Thursday, March 22, 2012

Am I Responsible for My Dead Husband's Medical Bills Under Texas Law?

Am I Responsible for My Dead Husband's Medical Bills Under Texas Law?

If you are under the assumption that your spouse's debts will disappear after death, you might want to check your address. Texas, along with Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, New Mexico, Washington and Wisconsin, is a community property state. Thus, since medical bills are considered an estate debt shared by both spouses, it is very possible that the responsibility for paying the medical bills may fall on you.

Community Property

    In general, the term community property applies to any purchases or debts acquired during marriage. Community property does not need to be in both parties' names, as debts incurred by either party are considered the responsibility of both spouses. For example, if a spouse accumulates $50,000 in medical bills before passing away, the responsibility of that debt is then passed on to the surviving spouse, even if the name of the surviving spouse does not appear on any of the bills.

Outside of Marriage

    An exception to the community property law in Texas states that property obtained outside of marriage is considered separate property, and thus not the responsibility or asset of the surviving spouse. Thus, if a husband owed $150,000 worth of medical bills from extensive surgeries that occurred prior to marriage, the wife of the husband does not legally assume that debt through marriage. In such cases, if the assets are not available to pay the incurred debt after death, it is the creditors who lose out on the ability to claim payment.

Gifts and Inheritance Exception

    Texas law permits gifts and inheritance, even when acquired during times of marriage, to remain separate property. This means that in the event that your spouse dies and creditors have come to collect the debt, they cannot access property in your name only as a means of paying community property bills.

Legal Counsel

    Given the complex nature of probate and property law in the State of Texas, it is highly recommended that you seek professional assistance before proceeding with any debt payments. In some cases, especially those with exorbitant medical bills, it might be in your best interest to explore bankruptcy options. Attorneys who specialize in Texas property can also provide insight with regard to any local or district laws that might work in your favor. When seeking legal advice, be sure request an attorney with a specialized background in property law and one with experience in situations similar to yours.


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