Blog Post

Are You Responsible for Your Deceased Spouse’s Medical Bills?

Ann H. Larkin
| ,

After the death of a spouse, the surviving spouse will inevitably receive bills from hospitals and rehabilitation facilities. Typically, these bills are sent in the name of the deceased spouse. Are you, as the surviving spouse, obligated to pay them?

The general rule in Virginia is that you are not responsible for your spouse’s personal debts. Furthermore, assets owned by a surviving spouse due to a right of survivorship are not subject to claims by creditors for debts owed by the deceased spouse. However, if a spouse signs a contract agreeing to pay for medical treatment provided to his or her spouse – often called a personal guaranty – the surviving spouse is responsible for paying the medical bills.

Virginia recognizes the common law “doctrine of necessaries,” which provides that, even if a spouse does not agree in writing to pay his or her spouse’s medical bills, an implied contract is created requiring a spouse to pay for “necessary” medical services provided for the other, unless the spouses are living separate and apart. Prior to July 1, 2023, this meant that, even if a surviving spouse did not agree in writing to pay his or her spouse’s medical bills, the spouse would be responsible for payment of any unpaid bills for necessary medical services after the death of the patient spouse. However, a statutory modification of the doctrine of necessaries, effective July 1, 2023, now terminates this spousal responsibility for payment upon the death of the spouse who received the medical care. While spouses continue to have joint and several liability for payment of necessary medical expenses while both spouses are living, the surviving spouse is no longer personally responsible for the payment of necessary medical care expenses after the death of the patient spouse. See Va. Code § 55.1-202.

It is not clear whether hospice care is covered by the doctrine of necessaries. If your spouse is being treated by physicians and nurses and receives medication or other palliative care at a rehabilitation facility, a strong argument can be made that the treatment is medically “necessary,” and that the non-patient spouse is responsible for payment for that care while the patient spouse is living. In any case, after the patient spouse dies, the surviving spouse’s responsibility to pay the hospice expenses is extinguished.

Similarly, prior to July 1, 2023, a spouse was personally responsible for the payment of “emergency” medical care provided to his or her spouse, which was defined as care provided during an initial emergency admission in order to preserve the patient’s life or health. However, the section of the Virginia Code that created this spousal liability, § 8.01-220.2, was repealed, effective July 1, 2023.

It is important to remember that, even though a surviving spouse is no longer required to use his or her own funds to pay a deceased spouse’s medical bills, medical providers can still seek recovery from the deceased spouse’s estate. Assets that are owned by spouses as tenants by the entirety or jointly with right of survivorship pass to the surviving spouse by operation of law at the death of the first spouse, and are not considered part of the deceased spouse’s estate. However, assets that were owned solely by the deceased spouse at the time of his or her death, and that were not designated as “payable on death” (POD) or “transfer on death” (TOD) to the surviving spouse, could be subject to recovery by medical providers for the payment of unpaid medical bills after the death of the patient spouse.

Whether or not you could be responsible for paying your spouse’s medical debts is heavily dependent on the particular facts surrounding your spouse’s care. While this article provides a general explanation of the law, it is always recommended that you consult with an experienced attorney for specific legal advice.

Ann headshot

Written By Ann H. Larkin


Ann H. Larkin is a Shareholder at Midgett Preti Olansen. She focuses her practice on estate planning, estate and trust administration, special needs planning and guardianship and conservatorship matters. Ms. Larkin is certified by the Virginia Supreme Court as a guardian ad litem for incapacitated adults.

Our Blog

Latest Resource Articles

The materials on this website were prepared by Midgett Preti Olansen PC. They are for informational purposes only. They are not intended to constitute, nor do they constitute, legal advice. Neither use of this website, nor an initial call or communication to an attorney is intended to create or creates an attorney-client relationship. The only way to become a Midgett Preti Olansen PC client is through mutual agreement. Do not act on any information on this website without first seeking professional advice.