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Nursing home can’t collect from estate under doctrine of necessaries

June 27, 2013

A Connersville nursing home can’t seek to collect on expenses for a patient after her death from the estate of her husband under the doctrine of necessaries, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled, because the facility didn’t first seek to collect from the patient.

Marianne Combs, a Medicaid patient, lived at Hickory Creek, where she was admitted by her daughter. Combs also accrued a private account balance of nearly $6,000. When she died, no estate was opened for Combs and the nursing home did not open a creditor’s estate in order to preserve its claim.

Instead, Hickory Creek filed a claim for the balance against Comb’s husband, and later his estate when he died, based on the doctrine of necessaries. The trial court denied the claim.

Under the doctrine, each spouse is primarily liable for his or her debts, but when unable to satisfy his or her own necessary expenses, the law will impose limited secondary liability upon the financially superior spouse. The doctrine arose from a time when married women were nearly completely dependent on their husbands, although as the years have gone on, the courts have found the doctrine applies in a gender-neutral manner.

Allowing a creditor to first pursue a non-contracting spouse erodes the concept of secondary liability, the appeals court noted. It rejected Hickory Creek’s claim that it determined that Combs had no assets, so it was justified in not opening an estate just “for the sake of preserving its claim.”

“Hickory Creek was first required to file a claim against Marianne to determine whether she was unable to satisfy her obligations. And because Marianne had passed away and no estate was opened for her, this meant that Hickory Creek, as a creditor, should have opened an estate for her, which it was permitted to do as an interested person. However, Hickory Creek did not do so. And now, it cannot do so because the time has passed,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote in Hickory Creek at Connersville v. Estate of Otto K. Combs, 21A04-1211-ES-600.

 

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