Is a surviving spouse responsible for a deceased spouse’s debts in Utah?

Common question after the death of a loved one

When a client’s spouse passes away we are frequently asked whether or not our client is liable for their spouse’s debts. This article will provide a quick overview of a Utah law more people should be familiar with.

Utah’s Family Purpose Law

Generally, a husband or wife is not personally liable for the contracts or debts of the other spouse. However, Utah adopted the Family Expense Statute in 1898. This law was updated as recently as May 12, 2015 (U.C.A. 30-2-9). It states “[t]he expenses of the family and the education of the children are chargeable upon the property of both spouses or either of them separately, for which expenses they may be sued jointly or separately.” The law further provides that “…family expenses are considered expenses incurred that benefit and promote the family unit.”

What are family expenses?

Family expenses include bills for:

  • food
  • clothing
  • shelter
  • medical care
  • dental care

This part of Utah law allows creditors to collect family expenses from a surviving spouse regardless of which spouse signed the agreement or incurred the debt. 

Marriage

It is common for marriages occur later in life. Clients in this situation are more often surprised a spouse could be responsible for the expenses of the other. Medical expenses seem to be the most surprising. However, based upon this Utah statute, the answer is yes–the surviving spouse is responsible.

Two main factors come into play when deciding if the surviving spouse is liable in this situation:

  1. Does the debt qualify as a “necessary family expense”?; and
  2. Was the family acting as a family unit and living together when the debt was incurred?

Some nuances may affect liability, so you should consult an attorney about your specific situation. However, generally speaking, a surviving spouse is responsible for the family expenses of a deceased spouse. 

Happy to help

ProvenLaw is a legal group serving St. George and the surrounding areas of Utah and Arizona.  Our team offers unmatched expertise, professional client service, and peace of mind. We provide services to assist with legal needs such as elder planning, estate planning, and drafting a power of attorney, trust, and wills. 

If you’re looking for quality assistance in legal planning, contact us today for a free 30-minute consultation to learn how we can assist you.