Who pays for a dead spouse’s medical bills?

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Q. When a person dies in New Jersey, is the spouse responsible for the medical bills?
— Spouse

A. There are some things a spouse might be responsible to pay, and others for which the spouse is not responsible.

It all depends on the details.

Spouses are not generally responsible for each other’s debt unless they sign paperwork agreeing to pay, such as a guarantor, said Yale Hauptman, an estate planning attorney with Hauptman and Hauptman in Livingston.

“With respect to medical bills, that means being careful as to the myriad of forms required to be signed upon admission to a hospital,” Hauptman said. “Typically, in the case of an emergency, a spouse will sign the paperwork admitting the ill spouse, so care should be given to reading the papers before signing.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that the spouse won’t have to pay.

Hauptman said the estate of the deceased spouse is responsible. So if there are assets that pass to the surviving spouse, then the executor is responsible to pay those bills from those assets.

While we’re on the topic, here’s a closer look at how credit card bills would be treated under similar circumstances.

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