Who is responsible for medical bills when a spouse dies?

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Q. When a person dies in New Jersey, is the spouse responsible for a bill from a medical transport company that the deceased used for dialysis?
— Daughter-in-Law of Spouse

A. We’re sorry for your loss.

In New Jersey, spouses are responsible for each other’s medical bills under something called the “Doctrine of Necessaries.”

The doctrine basically says spouses are responsible for each other’s debts if the debt comes from providing necessities for a family.

That includes most medical bills.

A bill from a medical transport company would qualify as a medical bill, said Yale Hauptman, an estate planning attorney with Hauptman and Hauptman in Livingston.

“If the will is probated and there are probate assets, then the bill can be paid from those assets,” he said. “If there are no probate assets, the spouse would still be responsible.”

That would stand whether or not the spouse signed anything to guarantee payment.

And if the spouse signed anything guaranteeing payment, then the creditor would also have a contractual claim, he said.

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This story was originally published on June 11, 2020.

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