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You may not have considered the possibility that you may be responsible for your parents’ nursing home bill.  Given the dollars involved (over $10,000 per month for a typical nursing home stay) it is a daunting thought.  In most cases, especially if both you and your parents are Florida residents, you will not be legally responsible.  If your parent is in or about to enter a nursing home you should pay attention to minimize your financial risk.

Several U.S. states have laws called “filial responsibility” laws, which can create a legal obligation of adult children for their parents’ expenses. 

These laws can obligate adult children to cover the cost of their indigent parents’ nursing home bill and their food, clothing, shelter, and medical expenses.  These laws were not created to obligate adult children for the nursing home bills of their parents.  Recently, however, nursing homes have been successfully using these laws as the legal basis upon which to file suit against children of nursing home residents.  Thus, while not much attention was previously given to these laws, as word travels among nursing home legal departments of successful results from these filial responsibility lawsuits, the risk to adult children may be expected to increase.  If your parent is in a nursing home in a state with a filial responsibility law, you need to be especially wary.  Florida does not have a filial responsibility law.

As an adult child, what can you do to protect yourself from having to pay a parents’ nursing home bill? 

First of all, it can be vital to have knowledge of your parent’s ability to afford nursing home care.  In the best of circumstances, a parent may have a long-term care insurance policy, which can cover the cost of nursing home care.  If this is the case, be sure to have a copy of the policy in your possession.  If your parent loses mental capacity, you do not want to be in the position of searching for the policy when you may need to trigger its benefits.

Other parents may have large enough assets and income to cover the cost of a nursing home. 

In this instance, it can be imperative to have a plan for how the money will be distributed in the case of a parent’s mental incapacitation, such as via a trustee or a durable power of attorney. When using a durable power of attorney it is important to always sign in a representative capacity so that you do not become legally responsible for your parents’ expenses.

If your parent does not have a means to cover the cost of a nursing home, it can be necessary to do some long-term care planning to insulate the rest of the family from any potential legal liability.

Clearly it is important to communicate with your parents.  Ask if they have a long-term care policy.  Ask if their legal documents are in place, and relatively “fresh”.  Documents should be reviewed every few years to account for changes in the family and beneficiaries through deaths, births, divorces, etc.

The most important step you can take to protect yourself from paying a parents’ nursing home bill may be to meet with a qualified elder law attorney to assess the potential applicability of any filial responsibility laws and overall resources available to be used for a nursing home stay.  Long-term care planning can help ensure your parent can afford the care he or she deserves.  This can enable you to answer the question of whether you will have to pay your parent’s nursing home bill with a resounding “no”.

If you need more information on elder law issues, call our office at 239-434-8557 to begin to get a handle on your family’s legal needs.