Pay Bills

TN man left with thousands of medical bills after losing his wife

Jewell Trent passed away in September 2021. Shortly after her death, her husband received thousands of medical bills.

NEW MARKET, Tenn. – More than a year after the death of his wife, Larry Trent has several thousand dollars in unpaid medical bills.

Larry and Jewell were married for 49 years, a month before turning 50. In September 2021, Larry and Jewell tested positive for COVID-19.

“The injections didn’t work on her because she had kidney disease,” Larry said.

Jewell died in September 2021. Now Larry has stacks of medical bills from his last hospital stay. Under Tennessee law, he is liable, says bankruptcy attorney Bill Maddox.

“You’re not responsible for another generation’s debts,” Maddox said.

This means that in Tennessee, you are not responsible for your parents’ debts, your grandparents’ debts, or your spouse’s debt, with one exception. Spouses are responsible for paying medical bills for each other, according to Maddox.

“The only exception is your spouse’s medical bills,” he said. “It’s called the Necessary Doctrine.”

This court precedent stated that a spouse is responsible for their spouse’s necessary expenses, including medical bills.

“Only medical bills survive a death,” Maddox said.

Maddox recommends people check their credit if their spouse dies, to get a complete picture of what they owed and what they are responsible for.

“I wouldn’t spend your resources just to pay one medical bill only to have four or five more in six months,” Maddox said.

Larry Trent said he was working with Jewell’s insurance company to see if they would pay the medical bills. In the meantime, he said, he would like to remember the life they lived together.

“We had a great life there,” Trent said.

WBIR studies how hospitals bill their patients. Tennessee hospitals are required to publish a list of standard charges for the items and services they provide.

Patients can report surprises in their medical bills. Sometimes they come from mistakes made by hospitals: a procedure that should have been pre-authorized but isn’t, the hospital billed the wrong code, or misclassified a procedure.

If you receive a bill and something is wrong, contact the hospitals and the insurance company. If they don’t help solve your problem, contact us at: [email protected], to see if we can help.

The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance offers mediation, regulates insurance, and can take action when it discovers situations that are unfair to consumers. To file a complaint, they ask you to visit their website or call 1-800-342-4029.