Are You Responsible to Pay your Parent’s NursingAre You Responsible to Pay your Parent's Nursing Home Bill? Home Bill?

If you have aging parents, these headlines can deprive you of sleep: “Paying for Mom: Little-Known Laws Force Families to Fund Parents’ Care,” “Son Hit with Aging Parent’s $93K Nursing Home Bill,” and more about adult children having to pay for their parents’ care. Can you really be forced to pay your parents’ bills? Sometimes the answer is yes. Here’s what you need to know.

Financial responsibility for parents varies by state

Laws in 29 states and Puerto Rico hold adult children responsible for the cost of their parents’ care if the parents are unable to pay. To see if you live in a so-called “filial support” state, check this Forbes chart. If your state isn’t on your list, your responsibilities are a matter of your conscience and your ability to help.

If your state does have such a law, you need to understand exactly what it says. Specifics vary by state. For example, in some states adult children are only required to help with certain types of care. In others there are exceptions for adult children who can’t afford to pay. You also need to make sure your parents have a plan to cover as many of their long-term care costs as possible.

New enforcement of a very old law

Experts say care providers usually don’t use these laws to recover payments. AARP points out that the laws have been around for centuries – England enacted the law that inspired them in 1601 – and only a few cases have made news in recent years.

Those few cases bear watching, though, for two reasons. One, eldercare experts say they may mark a new willingness among nursing homes to use the laws to collect debts. Two, residents of South Dakota and Pennsylvania, where several cases have been filed in the past few years, need to pay close attention to how their state courts handle these lawsuits. In 2012, the son of a woman named Maryann Pittas lost a lawsuit brought by Pittas’ former nursing home, which was owed close to $93,000 for her care. The state superior court ruled for the nursing home “based on the son’s ability to pay.”

Benefit programs and insurance can help

The best defense against finding yourself responsible for your parents’ nursing home bills is also the best defense against financial woes for your parents as they age – good planning. In particular:

  • Don’t assume Medicare will pay for long-term care. In the vast majority of situations, it won’t.
  • If your parents have a long-term care insurance policy, make sure the premiums are paid on time.
  • Research Medicaid and the VA’s Aid & Attendance program carefully to make sure your parents apply for all the long-term care benefits they’re entitled to.
  • Keep the lines of communication open with your parents’ caregivers.

We have more information for you about paying for long-term care. You can also contact your Area Agency on Aging for information on local resources.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

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