Could you be on the hook for your parents’ nursing home bill?

Updated: Oct 7


You’ve moved your mom or dad into a nursing home and breathed a sigh of relief. The stress of caring for your parent is now behind you and you can rest easy knowing that they’ll be well cared for by skilled nursing staff. Professional care, however, can come with a hefty price tag. Have you planned upfront for the long-term cost of the care being provided? What if your mom or dad can no longer pay the bill? Can you be held responsible as the adult child?


Being on the hook for your parent’s nursing home bill is a scenario that few people think about. Can it happen to you? It depends but there’s a strong likelihood that the answer is yes.


Many states have a “filial support” law that states adult children have a duty to care for and pay medical or long-term care bills for their indigent parents. The law varies widely from state to state and is typically interpreted on a case by case basis in the court. Very often, individual circumstances of an adult child’s ability to pay will also be considered. But it’s important to know there are laws that support nursing homes who wish to recoup their costs. Even if you live in a state without a filial support law, there may be other legal routes that a facility can take that involve adult children or even other relatives having to pay.


How does a person start to accrue costs? Nursing home bills often start to pile up when private insurance, a person’s own money or Medicare is exhausted. If you’ve run out of money, applying to Medicaid becomes the next step. From the time you submit the application and you wait for approval, it’s very easy to rack up a bill in the range of thousands of dollars.


What steps can you take to prevent yourself from being liable for a nursing home bill?


First, begin by understanding your parents’ financial situation. Do they have adequate savings? Do they have long-term care insurance? What is the likelihood that they will outlive their money? Work with an experienced estate planning and elder law attorney to know what options you have and how to make the most of your resources.


Next, retain the services of an attorney who specializes in elder care to guide you during the planning process. A move to a nursing home may be something that you know could happen in the near future or it may happen suddenly due to a healthcare crisis. In either case, hire an elder law attorney as soon as you know that a move might be happening. Your elder care law attorney will help you understand the questions you should ask regarding the nursing home billing, the contract you’ll be required to sign, and your rights and responsibilities as the closest relative to their new resident.


When Medicaid forms need to be submitted, the nursing home staff may offer to complete the application for you. It can be tempting to take them up on this offer because, after all, who likes to complete paperwork? But it’s never a good idea. The nursing home may submit the application late or leave out important financial details that cause unnecessary delays in getting Medicaid approval.


What should you do instead? Have an experienced elder care law attorney guide you through the process. He or she will understand what needs to be done, what’s at stake, and how to protect your parents’ assets to the greatest extent possible.


If you believe that this type of financial ruin is ridiculous and could never happen to you, think again. Plan for what may seem like the most unlikely scenario and it may never happen. But fail to plan and you may just come face to face with a situation that could lead to financial devastation.

If you’re in this situation and need help, give Takacs McGinnis Elder Care Law a call. We’ve spent the last 20+ years guiding families through situations like this. We can help you, too.

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