Oftentimes when a loved one passes away, there’s remaining medical debt due to a hospital stay or time spent at a nursing home. So, the question becomes, who is responsible for paying that debt?
Generally speaking, any and all debts incurred by the decedent remain their debts even after death, but they must now be paid out of the decedent’s “estate.” This means that debts owed, including medical debts, will need to be paid from monies held in bank accounts or sometimes by liquidating assets owned by the decedent in order to satisfy those debts. If the decedent passed away with a valid will in place, the Executor will be the person responsible for ensuring those bills get paid out of estate funds.
So, what happens if there’s not enough money or assets in a decedent’s estate to cover debts owed? In many cases, creditors may contact a spouse or an adult child, in an effort to seek payment, but that does not mean those individuals are in fact legally obligated to use their own money to pay off a decedent’s debt. There are exceptions, however.
First, if you are a co-signor for the debt, you will be financially responsible for payment. This often occurs if you sign off as the financially responsible party when placing your loved one in a nursing home.
Second, if you’re a joint account holder, such as on a credit card. Note, this is sometimes different than being an authorized user.
Third, if the decedent was your spouse and you live in a community property state (note: Alabama is NOT a community property state).
Ultimately, if you don’t fall under one of these categories, you are not likely to be held financially responsible for the debts of a deceased loved one, even if they were your spouse or if you, as an adult child, were your parent’s primary caregiver.
Although debt collectors can (and often do) contacts spouses, guardians, adult children, etc. to discuss a loved one’s debts, remember that they are still required to follow the rules under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
For more information on the process of probating a loved one’s estate and the accompanying responsibilities that come with that, contact our office to speak to one of our attorneys. (251) 621-1555