The high cost of health care services is a common concern among consumers. Elderly individuals typically require more medical care than younger individuals. Although programs such as Medicare provide insurance coverage for the elderly, these programs do not always cover 100 percent of the cost of services – leaving the patient responsible for paying the balance. Should the individual die, collectors may contact the patient’s family members and request payment.
You are not liable for your parents' medical bills when they die, although any amounts owed may be deducted from your parents' estate through the probate court.
No Personal Liability
You are not personally liable for your parents' medical bills. The hospital can request payment from you but there are no legal consequences should you decline to pay off any remaining health care debt your parents left behind. The hospital can claim a tax loss on any medical bills that your parents’ insurance company refuses to pay.
Filing a Claim in Court
If your parents lacked insurance, the hospital will file a claim against your parents’ estate with the probate court rather than with the insurance company. The probate court pays off debts your parents left behind with their remaining assets before turning over any remaining assets to you and your siblings as inheritance. Thus, although you are not legally liable for your parent’s medical debts, these debts could reduce the inheritance you receive after they pass away.
If your parents did not leave behind an estate or the hospital did not file a timely claim, your parents' medical bills will go unpaid after their death. This often results in the health care provider turning your parents’ unpaid account balance over to a collection agency. Because the collection agency cannot collect the debt from your parents, debt collectors will demand payment from the deceased’s next of kin – you. No matter what a debt collector tells you, you do not have to pay off your parents' bills. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act makes it illegal for any debt collector to threaten to sue you, garnish your wages or report your parents' debts on your credit report should you refuse to pay. A collection agency must stop contacting you if you put your request to the company in writing.
Things to Consider
Just because you aren’t legally required to pay off your parents’ medical debts does not mean you cannot do so if you wish. You have the right to contact the hospital or doctor’s office and either negotiate a settlement or pay the debt in full. If you have a surviving parent, your state's laws may render that person legally responsible for the debt your deceased parent left behind. Should this occur, the health care provider has the option to pursue your surviving parent for payment rather than negotiate with you.
- The New York Times: You’re Dead? That Won’t Stop the Debt Collector
- Federal Trade Commission: The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
- Nolo: Debt and Marriage – When Do I Owe My Spouse’s Debts?
- Federal Trade Commission. "Debts and Deceased Relatives." Accessed July 23, 2020.
- Experian. "What Happens to Debt When You Die." Accessed July 23, 2020.
- Judicial Council of California. "Wills, Estates, and Probate." Accessed July 23, 2020.
- Federal Register. "Statement of Policy Regarding Communications in Connection With Collection of a Decedent's Debt - A. The Decedent's Estate." Accessed July 23, 2020.
- Federal Register. "Statement of Policy Regarding Communications in Connection With Collection of a Decedent's Debt - Footnote 6." Accessed July 23, 2020.
- American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance. "What's the Best Age to Buy Long Term Care Insurance." Accessed July 23, 2020.
Ciele Edwards holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been a consumer advocate and credit specialist for more than 10 years. She currently works in the real-estate industry as a consumer credit and debt specialist. Edwards has experience working with collections, liens, judgments, bankruptcies, loans and credit law.