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

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 good chance that the answer is yes.

Many states have a “filial support” law that says adult children have a duty to care for their indigent parents. These law also require adult children to 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, the individual circumstances of an adult child’s ability to pay will also be considered. 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 to try to extract payment from adult children or other relatives.

How does this happen? It’s not difficult. Nursing home bills will inevitably pile up when private insurance, a person’s own money or Medicare are exhausted.

If your parent has run out of money, applying for Medicaid becomes their next step. From the time you submit your parent’s Medicaid application to the time that application is approved, your parent could have easily racked up a bill in the tens of thousands of dollars.

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

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 a financial planner to know what options you have and how to make the most of your parents’ resources.

Next, find an attorney who specializes in elder care law and start planning. Hire this attorney as soon as you know that a move will be happening. Your elder care law attorney will help you to 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 forms for you. It can be tempting to take them up on this offer because who likes to complete paperwork?

Our advice: take these forms to your elder care law attorney. Medicaid laws are complicated and one wrong move can lead to big problems later.  The nursing home may submit the form late or leave out important financial details that cause unnecessary delays in getting Medicaid approval. Always work with a qualified elder care law attorney who has experience in Medicaid planning. 

If you’re shaking your head and thinking that this type of financial catastrophe could never happen to you, we encourage you to think again. Filial support laws are real. If your parents are likely to need long-term care in the future, and they lack the financial resources to pay for it, start the planning process now.  If you don’t, you may come face to face with a situation that could easily have been avoided.

If you are caring for an elderly loved one who many need long-term care in the future, and you want to get a head start on planning, Vandenack Weaver Truhlsen is here to help. Just give us a call.