Nursing Home Must Pursue Claim Against Resident's Estate Before Suing Spouse Under Necessaries Statute

Ohio's highest court holds that a nursing home pursuing an unpaid bill by a resident who has passed away must first file a claim against the resident's estate before pursuing a claim against the resident's spouse under the state's necessaries statute. Embassy Healthcare v. Bell (Ohio, No. 2018-OHIO-4912, Dec. 12, 2018).

Cora Sue Bell's husband, Robert, resided in a nursing home for a few months before he died, accruing $1,678 in unpaid nursing services.

The nursing home sued Mrs. Bell under Ohio's necessaries statute. The statute requires a married person to pay for a spouse's necessities if the spouse is unable to support him- or herself. Mrs. Bell argued that Mr. Bell could support himself because he had 54 days of Medicare skilled nursing home coverage remaining. The trial court granted summary judgment to Mrs. Bell, ruling that the nursing home was required to pursue a claim against Mr. Bell's estate before pursuing a claim under the necessaries statute. The nursing home appealed, and the court of appeals reversed, ruling that the necessaries statute creates a separate cause of action that is not dependent on pursuing a claim against the estate. Mrs. Bell appealed.

The Ohio Supreme Court reverses, holding that a creditor must "first seek satisfaction of its claim from the assets of the spouse who incurred the debt" before pursuing a claim under the necessaries statute. According to the court, the nursing home's claim arose from its contract with Mr. Bell, and after Mr. Bell died the contractual obligations became the obligations of his estate. One justice dissents, arguing that a plain reading of the necessaries statute does not require that a claim for necessaries first be presented to the estate.

For a discussion of the decision by Ohio law professor Marianna Brown Bettman, click here.

For the full text of this decision, go to:

Did you know that the ElderLawAnswers database now contains summaries of more than 2,000 fully searchable elder law decisions dating back to 1993? To search the database, click here.