Legalities

Legalities, a weekly column that appears in the Help section of the Southern Illinoisan, is a free service of the Self Help Legal Center. You can visit the Southern Illinoisan website at: http://www.southernillinoisan.com

Q: We have a daughter who is in college. She is 19. To save money, we put our daughter on our health insurance plan as a dependent. Last semester, she was under a lot of stress so we took her to a doctor for counseling. When we were filling out the paperwork, we made sure not to sign anything saying that we would pay for the services but we did tell the doctor that she was covered under our insurance plan. Well, the insurance didn't cover all of the expenses and the doctor is now suing us for the remainder. Since our daughter is not a minor, we don't think that we are liable. Are we? Should we remove her from our insurance policy?

A: Whether you are liable for your daughter's bill really depends on what you signed and what you said, not whether she was on your insurance policy.

Under a law called the Family Expense statute, parents can be held liable for their child's expenses. The courts of Illinois have held that medical expenses (like counseling) are family expenses under the statute. So, if your child was under 18, you probably would be liable for your child's expenses regardless of what you had signed because of this law.

However, the courts of Illinois have also held that a parent's responsibility under the Family Expense statute ends when the child is emancipated or reaches the age of majority (18).

Consequently, unless you signed something that indicated that you would be liable for any expenses incurred or said something like "We will take care of this" or "send me the bill," you should not be liable for your child's bill.

Having your adult child on your health insurance policy is not (by itself) a statement that you are assuming liability for his/her medical expenses, so you don't need to remove your daughter from your insurance policy to avoid being held liable for her medical bills.