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Who is Legally Responsible for Your Parent's Long-Term Care Costs? Answer: It May Be You!

August 23, 2019

Long-term care can be expensive. Recent estimates put the monthly cost of nursing home care at over $7,400. This is the national average. In New York the average cost of care may be over $12,000 per month.1 Who pays this expense? Long-term care is generally financed in one or more of the following ways:

  • Personal savings
  • Family support
  • Long-term care insurance
  • Medicaid coverage for those who qualify


While family support may be voluntary, it may be required in some jurisdictions. Did you know that 28 states make children legally responsible for their parent’s long-term care costs if their parents can’t pay?2 This is due to the existence of “filial support” laws in these states. Filial support laws may hold adult children liable for their parents’ long-term care expenses under certain circumstances. While these laws may not get much attention, you don’t want to be caught by surprise on the receiving end of one of these statutes.


In most states, for a child to be held accountable for a parent’s bill, the following criteria must be met.3


  • The parent received care in a state that has a filial responsibility law.
  • The parent did not qualify for Medicaid when receiving care.
  • The parent does not have the money to pay the bill.
  • The child has the money to pay the bill.
  • The caregiver or nursing home chooses to sue the child.


To be sure, these laws are not often enforced. The reason is as follows:  most seniors who can’t pay for care receive federal assistance through Medicaid, and federal law prohibits going after adult children.  You might ask, “What about the cost of care while a parent is waiting to qualify for Medicaid?”  While this may indeed occur, most people who qualify for Medicaid don’t rack up large bills before qualifying.


Having said that, a recent case enforcing filial responsibility occurred in Pennsylvania. A son was held liable for $93,000 in nursing home costs for his mother after she was involved in an accident. The court in this case found the son liable while the mother’s Medicaid application was pending, and without regard to other potential sources of payment, including two other siblings.4


The bottom line: filial responsibility laws should not be dismissed out of hand. Depending upon several factors including your state of residence and the particular circumstances of your situation, you might find yourself liable for your parent’s long-term care expenses.

If you would like to know more about long term care planning, please feel free to contact us.  Remember, we are here to help.