For the Love of Your Family

My elderly parents don’t have much in the way of resources and their health appears to be failing. They mainly get by on Social Security. Will I be responsible to pay their medical bills or other debts later on? – Very Concerned Adult Child.

Clarifying Questions

Q: My elderly parents don’t have much in the way of resources and their health appears to be failing. They mainly get by on Social Security. Will I be responsible to pay their medical bills or other debts later on? – Very Concerned Adult Child.

A: Dear Very Concerned Adult Child:

While most people know all states legally require parents to support their children until they become adults, some don’t know that about half the states require children to support indigent parents. It’s called “filial responsibility.”

In order for filial responsibility laws to kick in, your parents have to be practically indigent but incur hefty bills such as a nursing home that they can never pay.

If your parents’ only source of income is $2,000 a month from Social Security and they have to go into a nursing home at the rate of $7,000-$8,000 a month (Medicare and Medicaid support has limits) then you may be on the hook to pay that nursing home bill. Lawsuits may be filed against you, particularly if you have significant assets, and you may find yourself with a judgment against you and a lien against your assets. You might also face criminal penalties.

There are some defenses to a filial responsibility laws such as if you are barely making ends meet yourself or of you have other significant costs such as putting a child through college. What can you do if you feel you are heading down this road?

Consult your attorney to see if filial responsibility laws apply in your state and get other advice about these issues.

You can also:

  • Research Medicaid and any other federal or state programs for which your parents may be eligible. For example, was your dad a veteran? The VA might offer benefits.
  • Help to effectively manage your parents’ finances.
  • Research long-term care plans now.
  • Research a reverse mortgage.

Contact a Personal Family Lawyer® to discuss options of providing your family with financial peace of mind in 2016.

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