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Question: Am I responsible for my wife’s medical bills after she passed? My wife recently passed and I have a court date to set up payments for hospital bills for my wife dating back to 2006.

Generally, yes. There is a Family Expense Act in Illinois which makes one spouse liable for family expenses of the other. Non-elective medical care would generally qualify.

There is an exception. Under federal law, one spouse has the right to contract based on his/her credit alone, and if that is done federal law displaces state law. An attorney would have to review any contracts to advise you with respect to the hospital and doctor bills.

On the other hand, medical bills are very difficult to collect. They are often filled with errors and overcharges. Send a letter disputing the debt, requesting a detailed itemization of the bills, and requesting a copy of the medical records, with a copy to each provider. Go through the bills and compare them to the records and see if there are any discrepancies. Chances are there will be some, along with charges for items or services not furnished and outlandish items (e.g., $100 for an aspirin). The provider or collector has to prove that the bills are accurate, the services are medically necessary, and the reasonable value of the services. The collector may become more reasonable when it sees you will not just accept the charges at face value.

Also, check and see if you qualify for charity care/ writeoffs. Illinois hospitals are required to provide same in exchange for their tax exemptions.

Finally, the statute of limitations may be 5 years, depending on what if anything you signed. (If you signed nothing and your only liability is under the Family Expense Act, it is five years.) The five years runs from breach and is restarted by payments. A continual course of treatment on account may prevent it from running. Again, the advice of an attorney is needed.

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