Are Children Responsible for Medical Bills of the Deceased?

Many parents with debt get life insurance to protect their estate and children's inheritance.
Many parents with debt get life insurance to protect their estate and children's inheritance. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Losing a parent is always difficult, but it is even worse when medical providers start sending you bills claiming you owe for your parent's care. Medical providers and other lenders or creditors don't always have a right to ask you to pay debts left after a death. To remain financially secure, you must know what is within a medical provider's purview when it comes to collection.

General Rule

Typically, creditors, lenders and service providers to whom your parent was indebted, including medical providers, cannot force you to pay the balance. The primary reason for this is that your parent's creditors can legally collect only from those who they can prove are associated with the debt. Because your name is not on any of the debt documentation, they can't say you owe.

The Cosigner Exception

The only exception to being off the hook for your deceased parent's medical bills is if you cosigned for those bills. In this case, the medical provider has evidence that you assumed liability for the medical expenses. They therefore can come to you to collect what is owed. Cosigning usually isn't an issue for younger children, because laws in most states prohibit minors from signing contracts. Even if these laws weren't in place, younger children typically aren't financially stable enough or don't have a credit score high enough to act as a cosigner.

What Providers Do

In the event your parent passes away, his medical provider isn't necessarily financially out of luck. When someone dies, his estate becomes legally responsible for the debts he has. Medical providers can try to get the money owed to them through the estate. This means they have to go through the probate process. This process involves assessing the value of estate assets and paying creditors, lenders and service providers with those assets. It also involves distributing remaining assets, if any, to heirs. If a medical provider goes through probate court to get payment, the provider may entirely drain the estate, leaving you with no inheritance. If the estate is insolvent -- that is, if there aren't enough assets to cover the debts -- the medical provider writes off the debt as a loss.


If your parent left a widow, the widow may have to pay remaining medical bills, depending on if he cosigned and if he lives in a community property state. In a community property state, the government treats married couples as one financial unit, with each spouse responsible for the debts and assets acquired during the marriage. Additionally, life insurance typically is a way for a parent to prevent anyone from having to pay for medical debt. If you are a beneficiary, you may use some of the life insurance funds to cover the debts according to your parent's wishes, although, technically, medical providers don't have a legal right to life insurance money unless you offer it.

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