Are You Responsible For Your Deceased Parentís Nursing Home Bills?
In most states, adult children are not held liable for nursing home bills of their deceased parents, unless the child has agreed to be personally responsible for payment. But more than half of all U.S. states currently have filial responsibility laws on the books which require adult children to care for their parents, if they are financially able to do so, by paying for basic necessities such as food, housing, and health care. Filial responsibility laws typically provide that if the parent is indigent and the adult child has sufficient means to provide financial support, the adult child can be held liable to pay nursing homes and other providers of care to the parent, unless the adult child has a defense or is protected by some other law, such as federal Medicaid law. One type of defense to such liability is the parentís abandonment of the child during a period of the childís minority as defined by state law.
In those states that have filial responsibility statutes, they have been on the books for decades and most of them have never been enforced. In fact in many states, there are no reported cases of enforcement. However, in the past several years nursing homes and other providers in a few states have taken collection action against adult children for bills owed by their parents. In some cases, the adult children refused to pay and were sued, resulting in legal judgments against the children. Pennsylvania is the state which has seen the most aggressive enforcement of filial responsibility laws to date. In 2005, the Pennsylvania state legislature recodified its filial responsibility law, thus reaffirming the liability of adult children to support indigent parents when the child is financially able to do so.
It is not uncommon for long-term care bills to be in the range of several hundred thousand dollars, so a judgment of this magnitude can destroy any savings an adult child has accumulated over his lifetime. A combination of factors has created a crisis situation in long-term care, including recent changes in federal law, a massive increase in the number of elderly Americans who require nursing home care, fewer tax dollars available to fund Medicaid programs, escalating health care costs, and rising deficits in the budgets of most states. If nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other providers of care to seniors cannot get paid by the patient or the government, they will almost certainly look for reimbursement from other sources, including the patientís adult children.
If you receive a bill, demand letter or legal notice from a nursing home, assisted living facility or other provider for your parentís care and do not think you are responsible for the bill, contact an attorney immediately. Donít ignore it or respond to the creditor on your own. Given the dollar amount of most nursing home bills and the potential damage it could do to your finances, it is usually worth spending a few hundred dollars to speak with an attorney to learn your rights.
For more information, refer to our page on Parentís Debts or purchase one of the best-selling books on nursing home issues from our Long Term Care Books page.
How to Protect Yourself From Liability for Your Parentís Nursing Home Bills
1. Learn about options to pay for assisted living and nursing home care. Gather information about what it may cost for your parentís long-term care. 2. Talk with your parent about what steps he or she has taken to pay for long-term care if it is needed. Not all parents wish to discuss their finances with their adult children. Nevertheless, try to be as firm and persistent as possible. If necessary, explain to your parent you are concerned about your own inability to pay for his or her long-term care and that everyone can benefit if you work together on a plan. If your parent indicates he or she may be not have the money to pay for assisted living or a nursing home, discuss options you think your parent should consider. 3. If your parent may be eligible to purchase a long-term care insurance policy, help your parent meet with an agent, submit an application, and obtain quotes. Donít assume your parent is ineligible to purchase such insurance merely because of advanced age. 4. If your parent may need to rely on Medicaid to pay for nursing home care, help your parent consult an elder law attorney about Medicaid planning. Never transfer real estate, bank accounts, or other property from your parent to you or anyone else in an effort to engage in Medicaid planning on your own. You could cause your parent to be disqualified from Medicaid and face personal liability for your parentís nursing home bills. Ensure that all Medicaid planning documents are prepared by a qualified attorney. 5. If your parent needs Medicaid for nursing home care, help your parent apply for Medicaid. Donít wait until your parent has incurred thousands of dollars of nursing home expenses. Make sure your parentís application for Medicaid is timely. 6. Ask your parent about making a living will and durable power of attorney for health care. Discuss what types of medical treatment he or she would like to receive. 7. If you have financial power of attorney for your mother or father, make sure you understand how to sign contracts and other documents as agent for the principal. Do not sign your signature on such documents without properly indicating your status as agent for your parent. 8. If your parent is admitted to a hospital or nursing home, or enters into a contract with an assisted living facility, do not sign any paperwork or make any representations agreeing to be responsible for the bills, unless you wish to accept personal responsibility for your parentís financial obligations. 9. Encourage your parent to talk openly with you about long-term care expenses. Let Mom or Dad know your only objective is to protect the family and avoid any surprises. By being proactive, you can help ensure your parent receives the care he or she needs while protecting your personal finances as well.
Help Your Parent Without Destroying Your Own Finances
In most families, the adult child of an elderly parent wants to do everything possible to ensure his or her parent receives the best medical or nursing home care. Nonetheless, we can only do that which is within our financial means. None of us wants to become so indebted that we become a financial burden on our own children. If your elderly parent requires assisted living or long-term care, it is important to help your parent get the care he or she needs without incurring personal responsibility for the bills if you are not in a position to pay them. Donít confuse the desire to help your parent with burying yourself and your children in a lifetime of debt.