How can I reconcile the debt of my late father?

Onlyson asked...

My father recently passed away and has outstanding medical bills. How do I reconcile this debt of bills? What are my options to reduce the debt?

Expert Answer

Steve Weisman hosts the nationally syndicated radio show A Touch of Grey, heard on more than 50 stations, including WABC in New York City and KRLA in Los Angeles. He is a practicing lawyer specializing in estate planning and is admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court. He's a public speaker and commentator who has appeared on many radio and television shows throughout the country, and he's the legal editor of Talkers magazine, the preeminent trade publication of talk radio. His latest book is The Truth About Avoiding Scams.

Tthe key thing to know is that you, as an individual, have no personal responsibility to pay for your father's final debts.

Final medical bills are a debt of an estate and must be paid out of your father's probate assets before distribution of his estate may be made to the beneficiaries of your father's Will (if he had a Will.) If he did not have a Will, these debts must be paid out of his probate assets before anything can be distributed to you or any other heirs at law.

The first thing you should do is make sure that the bills are accurate. Once you have done this, you should review his medical insurance policies and contact insurers so that any covered amounts will be paid. If there are any amounts that are still owed, these bills become a debt of his estate.

Keep in mind that these debts aren't required to be paid out of assets that are not in his probate estate. For instance, if you were the beneficiary of life insurance on your father's life, you are under no obligation to use that money to pay his bills. Nor are you legally required to pay his medical bills from any joint bank accounts or joint mutual funds or other accounts that you may have owned jointly with your father prior to his death. Those assets pass directly to you or to any other designated joint owners at his death -- although you may consider it a moral obligation to pay his medical bills from any of these non-probate assets. The choice is yours.