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Elder Care Services: Should Children Pay for it?

Posted by Daniel J. Eccher, Esq. | Nov 18, 2020

The astronomical expense of long-term nursing care is no longer news. Costs can run an average of $7,000.00 or more per month, depending on location. Hundreds of thousands of people need that kind of care and the numbers are rising. Ten thousand “baby boomers”  turn 65 every day, and it's projected that seven of ten of those people will need long-term care at some point during their lifetimes. 

By astute long-term care planning, our law firm reduces or eliminates the impact of such phenomenal costs on many families' life savings. However, many others who are not our clients pay and pay until they simply run out of money. The Medicaid program is available to step in and pay, but it is questionable how long that program can continue in its present state. For 2018, Medicaid spending was at $597.4 billion, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Policy-makers are looking for other alternatives. 

One option is to require adult children to pay for the cost of their parents' care. This obligation can be imposed through “filial responsibility” laws. Around thirty states have enacted these laws, some of which even impose criminal fines and imprisonment if an adult child is able, but fails, to pay. For which states have such laws, see the table in this article in the Journal of Criminal Justice and Law. (Maine is not among them.)

In Pennsylvania in 2012, a son whose mother owed $93,000 to a nursing home was held liable for her bill under that state's filial responsibility law. The case is Health Care & Retirement Corp. v. Pittas, available here.

The rationale for such laws is that parents supported children for many years and the children owe a debt of gratitude: they should return the favor when parents grow old and become unable to provide for themselves. Such laws are supposed to motivate children to exert pressure on parents, to ensure that long-term care planning is done before the children are called on to pay.

There are numerous objections to this kind of law. Children may resent being forced to pay and treatment of the elderly may suffer as a result. The laws differ widely across the states and produce inconsistent results. Courts may not have the power to enforce these laws against children who live in disparate states. Filial-responsibility laws provide no protection for seniors who have no children.

Further, federal law currently prohibits nursing homes from demanding payment from funds other than those belonging to the resident – like a child's money. One caveat is that an agent under Power of Attorney should not sign a personal guarantee of payment if he or she is signing admission paperwork on behalf of a nursing home resident. 

We would be happy to talk to you about concerns about the costs of long-term care. 

About the Author

Daniel J. Eccher, Esq.

Daniel J. Eccher, Esq. is the Managing Shareholder at Levey, Wagley, Putman & Eccher, P.A., in Winthrop, Maine. Dan's favorite problem to solve is helping clients figure out how to afford long-term care while having something left for their family.

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