Are you watching as your aging parents seem to be getting frailer or less able to take care of themselves? Have you had any conversations at all about whether they may need to move into a nursing home? As part of the conversation, has there been any discussion as to how a nursing home would be paid for? In fact, were you aware of the possibility of adult children being responsible for the debts of their parents? While most of us are familiar with the concept of parents being held legally responsible for the action and debts of their minor children, we are unaware of adult children being responsible for the bills of their parents.
You should know that almost half of the states in the U.S. have filial responsibility laws, which can create a legal obligation of adult children for their parents. There seems to be little attention paid to these laws right now, but it may be that when a parent is placed in a nursing home these laws may have the potential to be used. Can filial responsibility laws make adult children legally responsible to pay the nursing home bill of their parents?
In addition, filial responsibility laws may obligate adult children to cover the cost of their parents’ food, clothing, shelter and medical expenses when the parents themselves cannot afford to do so. In recent years, some states have seen these laws applied in a novel way to obtain judgments against adult children for the bills incurred by their parents in a nursing home. With the astronomical cost of nursing homes, this may be a legal risk adult children cannot afford to ignore.
What can adult children do? Begin now to have a critical discussion with your parents regarding their ability to afford a nursing home. Find out whether they have long-term care insurance, something they may have elected to obtain as an employment benefit. If this is the case, it is important for you to a copy of the policy. If your parent were to suffer a stroke and experience loss of mental capacity, there may be a real possibility of no one ever learning of the long-term care policy. You should find out whether your parents have money put aside to cover nursing home costs. If this is the case you, as the adult child, should have a way to access these funds, for example via a durable power of attorney or a trust.
If your parents do not have insurance or the means to cover a nursing home, it may be necessary to assess whether they have Medicaid or need Medicaid planning. Make an appointment as soon as possible with an experienced Florida elder law attorney in order to begin the process to make your parents Medicaid eligible, which would go towards covering their nursing home expenses.
Finally, as of now, nursing homes utilizing filial responsibility laws to force adult children to pay the nursing home bills of their parents looks to be the exception, rather than the norm. These laws, however, remain on the books in many states.
We know this article may raise more questions than it answers. The experienced team of attorneys here at Hemness Faller, The Law Office formerly known as Emma Hemness, P.A., are here for you and your family and we want to be YOUR estate planning and elder law attorneys. After all, we are ordinary people, providing extraordinary guidance backed by years of experience and advocacy for the vulnerable citizens in our community. We encourage you to contact us and schedule a meeting with us.