Who Inherits Medical Debt in Texas? Breaking Down the Rules

When someone passes away in Texas with outstanding medical debt, their surviving loved ones and beneficiaries may worry they’ll inherit this debt. Although it’s easy to understand this concern, it’s also important to know that, under Texas law, unpaid medical debt doesn’t immediately pass on to a spouse or other such family members when a person dies. 

The following overview will explain the basics of who does and doesn’t have to repay medical debt after a loved one’s passing in Texas. However, for more specific advice about your case, it’s wise to consult with a legal expert.

Medical Debt in Texas After a Death: Who a Debt Collector Can Talk To

According to the Federal Trade Commission, after an individual dies without repaying a debt, a debt collector may reach out to the following parties to discuss the debt:

  • The decedent’s surviving spouse
  • Parents, if the decedent was a minor at the time of their passing
  • The decedent’s legal guardian
  • A decedent’s attorney
  • The executor or administrator of the decedent’s estate
  • Any other party with the authorization necessary to repay debts via the decedent’s estate

Although debt collectors can contact the above parties when someone dies with unpaid medical debt, they can’t engage in harassing behavior or such behaviors as:

  • Contacting you between the hours of 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. (unless you grant them permission to do so)
  • Contacting you at your place of work if you’ve already instructed them that you may not receive phone calls at work
  • Continuing to contact you through text message or email if they have done so in the past and you have requested that they stop

Be aware you may not have to pay the medical debt of a deceased loved one yourself. However, various factors can affect how and if this debt may be paid.

Paying Medical Debt After a Death in Texas: Essential Information

The medical debt someone may incur in Texas doesn’t merely disappear if they pass before paying it. In these circumstances, a debt collector or other such party may make a claim against the decedent’s estate. If the claim is valid, the party responsible for managing the decedent’s estate should pay the debt via the estate’s funds or assets. This may require selling off certain property.

Sometimes, when a person in Texas passes away with unpaid medical debt, they don’t leave behind an estate sufficient to cover the debt. Except in specific circumstances (which the following section of this overview describes), no one has to pay the debt when this happens. Per Texas law, the debt can remain unpaid.

What About Community Property in Texas?

Texas is a community property state. According to Texas law, property someone acquires during a marriage is generally property that both spouses jointly own. An article in the Texas Bar Journal addresses how this causes some confusion regarding the type of unpaid debts.

Texas may be a community property state, but that doesn’t mean it’s always a community debt state. If someone incurs medical debt in Texas, that debt doesn’t automatically become debt they share with spouses or children after their death.

When You Might Inherit Medical Debt in Texas

Again, in some scenarios, a surviving loved one of a person who passed away with unpaid medical debt in Texas might inherit the debt and thus need to repay it. According to the Federal Trade Commission, this can happen if, for example, a party co-signed the medical debt. Or, if you are responsible for managing the decedent’s estate, and you failed to adhere to relevant state laws, you might be “on the hook” for the debt if you’ve already depleted the funds and assets from the decedent’s estate.

However, it’s also worth noting that under Texas Property Code 42.002a, there are some types of property that the decedent’s estate might consist of that beneficiaries may keep, even if selling the property could yield sufficient funds to repay an outstanding debt. There is no legal requirement forcing the beneficiaries of an estate to sell this property in order to pay unpaid medical bills.

Such an example highlights one of the many ways navigating the issue of unpaid medical debt after a loved one’s passing can be complex in Texas. If you’ve recently lost a loved one and debt collectors are reaching out to you to discuss their medical debt, strongly consider reviewing your case with an attorney. They can help you better understand your legal options.

Sarah Ross