By Paul Lorrah
Could you be sued for your parents' unpaid long term care bills?
Imagine this: One day in your mail you find a letter from a law firm informing you that you need to pay $80,000 to cover the cost of your father’s recent nursing home stay, or the care facility will sue you.
Depending on your parents’ state of residence, this could be a possibility.
If your parents live in one of 29 states or Puerto Rico that has filial responsibility laws on the books, under certain circumstances, children can be held legally responsible for the bills incurred for parents care, such as when your parents are ailing and without sufficient financial resources to take care of themselves. In many states, these statutes have been largely ignored, however, nursing homes in Pennsylvania have filed numerous lawsuits against the grown children of patients with unpaid bills under a little-known law that requires adult children to support destitute parents. Similar cases have also arisen in South Dakota and Connecticut.
In most cases, the law is used to secure financial support from adult children who "overreached" in dipping into their parents' finances, such as a 2003 case of a daughter who "helped herself to her mother's accounts, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars" but the laws are by no means limited to those cases.
States that have filial support laws
Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland,
Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio,
Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and
With long-term care costs on the rise and funding sources under pressure, nursing homes and other health care providers may have increasing incentive to seek to use the courts to compel children to either help a parent financially or be at risk for covering the cost of his or her care.
Filial support laws differ from state to state., some states’ statutes impose criminal sanctions for failure to support one’s parent. Massachusetts imposes a fine or imprisonment for not more than one year or both4, while in North Carolina, the person would be found guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor on the first offense.5 In those states where you could be held civilly responsible, a judgment against you could result in your wages being garnished or liens being placed against your property.
What can children do?
It's all based on knowledge and ability. Be sure that you and your parents have the proper legal documents in place such as a valid financial Power of Attorney with a family member that can be trusted. When an aging parent is in need of assistance it's time to know your parents financial circumstances. Don't wait till they are in need of a facility to begin this step. Knowing your what your parents assets are and the value of their assets will allow you to understand what type of care they can afford and for how long.
Seek Medicaid Coverage
Medicaid is a government program that is part of Social Security that will pay the nursing care bills of those that qualify financially. Contact a Medicaid specialist to understand your options for applying for Medicaid. Contact Medicaid Plus, P.C or a qualified Elder Law Attorney. [here's a tip, seek the advice from an expert that also handles the application process and not just provides planning services], these individuals have experience in working directly with the caseworkers and will know more about the application process and what it takes to get an approval.
When should we consider Medicaid?
We generally recommend 1 year before you will actually need the benefits.
If you are placing an aging parent into a facuility setting [skilled nursing or assisted living] and your parents don't initially have enough to cover at least 1 year of those costs or If an aging parent is currently in a facility and has less than 1 year left in their finances, contact us to begin the Medicaid process.
This will allow you to know what your options are as well as discuss if your parents have any potential issues with eligibility that may need to be addressed [such as transfers of a home, have they established a trust in the past 5 years, have they given any money to family members, and any other issues that are part of Medicaid's 5 year look back period].
The earlier that you get started the easier it will be to overcome any potential issues as well as the possiblity that if your parent is in a facility that does not accept Medicaid, they wil have tomove and it may take some time to locate and transfer them to a new facility that meets their needs.
Securing a Medicaid approval will ensure that the facility will continue to be paid even when your parents' funds have been spent. It's important that the facility gets paid because without them we will have no place to receive the care that we need.
Questions about long term care costs? Contact us today 855.471.6771
1 Health Care & Ret. Corp. of Am. v. Pittas, 2012 PA Super 96, 46 A.3d 719, 723 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2012), reargument denied (July 18, 2012), appeal denied, 63 A.3d 1248 (Pa. 2013)
2 Va. Code Ann. §40-6-301
3 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Section 4603(a)(1)(ii)
4 Mass. Gen Laws ch. 273Section 20
5 N.C. Gen. Stat. Section 14-326.1