What Obligation Do I Have to Pay My Spouse's Medical Bills?
UPDATED: February 2, 2020
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In general, one spouse is not obligated to pay the medical bills of the other spouse. Unfortunately, there are several exceptions to this rule.
If you live in a community property state, you would typically bear responsibility for such a debt. The general rule in such a case is, a medical bill or other debt that is incurred during the marriage, versus debt that is incurred before the marriage, is considered a joint debt. This holds true even if the debt is listed exclusively in one spouse's name.
If you signed a document stating that you would be responsible for payments on a debt or medical bill, you are liable for payments. For example, if your spouse has been admitted to the hospital, and you signed or acted as a co-signer on any documents that would obligate you for payment of any bills incurred during your spouse's hospital stay, as a signer, you are responsible for payments. As a co-signer, you are responsible for payments if your spouse fails to pay the bills. This is true no matter what state that you reside in.
The last exception has to do with the "doctrine of necessities." This doctrine was established under common law. While many states no longer follow the doctrine, some states have actually made it statutory law. Under the "doctrine of necessities, one spouse is liable for the "necessary" expenses incurred by the other spouse during marriage. This holds true for any debt, but particularly for medical bills, which are almost always deemed "necessary."
In the case of a deceased spouse, even in a situation that did not fall into one of the above exceptions, the deceased's estate would still be liable for repayment. This means, the surviving spouse, although indirectly could be affected financially.
While the general rule is that one spouse is not liable for the other spouses' medical bills, there are indeed exceptions that would make the other spouse responsible for payment. If this is an issue or potential issue, you may want to consult with an attorney in your area. A local attorney can best advise you of all of your rights as they exist under state law and how they may be affected by other factors.