As the adult child of aging parents, have you ever wondered what would happen if your parents had to go into a nursing home? It is, of course, accepted and the law that minor children are to be cared for by their parents, but what happens if parents with adult children need care? What happens if parents cannot pay their bills or pay for a nursing home, are the adult children responsible? Close to half of the states (Wisconsin is not one of the states) in the U.S. have filial responsibility laws, which can create a legal obligation of adult children for their parents. Usually little attention is paid to these laws, 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 their parent’s nursing home bill?

In addition, could filial responsibility laws be used to 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 you as an adult child do? First, have a critical discussion with your adult parents regarding their ability to afford a nursing home. Find out if they have long-term care insurance, something they may have elected to obtain as an employment benefit. If they do, it is important for you to have copies of their policy. This is so that if your parents were to suffer a stroke or be in an accident and experience loss of mental capacity, you will know and have a copy of their long-term care policy. Your parents may also have money put aside to cover a nursing home. If this is the case you, as their adult child, should have a way to access these funds, usually via a durable power of attorney or a trust.

In your discussions if you find out your parent does not have insurance or the means to cover a nursing home, it may be necessary to assess whether he or she has Medicaid or what Medicaid planning needs to be done. Medicaid planning would be started in order to make sure your parent is Medicaid eligible, which would go towards covering nursing home expenses.

For right now, nursing homes utilizing filial responsibility laws to force adult children to pay their parent’s nursing home bills looks to be the exception, rather than the norm. These laws, however, remain on the books in many states.

Contact our office to discuss your options if you will be giving or receiving money or other assets this holiday season and anticipate this may impact your Medicaid eligibility. We know this article may raise more questions that it answers. We encourage you to contact us and schedule a meeting with attorney Alan Hougum today.