debt according to Wisconsin community property state law. The lawsuit said he owed $2,100 because they had included Alison's prior surgery. In his Answer document, Greg argued that he wasn't responsible for the $900 debt since Alison incurred it before they got married. After receiving his response, Aargon agency was reluctant to continue in court because they had attempted to collect a debt that Greg wasn't responsible for. They worked on a favorable settlement deal with Greg.

Make the right defense against debt collectors with SoloSuit.

Don't turn your medical debt into credit card debt

Community debt is any debt you incur with your spouse while married, including any debt for which you are a co-signer with your spouse. Marriage brings all debts together, regardless of whose name it is under. This rule includes credit card debt and loans. So, converting your medical debt into credit card debt will not help the situation. .

Be prepared to pay your deceased spouse's medical debt

Three debt-related questions spouses often ask that we are about to answer are:

  • If your spouse dies, are you responsible for their medical bills?
  • Am I responsible for my husband's medical bills after his death?
  • Am I responsible for my spouse's medical debt after death?

The death of a spouse is not only financially stressful, but it can be emotionally stressful as well. Generally, a spouse is not responsible for the medical and credit card debt or loans of their deceased partner, unless they are mutually owned. After your spouse dies, their medical debt will go through the probate process, and the estate pays them off. If the money is insufficient, debt collection agencies such as Estate Information Services may come after you to pay the remaining debt.

Three reasons you may need to pay off your deceased spouse's debt are:

  1. You own the debt together: If you cosign a loan or are listed as the joint owner on a credit card, then you are legally responsible for the debt.
  2. You live in a community property state: These laws state that any debt incurred during the marriage is transferred to the surviving spouse, even if they were only in the name of the deceased spouse.
  3. State law requires you to pay: Some debts are required by law to be paid by the spouse, including medical debt. Let's look at the reason behind it.

Use SoloSuit to respond to debt collectors after a spouse dies.

Learn about the Doctrine of Necessaries

In most states, the Doctrine of Necessaries is another reason you are responsible for your spouse's medical debt. The Doctrine of Necessaries Rule requires a person to take responsibility for their children's, and sometimes spouse's, necessities of life, including medical care.

The rule applies to various expenses, such as utilities, rent, food, clothing, and any other life necessities. Some states repealed the Doctrine of Necessaries, meaning that creditors cannot use it to collect a debt from a non-debtor spouse. States that have repealed the Doctrine of Necessaries include:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Washington

If you live in the other states, ensure you read the law on your spouse's medical debt to understand the requirement and how far a debt collector can pursue you for the debt.

Understand the history of the Doctrine of Necessaries

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 creates huge problems due to its gender-based bias.

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 controversial. Regardless, this does not help you when it comes to being sued for your spouse's medical debt.

File a response with SoloSuit and avoid financial ruin.

Fight the Doctrine of Necessaries in court

In two states, there have been instances of fighting the Doctrine of Necessaries. These cases found the doctrine unconstitutional for two reasons:

  • Being a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution.
  • Being a violation of equal protection (stating that it creates a gender-based classification not related to serving governmental interests).

It may be challenging to win in a state where the Doctrine of Necessaries is operational. However, you can respond to the debt collectors and get a 30–50% medical debt reduction when you negotiate a debt settlement with the collector. Most debt collectors are willing to settle for less than the original amount owed.

Settle with SoloSettle

Make an Offer

Recap of medical debts during marriage

When you get married, you agree to stay with your spouse in sickness and health. Hence, if your spouse incurs medical debts during marriage, you will be liable for that debt. Even after separation, you can be taken to court and held responsible for your spouse's debt.

In most states, you are liable for your spouse's medical bills even if it is only their name appearing on the record. Lastly, you can be sued for a debt if you are a cosigner in all states.

Am I responsible for my spouse's medical debt after death?

You are only responsible for your spouse’s medical debt after death if you live in a community property state, where you share responsibility for specific debts incurred during a marriage.

So, if you live in Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, or Wisconsin, you are most likely responsible for your spouse's medical debt after death because these are all considered community property states.

Who is responsible for hospital bills after death?

When someone dies, their money and property (their estate) is used to pay their debts. A person called an executor, named in the will, or an administrator chosen by the court if there's no will, handles this. They follow laws to decide which debts to pay first. If the estate doesn't have enough money for all debts, usually no one else has to pay.

If you cosigned a loan with the deceased person, shared a credit card with them, are their spouse in community property states, or are their child who must pay specific debts by law, you might be responsible for hospital bills after death. If the debts are more than the estate's value, some debts might go unpaid.

Here are some tips on negotiating medical bills after death

Negotiating medical bills after the death of a loved one can be a challenging and sensitive process. Here are some tips to help navigate this situation:

  • Understand the Estate's Responsibility: First, determine who is legally responsible for the debt. Generally, medical bills are paid out of the deceased's estate. Unless you co-signed for the medical costs or are the spouse in a community property state, you are typically not personally responsible for these debts.
  • Obtain a Copy of the Death Certificate: You will need several copies of the death certificate to send to creditors and medical providers to inform them of the death.
  • Review the Medical Bills and Insurance Coverage: Examine all medical bills closely to ensure they are accurate. Check if any expenses were covered by health insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid. If insurance did not fully cover the costs, find out why.
  • Request Itemized Statements: If anything seems unclear or incorrect, request an itemized statement from the healthcare provider. This will help you understand exactly what services were provided and their costs.
  • Look for Billing Errors: Medical bills can contain errors. Scrutinize them for charges for services not received, duplicate charges, or incorrect patient information.
  • Negotiate with Creditors and Providers: Reach out to healthcare providers and creditors to discuss the bills. Explain your situation and ask if they can reduce the charges or offer a payment plan. Sometimes, providers may offer a discount if the bill is settled in a lump sum.
  • Seek Professional Advice: Consider consulting a probate attorney or a financial advisor experienced in handling estates. They can offer guidance on legal and financial responsibilities and may assist in negotiations.
  • Utilize State or Charity Programs: Some states have programs to assist with unpaid medical bills. Additionally, some hospitals have charity care programs for bills that the deceased's estate cannot cover.
  • Keep Records of All Communications: Document all interactions with healthcare providers and creditors. Keep copies of bills, letters, emails, and notes of phone conversations.
  • Be Patient and Persistent: Negotiating medical bills can be a lengthy process. Stay patient, and don’t hesitate to follow up regularly.

Remember, each situation is unique, and the rules can vary by state and by the healthcare provider. It's important to approach this process with empathy, respect, and a clear understanding of your rights and obligations.

SoloSuit can help you deal with your spouse's medical debt

The first step to deal with your spouse's medical debt is to respond to your creditor when they first attempt to collect. Use our Debt Validation Letter, which requests them to verify the debt belongs to your spouse.

In situations where you cannot escape paying your spouse's medical debt, negotiating a debt settlement, or slowly paying it off over time, is the most favorable action. If you have been sued, use our Answer to respond and improve your chances of receiving a fair judgment. Once you've filed your initial response, you can use SoloSettle to start the negotiation process and reach a debt settlement out of court.

Explore SoloSuit's documents today and let us help you with your spouse's medical debt.

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