What is a wife responsible for when her husband dies.

Asked about 5 years ago - Springfield, IL

husband dies and he has credit cards in his name alone and his medical bills. is she responsible for them.

Attorney answers (1)

  1. Thomas Robert Siegel

    Contributor Level 11

    Answered . Generally speaking, a person is liable for his or her own debts. It is important to remember that a deceased person's estate may be liable for the decedent's debts. Obviously then, if the wife is the executor, she may have some obligations with respect to the creditor. However, a wife is not automatically personally liable for the debts of a spouse in Illinois.

    It is important to bear in mind the Illinois Family Expense Act when asking such a question. Please read the following answer posted here:

    http://www.illinoislegalaid.org/index.cfm?fusea...

    Answer
    Whether you’re liable depends on whether what your husband bought is a “family expense” under Illinois law. If it is, you’re liable. If it’s not, you’re not, and the store is liable to you for any attorney fees and court costs you incur.

    Generally speaking, it takes some kind of agreement to make you liable for a debt. The best proof of an agreement is something in writing that you signed. But proof can also be based on what you say or do if it indicates your willingness to pay.

    Sometimes liability can be based on a statute. The Illinois Family Expense Act makes spouses jointly liable for “the expenses of the family and of the education of the children.” The law presumes that both spouses agree to pay for family expenses.

    Unfortunately, the law doesn’t explain what a family expense is. As one case says, the term “escapes precise definition.” Back in 1896, the Illinois Supreme Court said that something is a family expense “if it conduces, in any substantial manner, to the welfare of the family generally.” The court decisions since then haven’t really gotten more specific.

    At any rate, here’s what Illinois Appellate Courts have said are family expenses: medical bills, funeral bills, clothing, jewelry (sometimes), rent for the family apartment, carpeting for the family home, and wages for a domestic servant.

    One thing that is not a family expense is borrowed money, even if the money is spent on what would otherwise be a family expense. In a recent case, the Appellate Court said a wife wasn’t liable for a $150,000 bank loan her husband had taken out in his name just before he died. Pure money debts, the court said, are different from debts for goods and services.

    Family expenses require a family, which is at least a husband and wife. Some cases say separated spouses aren’t families, so that one spouse isn’t liable for personal debts the other spouse runs up after separating. Divorced spouses, on the other hand, can still be liable under the Family Expense Act for their minor children’s medical expenses.

    A judge or jury will have to decide if your husband’s debt is a family expense. If it’s not, the law says whoever filed the suit must pay your attorney fees and court costs. And if it’s not a family expense, nothing about the debt should show up on your credit report.

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