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  1. #1
    asf12000 is offline Junior Member
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    Required to pay late wife's medical bills?

    What is the name of your state (only U.S. law)? Virginia

    My wife recently passed away and I have been severely struggling financially (she provided about 60% of our income). Now I got bills from the hospital and a doctor's office asking me to pay for my wife's treatments. I can barely pay for food. I certainly don't have thousands laying around to pay these creditors. Am I legally responsible for paying for my deceased wife's medical bills? I never signed anything agreeing to pay. Can they legally force me to pay under the circumstances?
  2. #2
    Prima Facie is offline Member
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    Greetings,

    I'm sorry for your loss. The answer to your question is no. You are not liable for your deceased wife's medical bills merely by virtue of the marriage. You would only be liable if you had personally guaranteed payment. Your wife's estate would be liable, however. Therefore, if your wife died with significant assets, then her creditors may want to open probate (if you haven't done so already yourself).
  3. #3
    justalayman is offline Senior Member
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    actually, while the overall answer from prima facia may (and I'm not sure of that at the moment) be correct, the reason is all wrong.

    Your state happens to have statute that is called: the doctrine of necessaries. That means, debts incurred by a spouse that fall under what the state determines to be necessaries, a spouse is liable for the debts.

    From a little research, any medical bills that are the result of emergency services does fall under the doctrine. So, if any of the expenses you are faced with are from emergency services, yes, you are liable for them.

    In a lot of cases, the remaining medical expenses would also become your debt but I read a little (and this is why I am not certain of your liability) of a case in your state in (I think) 1981 that determined that since you were not the major bread winner for the family, you are not liable for the debts.

    So, from what I have read, depending on what, exactly, the debts are from, you may be liable for some of them. The debts due to general medical treatment, I believe, you are not liable for.

    Then, as prima facia states, your wife's estate is liable for all of the debts. You will need to determine what is in her estate and then either liquidate those assets to pay the debts or if you wish to keep whatever it is, you would have to effectively purchase the items from the estate and the estate will use that money to pay the debts.
  4. #4
    Prima Facie is offline Member
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    Actually, justalayman, you're correct that the necessaries doctrine likely applies:

    The common law doctrine of necessaries requires the husband to buy for his wife and children necessary items, which normally include food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and legal expenses.

    The doctrine of necessaries thus differs from agency principles in that the husband's express or implied consent to purchase certain goods is not required under the doctrine of necessaries, and the wife and children may therefore buy any necessary item and charge it to the husband's account, even though the husband may not have consented to such a purchase.[FN1]

    In determining what should be furnished to a spouse or child as a "necessary" item, a court will normally look at the financial circumstances and needs of the parties, as well as the standard of living established during the marriage.[FN2]

    However, in the case of Schilling v. Bedford County Memorial Hospital,[FN3] the Virginia Supreme Court stated that the doctrine of necessaries, as it existed under the common law, was unconstitutional gender-based discrimination against the husband, since there was no similar obligation on the part of the wife.[FN4]

    Subsequent to the Schilling case, the Virginia General Assembly amended the Virginia doctrine of necessaries statute so that it now applies equally to both spouses.[FN5]
    I had remembered that the Virginia Supreme Court found the common law rule to be unconstitutional, but I had forgotten that a statute was later passed to rectify the problem. Good job on pointing out my error.

    - PF
  5. #5
    justalayman is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by Prima Facie View Post
    Actually, justalayman, you're correct that the necessaries doctrine likely applies:



    I had remembered that the Virginia Supreme Court found the common law rule to be unconstitutional, but I had forgotten that a statute was later passed to rectify the problem. Good job on pointing out my error.

    - PF
    wasn't meant to make issue of the mistake. I make enough that I don't need to be throwing stones. It's just that a lot of people are not aware of the doctrine of necessaries that is in some states and saw need to mention it.

    Even as such, I am not sure it applies here due to the case I had read stating that unless the spouse incurring the debt was not the major wage earner, it does not apply. I do not have a timeline to place that within any other acts by the legislature and I cannot seem to find the case I read yesterday to review it. If you happen to run across it, maybe you can make heads or tails of it.

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