Tragically, many families lose a loved one after a long battle with a condition or disease that requires comprehensive medical care. After the person passes away, the family could face substantial medical bills that health insurance or government benefits did not pay. In many cases, the medical provider may look to the spouse or adult children for payment of a deceased patient’s medical bills. Before you pay these bills, we encourage you to meet with our Longstreet Elder Law & Estate Planning, P.C. to discuss if you are liable for these debts.
Parents vs. Spouses
Adult children are typically not liable for the medical bills incurred by their parents. Spouses were held liable for the medical expenses incurred by their spouse under the Doctrine of Necessaries until the Michigan Supreme Court abolished the common law doctrine in 1998. Therefore, there is a good chance that you are not responsible for your loved one’s medical bills after his or her death. Medical providers cannot take action against heirs to collect unpaid medical bills from their personal assets. They can try to obtain payment of the bills by filing claims against the decedent’s estate.
How Do Medical Providers Collect a Debt After the Death of the patient?
In most cases, a medical provider must file a proof of claim with the decedent’s estate for payment. If there are sufficient assets in the estate, the medical providers may receive money from the estate to satisfy the debt. However, not all property within the estate may be used to pay the medical bills.
If you own property jointly with your loved one as a joint tenant with right of survivorship or in a tenancy by the entireties, the property passes directly to you upon your loved one’s death. In other words, the property is not subject to the estate; therefore, the property is not subject to claims of creditors. It is very important to carefully examine all property owned by your loved one with a Michigan probate attorney to determine if the property is subject to the claims of medical providers.
You could be responsible for your spouse’s or parent’s medical bills if you signed a guarantee for the medical provider. Some medical providers attempt to protect their rights to collect medical debts by seeking a guarantee from a family member. The hospital or doctor may request that you sign a personal guarantee for the debt. You do not have to sign this guarantee. If you sign a guarantee, you are responsible for the medical debt.
In most cases, signing a hospital admission is not sufficient to result in personal liability for your loved one’s medical debts. However, you should be cautious when signing any legal documents, including hospital admission forms. You have the right to read the forms in their entirety, ask questions about the forms, and receive copies of the forms. In an emergency, it is difficult to think about what you are signing because you would likely sign anything to get the medical assistance your loved one needs.
However, if you have questions about forms that you signed, our office can review the forms and provide advice about any steps you can take to protect your assets.
Before you need extensive medical care, we encourage you to contact our office to discuss an estate plan. If you take steps now, you can ensure your heirs have the money they need after your death to provide for their needs. To learn more, please call our office and arrange an appointment.