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Spousal Liability for Nursing Home bills

Published on January 9th, 2010

Cape Cod Today had an article posted by attorney Bruce Bierhans about the recent decision involving a nursing home suing the wife of a resdient for bills including making her sell her house to pay for his bills.  I don’t believe this decision will stand.  Hopefully, the appeals court will get it right.

A Superior Court judge has arbitrarily ruled that a widow is responsible for her deceased husband’s nursing home bills…and that her home, in which the husband never had an ownership interest, could be attached to satisfy the debt. The name of the case is East Longmeadow Management Systems, Inc v. Wilson.  The bill in the amount of $45,243. The wife had never signed a contract accepting financial responsibility for the services provided.

The judge had to reconcile two seemingly inconsistent statutes. A 1974 statute provided that "a married woman shall not be liable for her husbands debts… but a married woman shall be jointly liabe for her husband’s debts, to the amount of $100… for "necessaries" furnished with her knowledge or consent…" Another statute, passed in 1979 provides that "both spouses shall be jointly or seperately liable for debts incurred on account of "necessaries" furnished to either spouse". Earlier case law had held that medical and hospital bills could be "necessaries."

The court then applied the doctrine of "implied repeal" and found the 1974 statute to be inconsistent with the 1979 statute and held that the 1979 statute was applicable. She found in favor of the nursing home. 

Attorney Bierhans previously posted about the case we recently tried in which the nursing home went after the house that the parents had conveyed to the children over three years before the nursing home admission. We prevailed at trial, but the case is now on Appeal by the nursing home. As you can see, nursing homes are becoming increasingly aggressive in their collection efforts. For my readers, as well as estate planning attorneys; these legal developments require careful consideration!
 

Joe Pioletti
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