While many may be familiar with the concept of parents being held legally responsible for the action and debts of their minor children, were you aware of the possibility of adult children being responsible for the debts of their parents? Several states in the U.S. have filial responsibility laws, which can create a legal obligation of adult children for their parents. While little attention may be paid to these laws, it may be that when a parent is placed in a nursing home these laws may have the potential to have some real teeth. Can filial responsibility laws make adult children legally responsible to pay their parent’s nursing home bill?  

Furthermore, 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. 

One of the first steps in minimizing such a risk may be having the tough, yet critical, discussion with adult parents regarding their ability to afford a nursing home. They may have long-term care insurance, something they may have elected to obtain as an employment benefit. If this is the case, it can be important to have copies of the policy. For example, if a 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. Parents may also have money put aside to cover a nursing home. If this is the case, the adult child should have a way to access these funds, typically via a durable power of attorney or a trust. 

If the parent does not have insurance or the means to cover a nursing home, it may be necessary to assess whether they have Medicaid or what Medicaid planning needs to be done in order to make the parent Medicaid eligible, which would go towards covering the nursing home expenses. 

On a positive note, for 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. To learn more about your potential responsibility for the long term care costs of your parents and how you and your parents can plan to cover these costs, please contact our office to schedule an appointment time.