Did you know you could be responsible for your parents’ unpaid bills? More than half of all States currently have laws making adult children financially responsible for their parents, including their long-term care costs. Among those States, Pennsylvania is perhaps the most notorious. In most States, these laws are rarely enforced. Not so in Pennsylvania.

Filial responsibility laws obligate adult children to provide necessities like food, clothing, housing, and medical attention for their parents who cannot afford to take care of themselves. Some States, like Pennsylvania, allow persons or businesses to sue the children in court to collect unpaid bills incurred by their parents. Moreover, children can be held liable even if they did nothing wrong.

Generally, most States with such laws, including Pennsylvania, do not require children to provide care if they lack the ability to pay. States vary on what factors they consider when determining whether an adult child is able to pay. Those factors, under Pennsylvania law, are not clearly spelled out, leaving that determination largely up to the judge. Children are not required to support their parents if the parents abandoned them or did not support them.

With regard to long-term care, most low-income parents qualify for Medicaid, making it unnecessary for a nursing home to pursue the resident’s children for payment. A nursing home may not sue the children if a parent qualifies for Medicaid to pay for his or her care. But that only applies going forward. Unpaid nursing home or other medical bills incurred prior to becoming eligible for Medicaid can be collected from the children. In 2012 a court in Pennsylvania, in Lehigh County, ruled that a son was responsible for his mother’s $93,000 nursing home bill. This case gained nation-wide attention.

Children are also at risk for assuming a parent’s unpaid nursing home bill under other laws. For example, if a parent transferred assets to his or her children, thereby rendering the parent ineligible for Medicaid, the nursing home can sue those children to collect their parent’s unpaid nursing home bill. Proper Medicaid planning enables a parent to give assets to his or her children without placing those children in jeopardy of being sued.

If your parent needs long-term care, be sure to consult with an elder law attorney experienced in Medicaid planning. The lawyers at Vasiliadis Pappas Associates have handled many such cases, including defending children in court against a parent’s unpaid nursing home bill. They will make certain you are not creating a situation in which you might be liable for your parent’s care.

Contact us today more information.