Is a Florida Estate Required to Pay Final Medical Expenses Without Proper Documentation?
It is not uncommon for a person to die leaving several outstanding bills or debts, including their final medical expenses. One of the key tasks of probate administration is to ensure any valid debts are paid using the available resources of the decedent’s estate. Of course, the personal representative is not required to pay any claim purely on the demand of the claimant, even if it is a family member. Rather, the personal representative has the right to seek proper documentation of the alleged debt, and if necessary take appropriate legal action to safeguard the estate’s interests.
Court Rejects Widow’s Claim for Additional Reimbursement of Late Husband’s Care Bill
A recent decision from the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal, Negedly v. Smith, illustrates the types of disputes that may arise over a decedent’s debts. This case involves a Volusia County man who passed away in 2013 without leaving a will. An estate was opened in 2015.
Prior to the decedent’s passing, his wife entered into a payment agreement with a rehabilitation center where he was staying. After his death, the rehabilitation center sued the widow for the balance of his unpaid medical expenses. The center eventually settled its claim with the widow for $15,000. As part of the settlement, the center assigned the total value of its claim for unpaid medical bills to the widow.
The widow, in turn, filed a claim with the personal representative appointed to oversee her late husband’s estate, in which she demanded payment for the full amount of the medical bills. The personal representative denied the claim. The matter proceeded to a probate judge, who sided with the widow and ordered the estate to pay the full amount.
The Fifth District reversed the judge’s decision, however, because it was not “supported by competent, substantial evidence.” The appeals court explained that the probate judge had “relied on the rehabilitation center’s billing history, which had not been admitted into evidence.” Indeed, the only evidence presented was the widow’s own testimony regarding the fact she settled with the rehabilitation center for $15,000. In other words, the widow could only prove she was entitled to reimbursement for $15,000, and no the “full amount” of what her late husband allegedly owed the center. The Fifth District therefore modified the probate court’s award to limit the widow’s award to $15,000.
Speak with a Lee County, Florida, Probate Attorney Today
If you are the personal representative of an estate, you have every right–and obligation–to ensure any claim from a creditor is fully and properly documented before authorizing payment. At the same time, you need to be aware of the laws governing the priority of certain creditors so that you do not improperly favor certain creditors over others.
An experienced Fort Myers probate administration lawyer can advise you on this and many other topics. Contact the Kuhn Law Firm, P.A., at 239-333-4529 today if you are involved in the administration of a probate estate and need assistance.