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What Happens to Medical Bills After Someone Dies?

Hi, we have a close family friend who lost her husband a few days back to cancer. My question is, what happens to the extraordinary amount of bills that he had from his medical care? Any idea if the wife automatically inherits those bills? Is there a way to prove that she is unable to cover the cost of those bills?

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The estate must pay any bills, as long as there is money. After the funeral expenses and taxes, any money must go to the bills. Once the money is exhausted, the spouse is no longer reponsible for the bills.

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I too an sorry for your loss. I understand that problem fully. Some creditors will take a death certificate and close the account. My husband had a few credit cards and all I had to do was show prof of death. Don't let them bully her I had one creditor call me and pretend to be a lawyer, I found out he wasn't and was just trying to get me to make any sort of payment. Once you make a payment its like you acknowledge the dept. So tell her to be careful. Also, I know that the husband is probably not going to be an organ donor but like one of the people said prior call the American cancer society they may be able to help some. My husband was an organ donor and they pair for every bit of his medical expenses, the only thing I paid for was the ambulance ride(800 dollars). I hope this helps some. Please if your friend ever needs another widow to talk to. please contact me and I can give my email Addy. some times its nice to have an out side voice. If not please let her know that there are so many message boards, web sites, and places on the net she can get solace.


Unfortunately, yes, the bills still have to be paid. And the onus of that responsibility usually lies with the surviving spouse or executor of his estate. The first order of business should be to inform the bill collectors of his death and to arrange a payment schedule. As far as medical bills go, you can arrange as little payment as you can afford. I once made a payment of $10 a month until I could get back on my feet. As long as a consistent effort is being made, and you keep the hospital/physicians in the loop, they are usually very accommodating. Please send her my sympathies and let her know that this does not have to be overwhelming or intimidating. It may also be beneficial to have her consult with a financial planner.

I agree, she needs to see an attorney as there are too many variable to give you a good answer. If she can't afford one, have her check into legal aid.

The estate must pay any bills, as long as there is money. After the funeral expenses and taxes, any money must go to the bills. Once the money is exhausted, the spouse is no longer reponsible for the bills.


I am sorry to hear of your friend's passing. As far as I know the spouse is responsible for the bills. But, they can contact the hospital and speak with the Financial Assistance Department. Most hospitals if not all of them have this service- you tell them what your hardship is, you give proof of financial income, tax forms and whatever else they want and then they can usually eliminate at least 80-90% of the bill and put her on a pay plan for the rest if she doesn't fully qualify for the bill to be 100% forgiven. I would start there- then if that doesn't work, she could hire an attorney to fight the medical claims--at least have the claims audited for errors. 80% of medical bills have at least one error that could cost the patient thousands-so its worth a shot.

Hope this helps.


I am so sorry for your friend. From what I know of marriage and bills, it is unfortunate, but the widow will inherit the bills. It's just like if her husband had declared bankruptcy before he died- her credit would be at the bottom of the diaper pail as well. Sometimes, depending on the situation, certain benefits will help with funerals and existing medical bills, and some places will forgive partial debts. But she is going to have to be proactive through her grief, calling everyone who money was owed too, etc. If she would let you, I would see if you can offer her your help in any way, making calls, making lunch while she makes calls, supporting her, helping her with the little things like picking up, etc. Hopefully, the debtors will be kind and work with her through this difficult time.
She should be able to prove, through her income and expenses that she cannot cover the costs. She may have to hire a lawyer, but have her take her income plus expenses, line by line, to show how much money she needs to live. Then on the opposite side of the page, show the debts incurred through her late husband's illness. Within reason, she should be declared debt free- or at least responsible for a reduced rate. I would definitely check with the medical billing, and then if they can't help, call a lawyer (she will have to pay his fees, but they are far cheaper than the medical bills) and ask for her options. Alot of times they will see you for free the first time to give you advice and then you pay if you agree to have them take your case.
I hope this helps.
-E. M

Sorry to hear about her loss. I used to do collections for Auto Loans and Banks. If you have a insurance policy it will cover the bills. If any is left. Once everything has been liquaided then In community state they will go after the wife or spouse whom ever is in charge of there assets. If they own a home and you can't afford the bill they will attach a lien to the home or even attach wages if any except ss and disablity. any asset they can find they will attach. But that is way down the line. Some medical bills you can't file BK on but some you can. student loan you can not. But if it is credit card debt you can file bk on credit cards only and kept your home. there are ways around it. But if any debt was inquire while married she will have to pay for it. If it can be prove that the debt was inquired prior to married certificate she will not have to pay. By pulling credit statements and such. But kept in mind not all state are the same and califorina is one that will go after spouse or children over 18 if the child is taking care of that parties debt . Also if filing a bk she will have a clean slate and will be able to restatblish credit with in 6 months. I hope that helps. If you are in Sacramento area and you need help let me know. I know a lot of attorney's that can help possible settle things for her.

SO sorry for your friend's loss. Unfortunately, as many have already mentioned, she will be liable for the medical bills. Any life insurance can be used to reduce the bills and she definitely needs to work with the doctors/hospital to reduce any bills, if possible and make a payment agreement. As a couple posters have mentioned, they will take as little as $10 per month until the bills are paid.

Since the husband had cancer, she may want to talk with someone from the American Cancer Society for assistance with this issue.

Also, any donations in the husband's memory should be directed to a bank account so that she can use those funds to help with the expenses. Have you considered having some type of community fundraiser to help raise money to pay the expenses...a spaghetti feed and silent auction can raise an amazing amount of money. Get volunteers to help, donations to make the food and donations of items/gift certificates for the auction. Good luck helping her...you are a great friend!

I don't know if you have ever listened to Dave Ramsey but he has wonderful advise on finances. If you go on daveramsey.com you can ask them to send you the station information so you can listen to his talk show. Then you can ask your question. Hope this helps.

I'm so sorry for your friend's loss. I think in this case it depends upon how their estate is set up. For instance, if their home is owned by a trust, the hospital can't come back after it. Even if she does not own a home or other assets, I think the best thing to do would be for her to meet with a good lawyer as soon as possible. I read in Michelle Singletary's financial column a few weeks ago about how most hospitals and collections agencies will try to get loved ones to pay their deceased family member's bills, even if they are not actually legally responsible for the bills! So it would be best for her to talk to a lawyer and make sure she understands her rights. She needs an expert on her side to help sort this out.

I'd recommend that your friend speak to a lawyer who specializes in that issue, there are sooo many variables involved... better to point her the right direction.

Sorry to hear about the loss. I know from my own expierence many years back that the spouse is responsible for the bills since they were married. But if she is unable to pay them due to hardship she should contact a lawyer and get some legal guidence in the matter

Dear S H,
I'm so sorry to hear of this loss. We just lost "Poppa" on Saturday.
There's not really a lot of information in your post, but I would suggest she contact someone at her local Senior Resource Center. They also have Ombudsman programs.
If the husband had insurance of any kind, making sure the medical claims are paid by the insurance carrier is the first step because that could greatly reduce any balance of charges.
I know when my mother in law passed away, even after insurance, there was a balance and the providers went after my father in law. However, he had alzheimer's so we prepared in advance to protect their assets thinking he would end up in a nursing home. They couldn't go after him because of the way we had things set up. God bless him, he didn't know the difference between $5 and $500 and couldn't be responsible even for himself.
Since your friend passed away so recently, the final bills most likely haven't been sent out yet. All of that info needs to be gathered. Many providers, especially hospitals will greatly reduce or zero out the charges if you work with them.
Again, my first advice would be the Senior Resource Center because they should be able to help with referrals to appropriate agencies, even if your friend is not a senior. Hospice might be another great resource for information and referrals.
Just make sure your friend has a support network and tell her not to worry about the bills right this minute. Contact agencies on her behalf.
I wish her the very best at this difficult time.

I recommend your friend call Andra Cassen at ###-###-####. Andra is a "cut to the chase and take care of business" kind of gal so she doesn't waste time banking billable time. Family law, wills and trusts are her specialty.

Hi SH, IAm soo sorry for ur loss. We lost my mother in law to cancer in July from cancer also. But if I rember correctly my father in law had to petion it to the inusrence and show them death certifcates to everyone he had to have astack of 20 and mail with everything. I would contact a lawyer to ask for help. My father in law new what to do because we lost his mother Easter of Last yr. the main thing is just keep pushing them to pay the bills has amedically nessecary. Soon or later they will pay or just drop it. Hope this helps a little. God Bless u and ur family through this time. A.

My husband passed away in January from cancer and I'm being told they are now my bills and I need to make payments on them if I can't pay them in full. So the money will need to come out of the $200 a month I have to live on if you can count that because that also need to pay the electric and buy food and pills. No help on the house because I'm not behind so you don't win at all.

Hi SH, If a couple are married, unfortunately the surviving spouse inherets the deceased spouse's medical bills. Having my mother pass away last year of cancer also, and being the trustee of her estate, I have been paying from her trust fund all medical bills and the skilled nursing facilities she was in. The Thank goodness she had good hospitalization coverage! But the creditors won't go away, even in your friend's situation. She will have to make payments,and if she cant afford to do that, I don't know.... My cousin's husband also passed away from cancer several years ago, and it took her over 7 years to pay off his medical bills. I wish her good luck. CJ

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