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Are You Responsible for Your Parents' Bills?

Some adult children who never thought they would be responsible for their parents' bills will, in certain situations, be in for a big surprise.

In the past, most people have been able to plan financially so that when unexpected expenses arose, they could pay for them. However, with the cost of living spiraling this has become impossible for a good many people, some of whom have found that they are unable even to pay their monthly bills!

To make matters worse, the government has recently started to cut funding for programs that people have depended on for years to help them manage their health care costs, especially those that older Americans often need.

Although parents prefer not to do so, many find themselves in the position of having to seek financial assistance from their children when problems arise. In some cases, adult children help as much as possible, but in others, they either cannot or do not want to do so.

However, the opportunity for adult children of indigent parents to make this choice is quickly disappearing.

In 30 states laws have been passed that require adult children to financially support their parents if the need for doing so exists.

In 30 states laws have been passed that require adult children to financially support their parents if the need for doing so exists.

In the past, children have assumed that they could bypass the financial responsibilities of their aging parents who end up in situations like those discussed above.

However, those who live in any of 30 states will be surprised to learn that they really do not have a choice in this matter because these states have already passed laws that require adult children who have the ability to do so to financially support their parents.

The result is that those children who do not want to do this might just find that they will have legal problems if they refuse to pay up.

Will More States Pass Laws Like This?

Right now, only a few of these states are actually enforcing filial laws, but with Medicaid and Medicare funding under attack, the cost of living rising and increasing numbers of people living longer, that may well change.

States need money, and one way they can get it is to require families to be financially responsible for their indigent parents. Since it is likely that increasing numbers of states will jump on this bandwagon before long, adult children will find themselves financially tied to their parents' situations.

The only exceptions would be where the children are unable financially to help their parents.

What Costs Are Involved in Caring for a Parent?

If you haven't thought much about what types of expenses might be involved in keeping your aging parent comfortable, consider the following basic categories.

Health Care

The extent of financial support that needs to be provided for parents can vary significantly, especially when it comes to paying for their health care. Most people can handle the smaller issues, but even then, some may need some temporary financial help.

Depending on the type of insurance coverage a parent has, costs can run into the hundreds of dollars per month. Not only must the coverage be paid for, but also deductibles, co-pays, medication, therapy, and other items.

The major problems, such as those that require long-term care in skilled nursing facilities, that cause the biggest level of concern and are the reasons why both parents and their adult children should plan for them far in advance. Assisted Living facilities charge around $4,000 per month, but skilled nursing facilities can run as high as $14,000 per month.

Caregiving Options

Most families prefer to have parents age in their own homes. This can work well if children live nearby, but if not, they need to find other ways of providing assistance.

A better option can be for children to move their parents into their own homes, but even then, they may have to pay most of their expenses.

When these options don't work, families must find ways to pay for care, such as employing outside help. The average cost for this type of help is between $20 and $30 per hour.

They can also arrange for supervised care in assisted living or skilled nursing facilities, which as noted above, can be extremely costly.

Paying the expenses for another person can put a big strain on people's budgets, but regardless of that, when parents run out of money, it's up to their children to care for them.

Do you have to care for your elderly parents?

Do you have to care for your elderly parents?

What About Medicare?

Many people don't realize that Medicare will not pay anything for assisted living. It may pay something towards nursing home care, but only under limited circumstances.

The rule used to be that if someone is admitted to a hospital, is there for a minimum of three days, not counting the day of discharge, and is referred to a nursing home for the same condition within 30 days after discharge Medicare would pay for the first 20 days and then a small portion of the rest of the amount due for a fixed period of time as long as the patient requires skilled care which is provided under the supervision of a medical professional.

However, a few years ago, the government started requiring hospitals to use something called "observation", which meant they could place a person into a hospital room, treat him and even perform surgery, but never legally admit him.

In this instance, if someone needs to have nursing home care following a hospital stay, Medicare pays nothing because the individual does not meet the above requirements.

Since the cost to stay in a skilled nursing facility can easily top $10,000 per month, it is easy to see why most people cannot afford to be in one! What usually happens is that once the patient runs out of money, he applies for Medicaid.

States are looking for ways to fund programs that pay for senior health care.

States are looking for ways to fund programs that pay for senior health care.

Will Medicaid Pay Anything?

Assisted living facilities charge as much as $4,000 per month. Neither Medicare or Medicaid will pay anything towards these costs.

However, if a person qualifies for nursing home care, runs out of money, and then qualifies for Medicaid, this program will pay for most or all of their health care bills.

However, qualifying for Medicaid is very difficult, and these days if the program learns that the family has some additional resources, they can go after them.

The financial restrictions are extremely strict. Medicaid traces a person's finances back five years to make sure they haven't hidden or given any money away. If they find this to be the case, it is unlikely that any financial help will be immediately forthcoming. It may not come at all!

Make Plans Now

This being the potential situation, it would be a good idea for families to sit down and work out a plan that will protect both parent and child.

Doing things such as

  • buying long-term care insurance,
  • making parents’ homes “elder-friendly”
  • learning about the costs of senior care and planning for them,
  • introducing parents to various senior living facilities before they need them and
  • having an attorney set up an agreement between children that provides for shared responsibilities regarding paying parents' bills if needed

can all go a long way towards keeping family situations stress free and making sure that adult children do their part when it comes to caring for their parents, whether they live in one of the 30 states that require this or not.

Families should never wait until an emergency strikes before they take action.

Given the looming issues, every adult child should make plans now to give his parents the best care and financial assistance he will be able to provide. It’s the law in many states, but it is also a moral obligation.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: Can I get help paying for Medicare?

Answer: Yes, if you can prove that you cannot afford it. There is a program for people in this situation. Contact Medicare to ask about it.

© 2017 Sondra Rochelle


Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on December 20, 2019:

Glad to be of service!

Rachelle Williams from Tempe, AZ on December 20, 2019:

I'll be looking into making plans now... thanks for the article, this serves as a most timely reminder for me.

Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on November 25, 2017:

Karl Paulsen: You're welcome. I think everybody needs to know about this issue because it can definitely affect people financially given the right circumstances.

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on November 25, 2017:

Wow, I never knew this. My daughter does support me, but not because she is required by law. Thanks for the heads up on this!