Are you familiar with filial responsibility laws? These laws hold that the adult child or children of an impoverished parent has the legal obligation to pay for the necessities of the parent who cannot do so for themselves. While it is accepted that parents are 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? At least half of the states (at this time, Florida is not one of these 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, 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.
What can you do as an adult child of aging parents? Begin as soon as possible with a discussion regarding their ability to afford a nursing home. You may learn that they have long-term care insurance, something they may have elected to obtain as an employment benefit. This is great news. But, it is important for you to have copies of the policy because if your parents were to become incapacitated in an accident you would have a copy of their long-term care policy. Or your parents may also have money put aside to cover a nursing home. If this is the case, you, as the adult child should have a way to access these funds, typically via a durable power of attorney or a trust.
Sadly, if your parent does not have insurance or the means to cover a nursing home, it may be necessary to find out whether they have Medicaid or what Medicaid planning needs to be done. We would highly recommend meeting with a Florida elder law attorney in order to make your 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.
We know this article may raise more questions than it answers. Elder and Estate Planning Attorneys, PA, is a law office small enough to provide personal service but large enough to provide service in Jupiter, as well as Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, and Indian River Counties in Florida. Our law firm will guide you through legal challenges involving elder law, estate planning, trusts, veterans benefits, real estate, and more. We encourage you to contact us and schedule a meeting with our attorneys.