Will Your Children Pay For your Nursing Home Care?

The sandwich generation could soon be further squeezed.
Already caught between spiraling college tuition and care for aging family
members, baby boomers could also become liable for their parents’ bills. This
on top of worries concerning their own retirement.

In approximately 30 states, “filial support” statutes make
adult children legally responsible — on paper — for their parents’ expenses. In
recent times, most jurisdictions have chosen not to enforce such laws, but that
could change. A Pennsylvania court recently found an elderly woman’s son liable
for her $93,000 nursing-home bill. But states are observing the Pennsylvania
scenario with interest.

While filial-responsibility laws date from colonial days,
they largely fell into disuse with the creation of Social Security. The
establishment of Medicare and Medicaid further rendered them unnecessary. But
now the national conversation is focused on deficit reduction, and entitlement
programs are increasingly at risk.

Filial-support laws typically don’t apply unless a parent
receives financial aid from the government or is in danger of defaulting on
medical or nursing-home bills. In such cases, interested parties are entitled
to file lawsuits seeking payment. Courts have discretion to consider the adult
child’s ability to pay, but in Pennsylvania, the son facing a $93,000 charge
had an annual income of $85,000.

Planning is crucial

While no one can foresee what will happen in Maryland,
planning is the best defense against all contingencies. Although parents may be
reticent about discussing their finances, it’s clear that adult children “need
to know” their economic situation.

Do they have long-term-care insurance? If meeting premium
payments is an issue, it may be advisable for the younger generation to pitch
in. Be aware, though, that not all long-term-care policies are created equal.
Have an unbiased and qualified professional — such as an elder-law attorney —
analyze the options to ensure that seniors sign up for adequate coverage.

Then there’s the question of establishing and maintaining
eligibility for the public benefits that are now in place. In Pennsylvania,
nursing homes are largely using the filial-support law to prod adult children
into filing Medicaid paperwork for their parents. But the process can be
confusing, so again, it makes sense to consult an attorney to ensure that there
are no payment lapses for which family members could be held responsible.

Many adult children already juggle intergenerational
responsibilities. But being aware of potential changes in the elder-care
landscape could help avoid sleepless nights and economic headaches.

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