August 13, 2020 / Jeffrey Kelly
As a general rule in Georgia, you are not legally liable for your spouse’s medical bills just by virtue of the marriage. This question usually arises when one spouse has suffered an extreme trauma event like Covid-19 corona hospitalization, cancer, diabetes, heart attack or some other health catastrophe that forces a person to accumulate a large amount of medical debt.
Earlier this year, I met with an elderly lady who, for purposes of this illustration, we will call Marjorie. Marjorie worked all of her adult life building up her 401k account to over $300,000. In addition, she received about $200,000 in life insurance proceeds that were left to her individually. Her husband died a few years ago after an extended battle with cancer and left behind a mountain of medical bills. Over the past couple of years, Marjorie blew through all of her savings making payments on medical bills for which she had zero legal liability. Now, she has nothing left but her monthly social security check to live on. I wish she had met with us sooner and I would have told her not to touch the 401k proceeds for sure and that the creditors had no claim to the insurance either.
I have been practicing consumer bankruptcy for over 22 years. I have seen it all. You would not believe how many people needlessly spend their way into bankruptcy by trying to make payments on huge medical bills of a now deceased spouse. And to add salt in the wound, most people don’t meet with a bankruptcy attorney until all the money is gone.
What should a person do after losing a spouse?
Losing a spouse is probably the worse experience of anyone’s life. As a consequence of the emotional toll, it is also the worst time to make major financial decisions.
The first legal step that a person should take after losing a spouse is to meet with an attorney that specializes in wills and estates. While I don’t practice in this area, I know many great attorneys who do and I am happy to help you find one that is close to you. The purpose of meeting with an estate planning attorney is to determine whether or not the deceased spouse’s estate needs to be probated.
The second step is to meet with a financial planner to map out the future of what economic life will look like going forward.
Take advantage of a free consultation with us.
In the event that there are outstanding debts, my law firm offers a free initial consultation to discuss bankruptcy options.
Debt collectors are extremely skilled at guilting surviving spouses into paying the medical bills even though the surviving spouse has no legal liability. Debt collectors also have the super natural ability to call right after the life insurance check hits your mail box. In most cases, any life insurance proceeds you receive are not exposed to any of the deceased spouse’s debts.
The magic question.
Anytime there is a question about whether or not you are liable for the debt of your spouse, you should ask the creditor, “Can you show me the contract where I signed and agreed to be liable for this debt.” If they cannot produce any proof of your signature on a guarantee, you are not liable in the state of Georgia.
We do virtual appointments
During this Covid-19 crisis, you can meet with me or one of my associates virtually by phone or we can use a video conference software like Zoom. The worst thing a person can do is ignore the problem. It will not go away by itself. Call us today 770-881-8449.