If your loved one is entering a nursing home, you may worry whether you could be liable for his or her care. Under federal law, a facility that accepts Medicaid as payment for the cost of a resident’s care after the resident goes broke (almost all do) cannot require a family member or friend to co-sign an admission agreement and take on personal liability. However, most if not all nursing home contracts do impose certain obligations upon the person who signs the agreement on behalf of the resident. Typically, the signer is obliged to ensure that the resident’s funds are used to pay the nursing home and to apply for Medicaid when the funds run out. If the resident incurs an unpaid nursing home bill because Medicaid eligibility is delayed, the signer can and will be held personally liable.

This contract provision deceptively implies that the signer may not permit a resident to take measures to protect assets and then qualify for Medicaid. On the contrary, federal law provides that a Medicaid-participating skilled nursing facility “may not seek additional payment from a resident for covered items or services.  It must accept…Medicaid as payment in full.”  In other words, it is illegal for a facility to require that a resident spend all of his or her money for nursing home care instead of protecting all or part of it through legal long-term care planning measures that accelerate Medicaid eligibility.

Beware of the Filial Support Trap

Unfortunately, some family members DO in fact incur financial liability on another basis; namely, state “filial support” laws. Pennsylvania’s is perhaps the most onerous in the country. Under filial support, adult children are obliged to financially support their indigent parents. In Pennsylvania, a nursing home resident’s son or daughter can and will be sued for the parent’s unpaid nursing home bill. This happens when someone’s Medicaid eligibility is delayed and there are unpaid services that pre-date the eligibility date for Medicaid benefits. Moreover, this financial obligation apples even if the child received none of the parent’s assets and even if the child did not sign the nursing home admission agreement or have any involvement with the parent’s care or placement.

How to Avoid the Filial Support Trap and Still Protect Assets

The good news is that filial support liability will not be incurred with proper planning. If the nursing home resident qualifies for Medicaid to pay for care immediately upon exhaustion of assets, everyone is happy: no unpaid nursing home bill and no lawsuit against the children.

Contact the attorneys at Vasiliadis Pappas for advice and assistance if your loved is in a nursing home or will be entering one. Even if nursing home entry already occurred and the resident has declared all of his or her assets, it’s not too late to implement legal measures to protect one’s estate. We have helped thousands of families over the years to obtain needed care and qualify for Medicaid benefits without forfeiting their estates.