What happens if you have a spouse that dies in the hospital? Does Georgia probate law say that you are responsible for the bills?
This is a common question our office receives, and is often a concern on the minds of family members. The short answer is that, generally speaking, Georgia probate law states that only the estate of the deceased is responsible for the deceased’s bills – the surviving spouse is not personally responsible.
Even though this is the general rule, there are exceptions, and there are other ways that the surviving spouse can be affected by the bills, so it is something to be taken very seriously.
First, the exceptions. The single largest way that a surviving spouse can be responsible for the hospital bills is if he or she signed something while at the hospital accepting responsibility for them. Many times, family members do not even pay attention to what they signed when their loved one was admitted to the hospital, so they often do not know whether they agreed to pay the debt. As a result, if you signed anything while you were at the hospital, it is worth investigating to know for sure whether you are responsible.
If you did sign something accepting responsibility for the bills, then the hospital can pursue you personally to collect it in the same way as if you were the patient. Luckily, this is not that common.
A far more common way that the family is affected by the hospital bills has to do with the estate itself and the way property is held. Once someone dies, all of their property, other than joint or beneficiary designated accounts, becomes available to creditors through the probate process to pay debts owed by the deceased.
As a result, if the family home was owned by the deceased and the surviving spouse was not a joint owner, then the hospital and other creditors can force it to be sold to pay their debts. The same applies to bank accounts, vehicles, investment accounts, and any other property that goes into the estate.
If you find yourself in this position, then there are ways to make it better. While creditors may not respond if you try to negotiate on your own, they often are willing to reduce the amount owed a lot more when you have a competent probate attorney working for you.
In addition, Georgia probate law provides surviving spouses a spousal support option called year’s support that places the surviving spouse in a higher priority position than the creditors, so the spouse gets paid first. Year’s support is a complicated proceeding and you only get one shot to get it right, so I strongly recommend hiring a qualified probate law firm to assist you.
Whether you are personally liable for the debt or are in danger of losing the family home or options property, Georgia probate law provides options to the surviving spouse.
Disclaimer: The information above is provided for general information only and should not be considered legal advice. Our probate lawyers provide legal advice to our clients after talking about the specific circumstances of the client’s situation. Our law firm cannot give you legal advice unless we understand your situation by talking with you. Please contact our law office to receive specific information about your situation.