A: Would you get medical advice from your car mechanic? Or have a plumber do your dental work?
If the answer is no, then do not look to a collection agency to give you proper legal advice. They lie frequently because they want paid.
The answer to your question is "it depends." I am not licensed in Tennessee so you need to discuss this with a Tennessee attorney. When did your wife die? Did she have a will? Was an estate ever probated for her? If not, why not? Was it because there were insufficient assets to justify probate? Can an estate still be probated or is it too late?
If an estate can be probated then you need to pursue with a probate attorney. In probate, the estate for your deceased wife is liable for her medical debts and the estate would have to pay the bill.
If probate is not on the table, then you need to talk with a lawyer who specializes in collection defense of debt. Some states have a rule called the doctrine of necessaries. What the rule says is that if a person incurs medical expenses and does not pay, then his or her spouse then becomes responsible. So you need to figure out if you are liable under the doctrine of necessaries. If you are, then you need to figure out when the medical expenses were incurred and what the statute of limitations would be for your state. If the statute has expired, then you no longer would have a legal duty to even pay.
Finally, if you are on Social Security and do not work and have no other significant assets which would be at risk if a judgment was entered against you, then consider not paying at all. What can the collection agency do to you if all your assets are exempt? Social Security generally cannot be garnished and the creditor would need to get a judgment.
You need to confirm your situation with the attorney, but perhaps for a reasonable fee the attorney would be willing to send the debt collector a letter on your behalf explaining that you are living on a fixed income that cannot be garnished and you have no other assets and that the collector should simply write off the debt.
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