As your parents age, they may spend months or years in a nursing facility. What happens if one of them is in need of long-term care and is unable to pay for it? Currently, 28 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico have filial responsibility laws holding adult children legally responsible for support of financially strapped parents.
Pennsylvania has captured the most attention, due to a case, HCRA v. Pittas (2012 Pa. Super 96, May 7, 2012), in which an adult son was found liable for his mother’s $93,000 nursing home bill following an automobile accident.
Maryann Pittas, the victim of a car accident, was a patient in a nursing home for about six months. A few weeks after she was released, her son received the nursing-home bill of $93,000. He was beside himself when the facility tried to collect from his family because his mother couldn’t pay the bill.
After the case went through the court system, the Pennsylvania court found in favor of the nursing home, based on the son’s ability to pay. By holding the son liable for the $93,000, the Pennsylvania court enforced Pennsylvania’s “filial responsibility” law that makes a child responsible for supporting his or her indigent parents if the child has sufficient financial ability to do so.
It's unfair to force someone who didn't sign a contract to be liable for a parent's bills. In the meantime, though, this uncertain situation underlines the need for frank inter-generational discussions about financial planning. Retirement advisors report that health care costs are consistently underestimated.
How can you avoid parental support pitfalls? The only way you can make sure you do not fall victim to a filial support action is by planning ahead.
- Medicare may cover short-term rehabilitation in a nursing home if certain conditions are met, but only for a maximum of 100-days.
- Adult children should consult an elder law/special needs attorney who can advise them on the complicated Medicaid application process so that they aren’t faced with payment gaps that could be charged to them.
- Families may wish to pool resources to buy long-term care insurance for parents who can’t afford it on their own.