If your parent is dealing with serious health conditions as they grow older, they may need to receive treatment in a long-term care facility. The expenses related to this type of care can accumulate quickly. You may want to help your parent with paying for medical and nursing care, but you also may face substantial necessary expenses of your own. For example, you may need to pay off the mortgage on your home and pay for your children’s education. Some people are concerned that they may be legally required to pay for a parent’s care if the parent cannot cover the costs. While some states have imposed filial responsibility laws, an adult child of an aging parent generally does not need to worry that these laws will be strictly enforced.
Overview of Filial Responsibility Laws
The idea behind these laws is to reduce the burden on the welfare system caused by an elderly individual who needs sophisticated or intensive medical treatment but cannot pay for it. If the parent qualifies for Medicare, which usually happens when they turn 65, the law will not apply because Medicare will cover these costs. Sometimes, though, a parent may need care before they turn 65 or are otherwise eligible for Medicare if they are suffering from an acute condition. This may trigger filial responsibility laws that require any adult children of the parent to pay, assuming that they are able. The usual remedy for a facility seeking payment is to sue the patient’s child, but sometimes criminal penalties are possible.
States rarely enforce these laws because the situations in which they apply are very narrow. If a patient is not able to pay for their care from their own resources, they likely will qualify for Medicaid. States can seek reimbursement for Medicaid payments from a patient’s estate after they die, but federal law does not allow them to pursue payment from an adult child. It is very uncommon for a patient to accumulate substantial expenses for nursing care without qualifying for either Medicaid or Medicare.
For a filial responsibility law to apply, the parent must not have qualified for Medicaid when they received the care that resulted in the bill. The parent must not have had the ability to pay the bill, the child must have the ability to pay, and the facility must choose to exercise this right and sue the child. Thus, you probably do not need to worry, but you can consult an attorney if you are concerned about paying a parent’s bills or a child being forced to pay your bills.
Example of a Filial Responsibility Law Applied
Pennsylvania is one of the states that have a filial responsibility law. In 2012, a Pennsylvania court ordered a child of a nursing home resident to pay her bill because the resident did not qualify for Medicaid, based on receiving a pension. This case differed from the usual application of filial responsibility laws because a private nursing facility used the law to recover costs. Traditionally, these laws are meant to help the state recover costs. While this case is an anomaly so far, it may serve as a precedent for other facilities to pursue reimbursement from adult children as the costs of nursing care continue to climb.