Adult Children: Responsible for Unpaid Nursing Home Bills?

Henry Montag

Henry Montag

A recent  court ruling  coming from the chambers of three state court appellate judges  in Allentown Pennsylvania during May 2012 proclaimed for the first time that  a major financial liability could be imposed on an adult child in the absence of fault  on the child’s part in creating the debt.  It was the first time that a court of appeals allowed a nursing home to collect an unpaid debt of approximately $92,000 from a child for their parent’s unpaid bill dating back from 2007-2008.  

The ramifications of this ruling could be far reaching as nursing homes in other states could follow the example set by the court of appeals in Pennsylvania.  To date 29 states already have what’s known as Filial Support Laws on the books which allow creditors to attempt to collect a parent’s debt from their adult children but until now this law was not enforced.  What makes this so disturbing is that the definitions of determining   whether the child has the means to pay the bill is very vague thus giving courts a lot of leeway in determining who is and who is not responsible for a parent’s unpaid bill. 

In the situation in Pennsylvania it was ruled that the parents’ unpaid nursing home bill of $93,000 could be paid by the son as his earning were sufficient to pay the entire amount. What’s even worse is that the child does not have to be involved in any type of asset shielding program nor do they have to have any type of cooperation with the parents to be held liable for their debts.  This should be a wakeup call to any adult child who feels that they shouldn’t  be concerned about the fact  that their parents  are running up significant debt , assuming that it’s not their problem.  In the past Medicaid was the payer of last resort but today many cash strapped states that have run out of money are looking to lay off that debt directly to the debtor’s children. 

The best way to make sure that this doesn’t happen to your children is to plan ahead and make arrangements to  deal with the potential  issue before it becomes an out of control unmanageable problem for your remaining  family members. More people should begin exploring the purchase of a long-term care INS contract while they’re younger and healthier also when the premiums are considerably lower and the Insurance is still an option. If the parents can’t afford the coverage it may make sense for the children to chip in and pay for part of the cost with their parents or other family members. The days of relying on Medicaid to pay our long term care expenses have slowly been shrinking and this recent court action on the part of the appellate court in Pennsylvania may just be another indication of what may be the new reality of being responsible for paying our bills rather than leaving it to the federal or state governments to do so for us. This story was reported in the June 23 Issue of The Wall Street Journal titled “Are you on the hook for Mom’s Nursing Home Bill?” Unfortunately the answer seems to be a resounding yes.


Henry Montag CFP,CLTC, a partner of Financial Forums Inc., is an Independent Certified Financial Planner as well as a Certified Long Term Care specialist. He’s been in practice since 1976 with offices in New York. He has held insurance and securities licenses for over 32 years.  Visit the Financial Forums Website




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