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As you age, the roles reverse, and you become responsible for your parents. Just as they cared for you when you were vulnerable, now you too must fend for them, especially if they are sick.
You understand this as a moral imperative, but you can't help wondering if there is a limit to this directive. Does it extend to paying parental debts when they cannot cover their costs? Does it apply to nursing home rent, long-term care, and medical bills?
Adult children of older parents who cannot cover their medical care are generally not held responsible for medical bills. There is some protection under general filial responsibility laws.
Many states do have laws that would make it possible to hold an adult child responsible for the care of older adult parents, including paying their bills. But these are dated, and only one state, Pennsylvania, has enforced such a law in recent history.
There are some situations where family members might become entangled in collection efforts. This depends on the extent that you share property or accounts with your parents. These assets may be vulnerable to creditor demands in certain contexts.
This is not because you're responsible for your parents. It is solely because these assets are “held together,” which means owned jointly. Another factor is that you happen to own something that creditors are after. In this case, you will have to decide if paying the bills to protect your other assets is worth it.
Sometimes it is impossible to pay. Whatever the creditors demand, you can't squeeze blood from a stone. But you can try to negotiate on your loved one’s behalf.
You have the option to talk to the institutions about your financial situation. Individual hospitals (and some nursing homes) have policies on bill forgiveness. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, communicating your situation is all it takes.
Your parents can qualify for Medicaid, so that can help. You don’t have to shoulder the responsibility for everything. But an important way you can assist is by checking that they have all the long-term care insurance, social security, and benefits that they qualify for. If not, you can step in and help them apply.
If you are concerned about paying for older adult care or want to make sure that your family is covered in case of emergencies and over the long term, talk to a lawyer.
An estate planning attorney can help your parent’s estate go smoothly and help you plan financially. Or an older adult law attorney can address power of attorney, financial support, or parental care issues.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.