Who is responsible for these medical bills?

Ask NJMoneyHelp

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Q. My sister traveled from Nigeria to New Jersey to have her baby, and she paid upfront for a C-section. She died the day after the baby was born. Her husband is in Nigeria and all relatives live outside of the U.S., except for an aunt who she stayed with and listed as her next of kin on hospital papers. Now our aunt is receiving several medical bills for thousands of dollars. My sister used all her money for the trip and pre-paid medical bills. We don’t have the money to pay. Are any of us responsible to pay?
— Sister

A. We’re sorry to hear about your sister.

Typically, medical bills of a deceased person are paid from the estate of that deceased person, said Shirley Whitenack, an estate planning attorney with Schenck, Price, Smith & King in Florham Park.

She said in this case, the estate is insolvent, meaning there are not enough assets in the estate to pay the deceased person’s bills.

In most cases, Whitenack said, under New Jersey law, relatives are not responsible for the payment of medical bills of a relative who is neither a spouse nor a child.

“While under New Jersey law a spouse may be responsible to pay the medical expenses of his or her spouse, in this case, the husband is in Nigeria and therefore, it is doubtful that payment can be secured from the husband,” Whitenack said.

And even though your sister was staying with your aunt, your aunt wouldn’t be responsible for the bills – unless she signed documents guaranteeing payment.

So your aunt should be off the hook unless she did sign some paperwork. If she did sign, she will have to address the bills and should contact the provider immediately to see if she can negotiate a lower bill or even get the provider to waive all money that’s due.

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