Q: My sister and I jointly own the house in which we both live. Can doctors and hospitals put liens on the house for bills?
She has a medical problem which may become expensive and is not fully insured. Is my equity (and hers) vulnerable, even if they wait until the sale of the house?
A: If health care providers file suit and obtain a judgment against your sister, the judgment becomes a lien on any real property owned by your sister in the county where the judgment was entered. Generally, claims of creditors will attach only to the debtor's interest in the property, not to the co-owner's interest in the property. If you and your sister own the home with rights of survivorship, and she survives you, then the entire equity, minus a statutory homestead exemption, may be subject to creditors' claims. If you survive her, then the creditors' claims to the real property are extinguished. If you do not own the property with rights of survivorship, then the claims of your sister's creditors will still attach to her undivided one-half interest in the property. There are legitimate ways to preserve assets in the face of possible future claims, so you should consult with an attorney.
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