My mother is 58 and moving in with us. She is suffering...
My mother is 58 and moving in with us. She is suffering from some health problems and lost her job. We cannot pay her bills or cover her medical, but can provide a roof over her head. She cannot work right now. How do we keep her finances separate from ours so that she is eligilble for public assistance and how do we protect ourselves from liability due to her financial situation?
You're actually asking two separate questions. One is about how to keep your finances separate so that your income and assets are not counted as your mother's if she applies for public assistance such as Medicaid (which can cover all her medical bills), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and state welfare payments. She should maintain her own bank account and whatever money she does receive from any source should be put into that account, kept separate from your money. Both Medicaid and SSI can consider the value of the housing and food you provide her as part off her "income," but that alone is not likely to disqualify her from those benefits. Otherwise, they won't count your income and assets when considering your mother's eligibility.
If your mother cannot work at all because of her health problems, and she is not likely to be able to work for a year or more, she should also consider applying for Social Security Disability benefits. If she qualifies, based on her condition, she could receive substantial monthly payments.
The other question you're asking is about your financial liability because of her situation. You are not liable for your mother's personal debts just because she lives with you. You only become liable for some expense of your mother's if you and she jointly sign an agreement to be legally responsible -- such as jointly holding the same credit card which you both use, or signing an agreement with a store, medical provider or other creditor to pay her bills if she can't. (One exception to this separateness if there's no written agreement is your car -- if you let your mother drive your car and she gets into an accident, in most states the law allows the other party to go after you for a certain amount of the damages your mother caused, even though you haven't signed an agreement to do so.)
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