Children Responsible for Parental Debt

I never heard of the “filial responsibility” laws.  Until I read about a PA resident who must pay for Mom’s $93,000 Nursing Home bill.  Now that I’ve read about it, I’m sure glad my sister has the “deep pocket” in our family.

I thought my first post when I returned from TechShow would be about one of the many wonderful lessons learned.  I was in fact going to post diligently from there.  But the Chicago Hilton has about the worst Wi-Fi access I’ve encountered.  It was tough just getting a cell phone signal.  It was fairly humorous to see so many lawyers with cell phones to their ears and bodies literally plastered to the windows like some sort of human antennae.  At night, when I got back to the room after the myriad of social events, I was just too tired to think, let alone write.

Now that I’m back I’m anxious to share, but an article in the Anderson Elder Law Newsletter entitled “Son Liable for Mom’s $93,000 Nursing Home Bill Under ‘Filial Responsibility’ Law” really caught my attention.  How could that be?  Well, it be!  And I am so shocked by this, I feel compelled to share it right now.  The article explains:

Some 29 states currently have laws making adult children responsible for their parents if their parents can’t afford to take care of themselves. These “filial responsibility” laws have rarely been enforced, but six years ago when federal rules made it more difficult to qualify for Medicaid long-term care coverage, some elder law attorneys predicted that nursing homes would start using the laws as a way to get care paid for.

And it was precisely the application of this law which caused the son to be forced to take financial responsibility.  Unbelievably, the law does not require it to consider other sources of income or to wait until a parent’s Medicaid claim is resolved.  Even more pernicious is that the law permits the nursing home to choose which family members to pursue for the money owed.  In this particular case, they ignored a spouse and other siblings, and went after the apparent ”deep pocket.”

Linda Anderson notes that after Pennsylvania re-enacted its filial support law in the mid-2000s, Williamsport attorney Jeffrey A. Marshall forecast that the new Medicaid law would trigger a wave of lawsuits involving adult children.  Obviously, he was correct, and this is just the beginning of what may become a tidal wave of lawsuits.  In Marshall’s blog post about this court decision he writes:

Children are often surprised to learn that they can be held responsible for their parent’s unpaid medical and care related expenses. It just doesn’t seem fair. But, whether fair or not, the Pittas case shows that the child’s support obligation to the parent is the law in Pennsylvania.  Children: be warned. If your parent needs long term care and may someday be unable to pay for it, you should find out about your potential financial liability and what to do about it.

So what is the son supposed to do, now that he has lost his appeal?  Is he to sue his father and siblings for their “fair share” of the debt?  Declare bankruptcy?  I’m just thinking out loud on this, while I shake my head in disbelief.  Our lives are already so stressful . . . raising children in a two-income household, trying to care for aging parents, trying to save for retirement in an ever-increasing financially hostile future environment, and to have some quality of life and semblance of balance in the current moment.  Is this the straw which breaks the back of American families?

I am so grateful I “strongly encouraged” my mom to purchase optional Long Term Care Insurance through her employer’s Cafeteria Plan some 30 years ago, so that it’s there if she needs it.   We found out from personal experience about 2 years ago how quickly the bills can mount after my mother suffered a fall at home.  The nursing home costs, followed by rehab at home, and then extended personal care until she was recovered enough to be completely on her own again, added up to a huge amount of money which her Medicare and additional excess policy didn’t cover.   They paid plenty, don’t get me wrong.  But there was a lot of uncovered additional expense, especially the personal in-home care, which cost a fortune.  At least the Long Term Care contributed toward some of that once the elimination period was passed.  (Although I admit I had to really duke it out with them to get her benefit paid, despite her making premium payments like clockwork for 30 years.  But hey, don’t even get me started on the topic of insurance companies!  :-(  )

If you have living parents, this is not something you can afford to ignore.  Make sure they have adequate insurance coverage, and talk to an Elder Care attorney just to see what risks you face, and how you might avoid them.  The investment to protect yourself now is a pittance compared to the potential exposure later.

 

8 Comments

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