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Posted: 1:32 p.m. Monday, June 25, 2012

Adult kids on the hook for nursing home bills?

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By Clark Howard


Got a parent in a nursing home? A surprise big bill could be headed your way even if you haven't signed for financial responsibility for that parent.

The Wall Street Journal  reports that 29 states have passed what are called 'filial responsibility laws' to deal with the budget shortfall for Medicaid, which pays for long term care of impoverished seniors.

Among the states are Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.

For years, I have said that if your mom or dad ends up in a nursing home and you have not signed for financial responsibility, then you are not responsible. (Of course, you as executor or executrix will have to parcel out the estate at the time of your parent's death to meet any obligations, and final expenses are the highest priority claimant in some states.)

But this new info flies in the face of what I've traditionally said.

To this point, Pennsylvania is the only state where financial liability against an adult child has been upheld in a court of law. (It doesn't matter if an adult child isn't involved in the life of a parent. They can still be held responsible in the eyes of the law.)

Obviously, this is a still evolving situation as our population ages. Only time will tell how courts in other states rule on this issue.

So what should you do if you have an aging parent?

If you are of means, it is to your advantage to do the kinds of things necessary to care for your parent. That might mean buying a long term care policy for parents. Or in the early stages, before your parents really starts going downhill, sit down with an elder-law attorney to discuss what kind of protections you can set up for yourself and your assets.

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