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What happens to medical debt if the patient dies?

Everyone in Illinois is supposed to have some sort of medical coverage. That's one of the key provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Still, as we have noted in previous posts, that doesn't mean the troubling issue of medical debt has disappeared. Such bills continue to be the reason behind most filings for bankruptcy.

Very often, the filing comes in the face of mounting pressure from bill collection companies. Many firms, unwilling to meet individuals half way on working out a plan, opt instead for taking people to court. Further, the pressure doesn't necessarily dissipate in the sad event the patient dies, even though it probably should.

State laws do vary, so anyone faced with the question of whether they are liable for the medical bills of a loved one who has died should be speaking with an attorney. Lacking dependable information and in the face of emotional turmoil over the loss, a person might feel a need to pay such bills when they might not have to. Indeed, collectors probably count on that and hope that by keeping the pressure on that they'll get their money.

Medical debt generally doesn't become the responsibility of a decedent's heirs. There can be some exceptions, though.

For example, you could be obliged to pay bills if:

  • You co-signed for the debt
  • Your state law treats debt as community property
  • The deceased was your spouse and the law transfers the medical debt to you
  • As the personal representative resolving the estate, you don't follow the law

If you are handling estate administration and outstanding debts are an issue, consulting a bankruptcy attorney might be helpful in understanding all available options.

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