When marriage means medical bills

Q: My fiancé, Alan, recently had a heart attack. If we go ahead with the wedding, he will be covered by my health insurance (he has none), but I’ll become liable for all his current medical bills. What should I do?

A: Like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, you’ve been misinformed. Individuals are not legally liable for debts their spouses incurred before they were married. As a practical matter, though, those bills do indeed come with your fiancé. The fact that you’re not personally on the hook doesn’t mean that, as a couple, you won’t have to figure out how you’re going to pay them off.

We understand why you’re reluctant to put yourself in this kind of hole. But before his heart attack, Alan was the man you were committed to spending the rest of your life with, and now he really needs you. Are you obligated to marry him? No. But you do have a big-time moral obligation to help the guy out.
Questions? Email Money Magazine’s ethicists – authors of “Isn’t It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check?” (Free Press) – at

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