Requiring Adult Children to Pay for Aging Parents' Care

Upset woman talking on the phone with a credit card in handYou may not realize, depending on where you live, that you could be responsible for your parents' unpaid bills. More than half of all states currently have laws in place making adult children financially responsible for their parents. This includes their long-term care costs and other medical bills. However, the upside is that authorities rarely enforce these laws.

Filial Responsibility

Filial support laws obligate adult children to provide necessities like food, clothing, housing, and medical attention for their parents who can't afford to take care of themselves. States may allow a civil court action to obtain financial support or cost recovery, impose criminal penalties on children who do not support their parents, or allow both civil and criminal actions.

Generally, most states with such laws do not require children to provide care if they lack the ability to pay. States also vary on what factors they consider when determining whether an adult child is able to pay. Children may not be legally obligated to support their parents if the parents abandoned them or did not support them.

With regard to long-term care, most low-income parents qualify for Medicaid. This makes it unnecessary for a nursing home to pursue the resident's children for payment.

In 2005, the Deficit Reduction Act made it more difficult to qualify for Medicaid. Experts predicted a wave of lawsuits by nursing homes under state filial responsibility statutes, but that did not happen.

In 2012, however, a court in Pennsylvania did rule a man responsible for paying his mother's $93,000 nursing home bill. The court based its decision on the state's filial laws.

Filial Responsibility States

Where do filial laws apply in the United States? As of 2024, the following are states with filial responsibility laws in place:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

Read Your Parent's Nursing Home Contract

In most instances, adult children are not held responsible for their parent’s long-term care bills under filial responsibility laws.

However, they may have to pay a nursing home in other circumstances. In some cases, parents may have transferred assets to their children before applying for Medicaid. This can sometimes mean the children are held liable for the nursing home bills.

Sometimes children sign an agreement affirming that they will assist their parent in paying for a nursing home. The nursing home might opt to sue them for breach of contract if the parents cannot cover the costs of care.

After a parent dies, Medicaid estate recovery allows the state to recoup Medicaid benefits from the parent’s estate. This, too, can end up reducing the amount the children can inherit.

Confused About Filial Law? Consult With an Elder Law Attorney

If your parents or other family members need long-term care, consult with an experienced elder law attorney.

Elder law attorneys can help you or your aging parents understand their long-term care options or strategize on how to finance it. You also want to make certain you are not creating a situation in which you might be liable for your parent’s care. Elder law attorneys can assist you in understanding your rights. If, for example, the nursing home to which your parent is moving asks you to sign an agreement, an attorney can review it first.

Find a qualified elder law attorney near you today.

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