Question: My sister is in dialysis three times a week. Her insurance apparently doesn’t pay for all of it. She says she pays about $25 a month toward the bill. She says she’ll never get it paid off. Someone told her not to worry about it. When she passes, will her son be responsible for the debt?
— Nina in Virginia
Gerri Detweiler answers…
It must be incredibly stressful for your sister to continue incurring medical debt she can’t pay. Unfortunately, it’s not an uncommon situation. Medical debt is one of the leading causes of bankruptcy — and more than half of all collection accounts on credit reports are due to medical bills.
If your parents are drowning in medical debt and are considering a life preserver, let Debt.com connect you with the right credit counseling professionals to help them.
Telling her to just ignore the bills may not be the best advice, however. A little over half of U.S. states have “filial responsibility” laws that can be used to hold children responsible for their parents’ necessary bills, including medical debt. These laws are not frequently enforced in the type of situation you described, but there have been some high profile cases recently where creditors have pursued adult children for their parent’s debt — especially by nursing homes and similar facilities.
Even if filial responsibility laws don’t come into play, another possibility is that when she passes away, the dialysis provider or a collection agency may try to collect from her estate, which is all of the assets that your sister may own. Therefore, if she has equity in a home or other assets, those may have to go toward paying your sister’s debts, rather than toward any inheritance she hoped to leave for her son.
If your sister is concerned her son will be saddled with debt he can’t afford after she dies, she may want to consult with a consumer bankruptcy attorney to learn more about her rights and responsibilities.
By the way, it’s important for her son to know that if there is no filial responsibility law in the state where his mother resides, his mother’s creditors and debt collectors are not entitled to look to him to pay what she owes after her death. In other words, even if they contact him to demand payment, he is not legally obligated to give them a penny so long as he did not incur any of the debt with his mother, or guarantee payment in writing.