Will power of attorney alleviate me from my husband's medical bills after his death?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

My husband has cancer and we are getting a lot of medical/hospital bills. Should I get a power of attorney so that I will not be liable for all of these medical bills and expenses if anything was to happen to him?

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

Finalizing a power of attorney in which your husband names you as his agent may be a good idea, but it will not shield you from liability for those medical bills. A medical power of attorney simply allows a person to designate another as being responsible for directing or supervising medical care if he or she becomes unable to voice those opinions.

Whether you will be personally liable for covering your husband's medical bills depends on a number of facts: where you live, the type of insurance he has, and whether he has designated someone else as the "responsible party" for those bills.

Under the laws of many states, a spouse is responsible for paying any of the couple's "family expenses" or "necessary expenses ”along with expenses that the spouse agreed to in writing or ordered for the other spouse. And medical bills often fall within these definitions.

To get some clarity in your particular situation contact representatives of your health insurance, who should be able to piece together how your particular policy works with your local law.

Some additional words of caution: Triplecheck every bill before you pay a penny"”and if anything seems unclear, ask for additional documentation before paying. A recent study revealed the scary statistic that about 90% of hospital bills contain errors, mostly in the hospital or doctor's favor. But may people pay the bills without question or documentation, especially since most medical providers are quite aggressive about coming after those they target to pay.

But even they can't wring money where there's none to be had. And the law protects Social Security benefits from being taken to cover this medical debt.

These days, it is not uncommon for people to need time and help in paying medical bills. Some doctors and hospitals have their own programs in place that provide this help, or can put you in contact with outside programs that can help pay the bills. These programs may significantly lower the total amount of a bill. Also, some medical providers offer payment plans, which can stretch out payment of bills over time at interest rates well below market.

To find out more about these possibilities, contact the hospital's patient representative or ombudsman or the doctor's billing agent.