Medical Bills After Death: Who Pays?

One of the toughest and most confusing questions after the death of a loved one is, who pays for medical bills? Unfortunately, there isn’t always a clear answer. Adding to the difficulty of sorting out the responsibility of the debt is the fact that you’re also most likely planning a funeral and dealing with the whirlwind of emotions. 

Because medical bills can be confusing, especially during the trying time surrounding death, it’s important to research unpaid medical bills before committing to pay. It might also be necessary to contact us for support and guidance about unpaid medical and hospital bills after death. 

Who is Responsible for Medical Bills After Death? 

Even for deaths unrelated to Covid-19, there are measures in place to protect spouses and family members from medical bills after the death of a loved one. Unfortunately, these measures and information about them are difficult to come by unless you hire an attorney. However, doing so could cost more than your unpaid medical debt.  

In most cases, unpaid medical debt does not become the responsibility of a family member but the estate of the deceased. If the estate has sufficient assets to cover the debt, it is considered solvent. However, if the estate isn’t enough to pay off the debt, it’s considered insolvent and the responsibility of the debt could fall to the deceased person’s descendants or spouse. 

Spouse’s Medical Debt 

If your spouse passes away and leaves behind medical debt that their estate can’t pay for, then the surviving spouse can become responsible. However, this is not always the case, and many factors have an impact. 

One of the biggest factors is whether or not you live in a community property state. In these states, the saying that “what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine” rings true. Essentially, anything that you or your spouse owns outside of some exceptions such as inheritance, including debt, is owned mutually by both of you. Therefore, if they pass away, everything they own becomes yours, including medical debt and unpaid hospital bills. 

Community property states include the following. 

  • Alaska 
  • Arizona 
  • California 
  • Idaho 
  • Louisiana 
  • Nevada 
  • New Mexico 
  • Oklahoma 
  • South Dakota 
  • Tennessee 
  • Texas 
  • Washington 
  • Wisconsin 

If you don’t live in one of these states, you may or may not be responsible for your late spouse’s medical bills after death.

That is, unless you cosigned for your spouse, guaranteeing that you would pay for any unpaid medical bills if they pass away. Many hospitals and nursing homes require this to safeguard against incurring medical debts. 

Parents’ Medical Debt

Depending on where you live, you might be responsible for paying your parents’ medical bills after death, regardless of whether you co-signed with them.

If you don’t co-sign for your parents upon their hospital or nursing home admission, there’s a good chance you won’t be held responsible for unpaid debt and an insolvent estate. It all depends on whether or not your state has filial statutes or support laws. 

However, even if there are filial statutes or support laws, they’re commonly not enforced. Every state has its own rules about enforcement and exceptions, and there’s little to no uniformity from state to state. Regardless of your state’s laws, you should talk to an attorney if you’re worried about paying for your parent’s medical bills after death. 

The Effect of COVID-19 on Medical Bills After Someone Died

The COVID-19 pandemic is here to stay for the long-haul with almost 3000 deaths weekly, and 2022 having been deadlier than 2020 and 2021. In addition to affecting the everyday lives of Americans everywhere, it often resulted in hefty medical bills. The current estimation is that more than 1 million people passed away because of Covid or its complications in the US alone. Of these people, hundreds of thousands left behind thousands of dollars in unpaid hospital bills. 

If you lost a loved one due to the SARS-CoV-2 or any of its variants and are facing unpaid medical bills, it’s important to understand that you’re not alone. hundreds of thousands of people like you face the same problem. 

Because of how common this problem has become, the government has passed several laws to help protect survivors. These include the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 amongst others.

Patients Without Insurance 

The CARES Act protected patients without insurance from paying for their loved ones’ hospital bills. Hospitals could have sought payment for unpaid medical bills through this act’s Provider Relief Fund, thereby protecting spouses and loved ones. However, the funds of this Act expired in March of 2022. 

Out-of-Network Costs 

Out-of-network costs are almost always higher than when you pay for in-network medical care. However, due to the ongoing Public Health Emergency, insurance providers cannot charge copayments for Covid Testing.

4 Types of Medical Debt that Might be the Responsibility of Survivors 

In addition to your state playing a crucial role in paying for unpaid medical bills, the type of medical debt will also play a factor. Generally speaking, there are four different kinds of medical debt, each with different rules and stipulations. However, regardless of the type of medical debt, the estate is always the first option when it comes to unpaid medical debt, and it’s the job of the estate administrator to handle payments. 

1. Co-Signed Medical Bills 

If someone doesn’t have health insurance, they must sign up as a self-pay patient. Someone may have to co-sign with them if they don’t have enough credit or money to pay for their expenses. If they pass away and leave behind medical debt, whoever co-signed with them will be responsible for their medical bills after death. 

2. Filial Responsibility 

Filial responsibility laws refer to a child’s obligation to pay for a parent’s health expenses if they cannot pay for themselves. This can apply to hospital visits, ongoing treatments, medications, nursing home stays, and more. Some states have filial responsibility laws, but few enforce them, furthermore, the enforcement is typically civil and the debtor would need to sue asking for relief. 

3. Medicaid Estate Recovery 

Medicaid estate recovery is a program that helps the taxpayers recoup costs of Medicaid from estates. Under this program, Medicaid can recover payments from the deceased person’s estate if they’ve paid benefits. bills. However, if the deceased person has a blind child or disabled spouse, or if they had a child under 21, Medicaid can’t pursue payment from the estate. 

4. Community Property States 

As we said before, spouses are responsible for paying unpaid medical debts if you live in a state with community property laws. These laws vary from state to state, so contact an attorney if you live in a community property state to discuss your options. 

However, even if you live in a community property state, your residence may be protected if appropriately titled as tenant in entirety.

Can You Negotiate Medical Bills After Someone Dies? 

If you’ve exhausted all your legal and financial avenues and find out that you’re responsible for unpaid medical bills after the death of a loved one, you’re not out of options yet.

You can negotiate unpaid medical bills after death to pay a smaller amount. However, negotiating medical bills after death is exhausting, confusing, and difficult if you don’t know what you’re doing. 

By following the tips and tricks in the above-linked article and enlisting the services of Amazing Healthcare Consultants, you can successfully negotiate unpaid medical bills. Depending on the size of the debt, the medical provider might write it off completely. However, they’re less apt to do so for larger debts and bills, and you’ll likely be hearing from creditors in the coming days. 

In the event that your creditors pursue unpaid medical debts, there’s a chance that the two of you can settle. They’re likely to accept your offer if you cannot pay the full debt or offer to pay a large percentage in cash upfront. Because of all the “maybes” and “what ifs” associated with medical debt, you might benefit from contacting a healthcare advocate

Frequently Asked Questions 

Who Should I Contact for Assistance With Medical Bills After Death?

Dealing with unpaid medical and hospital bills after death is a difficult and emotional process. Unfortunately, however, if the estate can’t cover all of the deceased person’s medical costs, it’s a process you might have to face. If you do, you should contact us at Amazing Healthcare Consultants for information and guidance. 

We’re a team of current and former healthcare employees who understand the nuances of medical billing. We’ll advocate on your behalf and help you negotiate lower bills if you get forced to pay for someone’s medical bills after death.