Sam, Mary’s son and agent under her power of attorney, didn’t bother to seek legal advice after Mary entered a nursing home. “She only has $60,000. There’s nothing we can do”, he told his sisters. Five months later, with her funds exhausted, Mary sought Medicaid to pay for her care. To Sam’s shock and dismay the application was denied. Unbeknownst to her children, Mary had, over the prior five years, gifted $50,000 to an alcoholic nephew. Consequently, her Medicaid eligibility was delayed for over three months as a penalty for gifting away assets that otherwise could have been used to pay for her care. Since Mary could not pay the $14,000 per month nursing home bill during the three-month delay, the nursing home sued Sam and his sisters. Had Sam consulted with an elder law attorney, steps could have been taken to avoid the three-month delay in benefits and thereby ensure Mary’s eligibility for Medicaid when her funds ran out. Her children would have been spared from the anguish of a lawsuit against them.
In Pennsylvania, adult children are legally responsible for a parent’s unpaid nursing home bill if the parent goes broke and Medicaid eligibility is denied or delayed. This is strict liability, meaning no wrongdoing needs to be established on the part of the children. So even those children who received no money nor had any involvement with a parent’s nursing home placement are at risk. Shockingly, in some instances, as in the above case, children stand by as a parent spends down assets for care only to discover afterward, when their parent is broke and Medicaid benefits are denied, that they are going to be on the hook for thousands of dollars.
When it comes to caring for our aging loved ones, ignorance is NOT bliss, as Sam and his sisters painfully learned. Even if a loved one is already in a nursing home, legal measures can and should be taken to protect your loved one and family. It’s not too late. Contact the lawyers at Vasiliadis Pappas for help.