Are You Responsible for a Deceased Spouse’s Debt?

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By: Bill Henry
PublishedJun 8, 2020
2 minute read

It’s common for people to have some debt when they pass away. But what happens if your partner dies with a lot of debt? Are you responsible for a deceased spouse’s debt?

In this video, attorney Elizabeth German discusses whether you’re on the hook for a deceased spouse’s debt.

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What happens when a spouse passes and they leave a large amount of medical or other debt?

Is the surviving spouse legally responsible for payment of that debt?

Had a client who had a spouse who was in the hospital for a really pretty lengthy period of time and when the spouse passed away, they ended up getting a large bill, about $30,000 from the hospital.

The probate court allowed creditors to file claims so the creditor filed the claim in the estate. They also sued this individual for payment of the medical debt even though that person was not the one who had been treated.

This prompted them to call and ask what if any responsibility financially did they have to the hospital for their deceased spouse’s debt.

Sued for Your Deceased Spouse’s Debt

In Colorado we have a statute called the family purposes doctrine.

It allows a creditor even if the other party who is being sued was not originally obligated on the debt to be sued and held responsible for that debt if it was for the health, wellness, or use of the family.

We most often see this in terms of medical bills, dental bills, and educational expenses for children and spouses.

We don’t really see this applying to credit card debt, although it could be argued that that applies. We also typically don’t see this happen in normal state court proceedings.

When is This Statute Most Often Applied?

It’s usually only happening in the context of a probate where the actual death has occurred.

If the other party’s still alive, the chances are the creditor’s gonna seek all remedy from them first and they don’t actually typically try to go after the other spouse unless they’re actually co-obligated on that. However, it’s not to say it couldn’t happen. I have seen it occur.

There are some possibilities to resolve that and see about getting back in terms of good standing.

There is a possibility bankruptcy might have to be considered if the funds aren’t available through the probate estate or otherwise from the other party to look at payment of those.

But you need to know your options and what they can and cannot do. We offer consultations at the firm to be able to speak about these types of issues for you.

Give us a call. My name is attorney Elizabeth Domenico. I’m the bankruptcy and debt resolution attorney and I’m happy to speak with you about your certain situation.

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