Chloe Meltzer | March 06, 2023
Summary: Your marriage vows included a promise to last through sickness and good health. But are you responsible for your spouse's 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 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.
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:
There are exceptions to the shared-medical debt rule from these states. They include medical debt incurred:
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.
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. .
Three debt-related questions spouses often ask that we are about to answer are:
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:
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:
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.
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.
In two states, there have been instances of fighting the Doctrine of Necessaries. These cases found the doctrine unconstitutional for two reasons:
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.
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.
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
SoloSuit makes it easy to fight debt collectors.
You can use SoloSuit to respond to a debt lawsuit, to send letters to collectors, and even to settle a debt.
SoloSuit's Answer service is a step-by-step web-app that asks you all the necessary questions to complete your Answer. Upon completion, we'll have an attorney review your document and we'll file it for you.
"First time getting sued by a debt collector and I was searching all over YouTube and ran across SoloSuit, so I decided to buy their services with their attorney reviewed documentation which cost extra but it was well worth it! SoloSuit sent the documentation to the parties and to the court which saved me time from having to go to court and in a few weeks the case got dismissed!" – James
You can ask your questions on the SoloSuit forum and the community will help you out. Whether you need help now or are just looking for support, we're here for you.
Here's a list of guides for other states.
Being sued by a different debt collector? Were making guides on how to beat each one.
Is your credit card company suing you? Learn how you can beat each one.
Need more info on statutes of limitations? Read our 50-state guide.
Need help managing your finances? Check out these resources.