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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Am I responsible for my dead spouse’s medical bills?

New York and New Jersey estate planning encompasses far more than just a last will and testament (more commonly referred to simply as a “will”). Many people know that a will is a document used to designate legal guardians for minor children in the event the maker (or testator) dies while the children are still minors and that it also designates the beneficiaries that the testator would like to leave their property to after they are gone. 

But a truly comprehensive estate plan includes other important additional documents including but not limited to documents that plan for incapacity rather than death—such as durable powers of attorney and health care proxies. 

Powers of attorney allow people to appoint trusted family or friends to handle their medical and/or financial affairs in the event they become incapacitated and are to handle their own medical or financial decisions. Living wills allow the maker to designate what medical treatment they do or do not want to have in the event they are unable to express their wishes as a result of an injury, accident, or other debilitating disease condition. Some of the decisions in a living will involve do not resuscitate orders, feeding tubes and hydration, artificial respiration, antibiotics administration, organ donation, and other typical end of life decisions. 

While state laws differ, another important reason to consult an estate planning attorney involves the use of Medicaid planning, Living Trusts, and/or other legal tools that may shield your assets from creditors and protect your and your loved ones’ financial security in the event you require long-term care in a nursing facility in the future. 

It is not uncommon for a spouse to die accruing substantial medical expenses from a final illness leaving behind a grieving surviving spouse who is then hounded by hospitals, doctors, and other creditors attempting to collect that debt. Where you live, what documents you may have signed, how your estate plan is structured and other factors will determine who creditors can go after.

If you need assistance with an initial estate plan or would like to modify an existing one, Merlino & Gonzalez can help you. Contact us today to schedule a consultation. 

From our offices in Staten Island, New York, and East Brunswick, New Jersey, we represent clients in both states in all aspects of estate planning and real estate law. 



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