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Are adult children legally responsible for a parent's unpaid nursing home bills?

12 answers | Last updated: Apr 04, 2015
A fellow caregiver asked...

Am I responsible for payments for my Dad's nursing home on any uncovered costs?


Caring.com User - Joseph L.  Matthews
Caring.com Expert
Joseph L. Matthews is a Caring.com Expert, an attorney, and the author of Long-Term Care: How to Plan & Pay for It and...
88% helpful
Joseph L. Matthews answered...

You're not legally responsible for your dad's nursing home costs unless you signed an agreement with the nursing home making yourself a "responsible party."

When most nursing home See also:
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residents run out of money to pay for care, they become eligible for Medicaid coverage of their nursing home bills. For a complete discussion of Medicaid rules having to do with nursing facility care, take a look at our article Will Medicaid or Medicare help pay for my mother's long-term care?.

But Medicaid pays nursing homes less than private paying residents do. So, before allowing a person to become a resident, some nursing homes require someone else -- usually a family member -- to agree to be a back-up payer of a resident's bills, rather than allowing the resident to switch to Medicaid. This back-up payer would be responsible for the bills if and when the resident runs out of private insurance coverage and personal funds to pay for care.

If you're not sure whether you signed such an agreement, or what its terms are, ask the nursing home -- or have your dad ask -- or a copy of your dad's residence contract.


More Answers
75% helpful
An anonymous caregiver answered...

First . . . I am not an expert nor offering legal advice. However, Filial Responsibility Laws are on the books in over 30 of the states that enable providers to legally pursue children/parents for repayment of costs exceeding benefits. Many legal professional are unaware or ill informed of these statutes. Cases are pending in some states at this time. A web search can yield information as to your state laws. Be aware that courts in states that have these laws can go after relatives across state lines.


50% helpful
century33 answered...

It depends what state the nursing home is located. I have heard of one case where under a little used law in Pennsylvania the nursing home was able to successfully sue the son for the father's bills. The son had not agreed to be responsible, yet they went after him and won. The respondent is correct in stating that once the parent's assets are used up medicare will usually kick in and the nursing home accepts that as paid in full.


33% helpful
jenaette answered...

I was advised by my Father's elder attorney to take out a loan in my name to cover my Father's long term care expenses, until I could get his estate settled, due to a contested guardianship and conservatorship hearing. Dad had revoked the family trust and gave his money away to a second wife and her adult son, following Mom’s death. I was disinherited and did not see Dad for three years following that marriage. Dad was later diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

I took out $100K loan against my personal home to cover his expenses, with the belief that i would be repaid. By the time the court allowed me to sell Dad's property, which was all that was left, his home only brought one-half of the appraised value, which paid off the mortgage I had placed against it in my name. There were no funds to pay me, since it was my money we were using. I lost over 3 years of income, trying to get Dad’s care needs met. I was told that Dad was dying, and had only days to live, but after I took over his care, and took him off the morphine that Hospice had left for his care taker, he bounced back.

I am 62 years old, single and have no form of retirement. I lived off of my life savings and my investments for that three year period. I was self sufficient and had adequate income to sustain quite a comfortable lifestyle. That was 5 years ago, and now I am left broke, alone and discouraged. My home is now in foreclosure and I have all but lost every thing I worked my entire life for. I was also raising my grandchild, who just left to return to live with his Mom. He informed me that I had destroyed his childhood, by making him live in Nursing homes with Dad. No adult child should be left with this type of financial or emotional state just because they tried to help. Dad made it. I don’t know if I will or not.


hasani answered...

my father was placed in a nursing home with only 60 days of paid medicare. The plan at his admission was for him to stay up until he had 10 days remaining and then he was to be brought to his own home for homecare. The nursing home stated that before my dad could be released, all the caregivers and family menbers, who would be responsible for his care, had to be trained by their staff. We had a family conference and the nursing home staff representatives agreed that it was their oversight and that there would be no charges if time ran beyond his covered medicare days. By the time everyone was "trained" and his new bed was ordered, it created an additional 18 days. The nursing home is now trying to sue for those 18 days. Can they legally do this? We wanted our father released before his medicare days ran out, but they wouldn't. What can we do and are we responsible for his debt, even though it was their fault. Is there a law in the state of California that addresses this issue? thank you


50% helpful
barbhill answered...

Get an attorney and was there anything signed by the nursing home stating it had been their mistake? My personal feeling is, you should have been able to take him out whether the nursing home liked it or not. But I am not an attorney so don't know the answer. My prayers are with you. As I read these questions and see the answers, I realize how little information is out there and how much we need it.


33% helpful
racor answered...

my sister's died on 10/27. now her nursing home is saying she was out of medicare nursing home days. when they called just after she died, i owed $959, i asked for a bill and i'd mail a check. i never saw a bill. today they called again and asked about payment. i said i never got a bill, however, now the total balance due is over $3K. now they want us to apply for medicaid for payment, but she already died.

update: we received a statement saying we owed over $3000, but there is no itemized bill; just a statement dated 11/29 and due 12/05.


50% helpful
barbhill answered...

To racor, until the nursing home provides you with an itemized statement showing all charges, don't pay. Get an attorney if necessary to act on your behalf. Some nursing home managements will try anything to get money they are not due. Three in our area have cited for lack of care, failing to notify family of falls, etc., by the patient. Please keep us informed here as to what happens in your situation. Hugs and prayers.


50% helpful
An anonymous caregiver answered...

century33, I do not believe Medicare covers nursing home costs. That's what I was told at the nursing home my mother is at. Medicare covers REHAB, but once they are a long term care resident, Medicare does not cover. You have to apply for Medicaid. And not everyone gets it.
Something needs to be done in this country. Baby boomers are getting older and the need for affordable elder care and assistance will only become greater.


13% helpful
Lunachick71 answered...

My brother and I are being sued for app. $14,000, by a nursing home in PA. My father passed away last year and had medicare and medicaid, at the time of his death. We can't understand how they can sue us, but a lawyer told us we will lose if we go to court, because the state court upheld the ruling that a man in PA had to pay his mother's bill. I'm literally going to have to sell my home to pay for this, because I'm on disability and I don't have anything to my name, but the house, which has been in my family, since 1929..


50% helpful
An anonymous caregiver answered...

Be careful when you sign a parent in. When I did it, I didn't think to look at whether I would be financially responsible and you are in a bit of a panic at that point so you just sign whatever they want you to. Then I worried if they would hold be financially responsible. Everyone said, "Oh they can't do that! " but I know that in some cases they can and do.


An anonymous caregiver answered...

I think in most cases, get a lawyer, if you can afford it. You might want to line one up if you have an elder parent because these things happen regularly. I try to tell people that they should prepare but people don't listen until they are in the midst of a mess.