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Do filial responsibility laws make you responsible for a parent's final long-term care bill?

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As difficult as it can be face the reality that an elderly parent is no longer able to thrive on their own and that long-term care may become a necessity sooner than later, adult children in this situation can nevertheless draw some comfort from the fact that the quality of nursing home and assisted living care has improved dramatically over the last few decades.

Of course, an increase in costs has facilitated these improvements, such that total price tag for years -- or even decades -- of nursing home or assisted living care can reach previously unimaginable levels.

This naturally raises the question as to what happens when an elderly loved one finally passes, leaving behind a bill for these not insubstantial long-term care costs.

While most of us would assume that the remaining liability would pass with a loved one, experts have indicated that an increasing number of adult children are actually seeing attempts to hold them responsible under so-called "filial responsibility" laws in their respective states.

What are filial responsibility laws?    

Filial responsibility laws, whose origins can be traced to 16th century England, essentially provide that financially solvent family members must support indigent family members so that they don't have to rely on public support.

While almost all 50 states had filial responsibility laws in place at one time, many of them took measures to repeal them or simply abandon them back in the 1960s, as Medicaid and Medicare emerged as much-needed safety nets for those unable to cover care costs.

Why then are filial responsibility laws suddenly reappearing?  

As we've discussed on our blog, seniors are now living much longer and this, in turn, is creating major long-term care costs.

While a significant portion of these costs are indeed covered by the aforementioned government programs, such that filial responsibility laws are inapplicable, consider what happens when seniors fail to apply for Medicaid/Medicare on time, are somehow disqualified or see any sort of coverage gap.

Here, the providers want to recover something for their services and, as such, more are looking to hold adult children responsible via these dated and arcane laws.

By way of example, consider a landmark case out of Pennsylvania back in 2012, when the state's high court ordered an adult child to cover $93,000 of his deceased mother's nursing home expenses.

We'll continue this discussion in our next post, discussing why many experts indicate that adult children, especially here in California, probably don't have to be too frightened of filial responsibility laws, and some steps they say families can take to protect themselves.

Source: NASDAQ, "Can you be held responsible for your parents' long-term-care costs?" December 22, 2016 

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