Twenty-nine states have “filial support laws.” These laws can be used to make adult children responsible for their parents’ unpaid bills. While few states use the law, this is starting to change. As states and long-term care providers within those states find it more and more difficult to wring money from stressed Medicaid programs, they are turning to the law as a way to enforce bill payment.
Pennsylvania Becomes Aggressive
In Pennsylvania, adult children may become liable when parents are considered “indigent,” and the adult child has the assets to pay the bill. Nursing homes are using the law to motivate children to collect financial information for parents who can no longer do for themselves. They also want to use the law to force children to disclose any parental assets that have been transferred to them.
In May 2012, for the first time, a Pennsylvania court of appeals imposed a major financial liability on the child for the payment of parental long-term care, even though the child was not responsible for the debt. In many states, the filial-support law does not require lack of cooperation or asset shielding by the children in order to make a case. The judge can determine that the children have the means to pay the bill and must do so.
Prevent Disaster by Planning Ahead
Elder-law attorneys suggest buying a long-term care insurance while parents are healthy. If the cost of the policy is too much, an alternative is to build an in-law unit that can be rented out until it is needed. Of course this does nothing to spare the adult child from the actual act of caregiving. Another alternative is to buy life insurance and convert it to an Assurance Benefit if funds are needed while the parent is living.
It is important to prevent a gap to form between public and private payments. This gap could later be used as the basis for a claim against family members.
If you do get into trouble with Medicaid issues, get help from an expert. Consult with an attorney who specializes in elder-law. You can find help through the following resources:
- Naela.org (National Association of Elder Law Attorneys)