Being married to someone obviously means more than monogamy and cohabitation. In some instances, being married can make a person liable for some of that person’s spouse’s financial obligations.
Generally speaking, married people can have very separate lives financially and legally, especially in Ohio, because Ohio is not a community property state.
Thus, in Ohio, most of the time, one person’s financial obligations are not the obligations of that person’s spouse, unless the spouse has “co-signed” or “guaranteed” a particular financial obligation. However, even with strict prenuptial agreements, there are some financial obligations that a spouse picks up simply by being married.
Each person is responsible for his or her own food, housing and medical care. However, if that person is unable to pay for those “necessities” and that person is married, the person’s spouse must pay for those necessities.
And, if someone other than a spouse provides necessities to the person, the spouse is responsible to reimburse for the necessities provided.
The most common scenario that arises in this context is for nursing home care, which is considered necessary medical care under this law. Presume a husband is admitted to a nursing home while having a total of $80,000 of cash and for a variety of reasons will not practically speaking ever be eligible for Medicaid to help pay for that nursing home care. And, let’s presume his wife has several hundred thousand dollars (including a house) in her name.
The husband will pay for his nursing home care from the $80,000, which may cover the first year of his stay in the nursing home. If the husband remains in the nursing home (unless he otherwise can become eligible for institutional Medicaid) beyond the year that he has money for which to pay, the nursing home can technically evict the husband.
However, let’s say that after the husband runs out of money but before the husband is evicted from the nursing home, the husband dies while still owing the nursing home a final $15,000. In this situation, the nursing home is entitled to reimbursement from the wife in the amount of $15,000.
Nonetheless, in this instance, the nursing home must try to recover the money from the husband’s probate estate before demanding money from the wife. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled last week that, in this context, a nursing home cannot recover from the wife unless the nursing home makes a literal application for payment from the deceased husband’s probate estate within six months of the date of the husband’s death.
But what happens if the husband’s probate estate is not even “opened/started” within six months of his death? The Supreme Court has held that the nursing home must attempt to open the estate itself to confirm that the husband has/had no available assets, which is a prerequisite to recovery of the $15,000 from the wife.
Therefore, generally, a person is only responsible for the person’s spouse’s life necessities and only if the spouse is unable to do so himself or herself.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.