Will You Be Liable for Your Parent’s Nursing Home Bill?

Posted on: November 17th, 2014 by Lawrence A. Friedman

Will you be liable for your parent’s nursing home, assisted living, long term care, or other health care costs?  You probably are thinking, “No way!”  And that may be true if you work proactively with a good elder law attorney to plan in advance.  But if you aren’t careful filial responsibility laws or even ordinary care facility contracts could make you liable for a parent’s care.

How can that be?  While it’s one thing to charge a parent for a minor children’s health care costs, children don’t expect to be hit with charges for a parent’s care.  However, 29 states have filial responsibility laws on the books that make a child in decent financial shape cover essential costs for an indigent parent.  Since health care is a necessity, filial responsibility laws can ensnare children in states that have filial responsibility laws. While filial responsibility laws traditionally have been something of a paper tiger, that may be changing.

In 2012, a court held that Pennsylvania’s filial responsibility law required a son to pay his mother’s $93,000 nursing home bill even though the son said he couldn’t afford to pay.  Health Care & Retirement Corporation of America v. Pittas (Pa. Super. Ct., No. 536 EDA 2011, May 7, 2012). To make matters worse, the son bore full responsibility because his initial response to the lawsuit didn’t raise claims against other family members who could have shared the obligation.  While the case occurred in Pennsylvania, it may have repercussions throughout the country.

Even children in states without filial responsibility laws can take on liability by signing a care facility agreement without fully understanding the effect. Although nursing homes can’t require a child to guaranty a parent’s bill, courts can enforce a guaranty that is considered voluntary.  This can be a major issue where a child signs documents to admit a parent to a care facility without consulting a lawyer.

A lawyer also can make sure a child doesn’t agree to other unfavorable contract terms that are hard to understand or even notice. In Cook Willow Health Center v. Andrian (Conn. Super. Ct., No. CV116008672, Sept. 28, 2012), the court held that a child can be liable to ensure a nursing home is paid if the child signs a care facility admission contract as “responsible party.”  Because the child signed the agreement without counsel, she didn’t understand that she was taking on this obligation.

How can children avoid liability?  Simple, follow two golden rules.  Don’t sign any admission papers or care contract until it has been reviewed by an elder law attorney. Since filial liability only kicks in when a parent is indigent, work with an elder law attorney to qualify the parent for Medicaid if the parent becomes indigent. FriedmanLaw often helps clients understand facility agreements and negotiate more favorable terms. We also help people qualify for Medicaid to pay for care instead of leaving children saddled with their parents; nursing home bills.

The moral of these cases  is pretty simple: consulting elder law counsel early on can yield major savings down the road.

As this website provides general information and isn’t tailored to your particular situation, it doesn’t constitute legal advice and may not take into account rules and exceptions that affect you. Although updated from time to time, this website may not take account of recent legal developments or differences in laws from state to state. For safety sake, obtain individual legal advice before you act! You assume all risk of acting on information contained in this website. This website doesn’t constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship exists unless FriedmanLaw and you execute a written engagement agreement. Please contact us at 908-704-1900 to discuss engaging FriedmanLaw to help resolve your legal concerns.
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