In what order is best to pay Dad's debts after his death?

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 20, 2016
Quahog asked...

My dad entered a rehab facility in 2009 following surgery. He was billed nearly $2000.00 by the facility for the portion of payment not covered by Medicare or his insurance. After his discharge I became his POA. Ten months later he passed away due to his illness. He had no will.

Now his very meager assets are set to enter the process of probate. According to RI statute, the order of payment of creditors is administrative costs first, then burial expenses, then last sickness, then other creditors in that order. His total assets would not even meet the burial cost.

Since the family has contracted with the funeral home for payment, I have been advised by an attorney to pay off the rehab facility debt first with the warning that they will definitely come after me personally for payment.

I have two questions: 1) Must the burial expenses be payed first out of my Dad's estate, even though the family has contracted to pay this? 2) Does the rehab facility have legal grounds to hold me personally liable for the debt that my father accrued during his treatment because I was his POA?

Thanks for the help.

Expert Answers

Answering your questions requires a knowledge of specific Rhode Island statutes, which I do not have. I think you have two options for discovering what Rhode Island law provides regarding your situation: 1) hire a Rhode Island lawyer; 2) learn to do your own legal research and determine the answers yourself. I suggest, indeed urge, that you take the second option. Hiring a lawyer would, of course, be expensive. In contrast, you can do your own legal research for free, or at relatively little cost. What you need is a guide for doing your research. I know an excellent guide for that: It's called "Legal Research: How to Find and Research the Law," by Stephen Elias (Nolo, Berkeley, CA.) You might be able to find a copy at your local library, or a nearby law library. Or you may decide to purchase the book.

Few would describe doing legal research as pure fun, but normal folks can, and many, many have, managed it, often with the aid of Stephen's book. Doing your own legal research here seems far preferable, to me, that either paying a lawyer, or remaining unaware of what your legal situation is.