Gephardt: Widow On Hook For Over $66K From Late Husband’s Medical Bills
KEARNS, Utah – When your spouse dies, who pays their debts? Usually, any bills are paid from the estate, including life insurance payments. One Kearns woman was surprised to find her late husband’s bills were put into her name, and the hospital demanded she pay them.
“This Is Not My Bill”
In March 2011, Luonda Davis lost her husband Marvin after he collapsed in their home.
“They were able to revive him but he was brain dead,” Davis said.
During Marvin Davis’ illness, he had racked up some medical bills due to long hospital stays.
After his death, Luonda Davis said most hospitals wrote off the debts. She added her husband did not have an estate with which she could pay creditors.
But his $66,487 bill from the University of Utah Hospital wasn’t written off. Instead, it was transferred into Davis’ name. Davis claims she was never notified. The bill ultimately went to collections, and then to court.
“They said that they served the papers, but I never received them,” she said.
Davis said she found out about the debt when the judgment showed up on her credit.
“I started doing a dispute, trying to get it off my credit report saying, ‘This is not my bill,’” Davis said.
Davis suffered with destroyed credit for seven years, until the debt fell off her credit report. At that point, Davis thought the debt had gone away and she attempted to refinance her home.
“The next thing I know is I’m getting a letter from them saying that there’s a judgment on my record,” she said.
By Utah law, creditors have eight years to collect on a judgment. In Davis’ case, two days before that eight-year statute of limitations expired, the prosecuting attorney filed to renew the judgment, making the debt good for another eight years. The new balance was $78,471.22.
“I’m frustrated. I can’t do it,” Davis said. “I’ve been raising [Marvin’s] three kids and tried to put a roof over everybody’s head.”
That’s when Davis reached out to the KSL Investigators for help.
Renewing Debt And Limitations
We went to Michelle Camp, former president of the Utah Debt Collectors Association. She said extending a debt is perfectly legal and happens frequently if a creditor thinks there’s a chance of getting paid.
“If either maybe some new assets have been discovered and they’ve determined that there’s a way that they can get that money recovered, sometimes on larger debts…then that’s when they would [renew a judgment],” Camp said.
Camp said renewing a judgment can only happen once, meaning a creditor cannot keep renewing the debt forever. The renewal keeps the debt alive for another eight years.
Family Expenses Mean Widows Pay
The law is also on the side of hospitals. In Utah, when someone dies, their medical debt is considered a family expense under the law. Therefore, that debt can be collected from the surviving spouse, even if they signed no agreement to be fiscally responsible for that debt.
Not all hospitals charge widows for their late spouses’ debts. When we reached out to University of Utah Hospital, they said they no longer bill surviving spouses. Last year, the hospital announced it was putting an end to the practice and writing off all outstanding debts that had been transferred to widows.
We reached out to University of Utah Hospital and their debt collector, The Law Offices of Edwin Parry, on Davis’ behalf to find out why her bills hadn’t been written off.
Over the phone, Parry told the KSL Investigators that Davis’ judgment was so old, they didn’t believe it fit in the category the U had asked to have written off. Since our contact, they reached out to the U for guidance and were told to withdraw the renewal, which Parry did.
In an email, the hospital said “they confirmed that the balances for this patient have all been written off,” much to Davis’ relief.
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