An Overview of Filial Responsibility Laws

Father in a wheelchair and son outsideTaking care of aging parents is something you may need to plan for, especially if you think one or both of them might need long-term care. One thing you may not know is that some states have filial responsibility laws that require adult children to help financially with the cost of nursing home care. Whether these laws affect you or not depends largely on where you live and what financial resources your parents have to cover long-term care. But it’s important to understand how these laws work to avoid any financial surprises as your parents age.

Filial Responsibility Laws, Definition

Filial responsibility laws are legal rules that hold adult children financially responsible for their parents’ medical care when parents are unable to pay. More than half of U.S. states have some type of filial support or responsibility law, including:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

Puerto Rico also has laws regarding filial responsibility. Broadly speaking, these laws require adult children to help pay for things like medical care and basic needs when a parent is impoverished. But the way the laws are applied can vary from state to state. For example, some states may include mental health treatment as a situation requiring children to pay while others don’t. States can also place time limitations on how long adult children are required to pay.

When Do Filial Responsibility Laws Apply?

If you live in a state that has filial responsibility guidelines on the books, it’s important to understand when those laws can be applied.

Generally, you may have an obligation to pay for your parents’ medical care if all of the following apply:

  • One or both parents are receiving some type of state government-sponsored financial support to help pay for food, housing, utilities or other expenses
  • One or both parents has nursing home bills they can’t pay
  • One or both parents qualifies for indigent status, which means their Social Security benefits don’t cover their expenses
  • One or both parents are ineligible for Medicaid help to pay for long-term care
  • It’s established that you have the ability to pay outstanding nursing home bills

If you live in a state with filial responsibility laws, it’s possible that the nursing home providing care to one or both of your parents could come after you personally to collect on any outstanding bills owed. This means the nursing home would have to sue you in small claims court.

If the lawsuit is successful, the nursing home would then be able to take additional collection actions against you. That might include garnishing your wages or levying your bank account, depending on what your state allows.

Whether you’re actually subject to any of those actions or a lawsuit depends on whether the nursing home or care provider believes that you have the ability to pay. If you’re sued by a nursing home, you may be able to avoid further collection actions if you can show that because of your income, liabilities or other circumstances, you’re not able to pay any medical bills owed by your parents.

Filial Responsibility Laws and Medicaid

Senior care living areaWhile Medicare does not pay for long-term care expenses, Medicaid can. Medicaid eligibility guidelines vary from state to state but generally, aging seniors need to be income- and asset-eligible to qualify. If your aging parents are able to get Medicaid to help pay for long-term care, then filial responsibility laws don’t apply. Instead, Medicaid can paid for long-term care costs.

There is, however, a potential wrinkle to be aware of. Medicaid estate recovery laws allow nursing homes and long-term care providers to seek reimbursement for long-term care costs from the deceased person’s estate. Specifically, if your parents transferred assets to a trust then your state’s Medicaid program may be able to recover funds from the trust.

You wouldn’t have to worry about being sued personally in that case. But if your parents used a trust as part of their estate plan, any Medicaid recovery efforts could shrink the pool of assets you stand to inherit.

Talk to Your Parents About Estate Planning and Long-Term Care

If you live in a state with filial responsibility laws (or even if you don’t), it’s important to have an ongoing conversation with your parents about estate planning, end-of-life care and where that fits into your financial plans.

You can start with the basics and discuss what kind of care your parents expect to need and who they want to provide it. For example, they may want or expect you to care for them in your home or be allowed to stay in their own home with the help of a nursing aide. If that’s the case, it’s important to discuss whether that’s feasible financially.

If you believe that a nursing home stay is likely then you may want to talk to them about purchasing long-term care insurance or a hybrid life insurance policy that includes long-term care coverage. A hybrid policy can help pay for long-term care if needed and leave a death benefit for you (and your siblings if you have them) if your parents don’t require nursing home care.

Speaking of siblings, you may also want to discuss shared responsibility for caregiving, financial or otherwise, if you have brothers and sisters. This can help prevent resentment from arising later if one of you is taking on more of the financial or emotional burdens associated with caring for aging parents.

If your parents took out a reverse mortgage to provide income in retirement, it’s also important to discuss the implications of moving to a nursing home. Reverse mortgages generally must be repaid in full if long-term care means moving out of the home. In that instance, you may have to sell the home to repay a reverse mortgage.

The Bottom Line

elderly woman in a wheelchair outsideFilial responsibility laws could hold you responsible for your parents’ medical bills if they’re unable to pay what’s owed. If you live in a state that has these laws, it’s important to know when you may be subject to them. Helping your parents to plan ahead financially for long-term needs can help reduce the possibility of you being on the hook for nursing care costs unexpectedly.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about what filial responsibility laws could mean for you if you live in a state that enforces them. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be a complicated process. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect, in just minutes, with professional advisors in your local area. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • When discussing financial planning with your parents, there are other things you may want to cover in addition to long-term care. For example, you might ask whether they’ve drafted a will yet or if they think they may need a trust for Medicaid planning. Helping them to draft an advance healthcare directive and a power of attorney can ensure that you or another family member has the authority to make medical and financial decisions on your parents’ behalf if they’re unable to do so.

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What Long-Term Care Insurance Covers

what does long term care insurance cover
While Medicare and Medicaid both help aging adults afford some of their medical expenses, they may not cover the cost of an extended illness or disability. That’s where long-term care insurance comes into play. Long-term care insurance helps policyholders pay for their long-term care needs such as nursing home care. We’ll explain what long-term care insurance covers and whether or not such coverage is something you or your loved ones should consider.

Long-Term Care Insurance Explained

Long-term care insurance helps individuals pay for a variety of services. Most of these services do not include medical care. Coverage may include the cost of staying in a nursing home or assisted living facility, adult day care or in-home care. This includes nursing care, physical, occupational or speech therapy and help with day to day activities.

A long-term care insurance policy pays for the cost of care due to a chronic illness, a disability, or injury. It also provides an individual with the assistance they may require as a result of the general effects of aging. Primarily, though, long-term care insurance is designed to help pay for the costs of custodial and personal care, versus strictly medical care.

When You Should Consider Long-Term Care Insurance

During the financial planning process, it’s important to consider long-term care costs. This is important if you are close to retirement age. Unfortunately, if you wait too long to purchase coverage, it may be too late. Many applicants may not qualify if they already have a chronic illness or disability.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an adult turning 65 has a 70% chance of needing some form of long-term care. While only one-third of retirees may never need long-term care coverage, 20% may need it for five years or longer. With a private nursing home room averaging about $7,698 per month, long-term care could end up being a huge financial burden for you and your family.

Most health insurance policies won’t cover long-term care costs. Additionally, if you’re counting on Medicare to assist you with these extra expenses, you may be out of luck. Medicare doesn’t cover long-term care or custodial care. Most nursing homes classify under the custodial care category. This classification of care includes the supervision of your daily tasks.

So, if you don’t have long-term care insurance, you’re on the hook for these expenses. However, it’s possible to get help through Medicaid for low income families. But keep in mind, you may only receive coverage after you deplete your life savings. Just know that Medicare may cover short-term nursing care or hospice care, but little of the long-term care in between.

What Does Long Term Care Insurance Cover

what does long term care insurance coverSo what does long term care insurance cover, Well, since the majority of long-term care policies are comprehensive policies, they may cover at-home care, adult day care, assisted living facilities (resident care or alternative care), and nursing home care. At home, long-term care may cover the cost of professional nursing care, occupational therapy, or rehabilitation. This may also include assistance with daily tasks, including bathing or brushing teeth.

Additionally, long-term care coverage can cover short-term hospice care for individuals who are terminally ill. The objective of hospice care is to help with pain management and provide emotional and physical support for all parties involved. Most policies allow beneficiaries to obtain care at a hospice facility, nursing home, or in the comfort of their own home. However, most hospice care is not considered long-term care and may receive coverage through Medicare.

Also, long-term care insurance can help cover the costs of respite care or temporary care. These policy extensions provide time off to those who care for an individual on a regular basis. Usually, respite care provides compensation to caregivers for 14 to 21 days a year. This care can take place at a nursing home, adult daytime care facility, or at home

What Long-Term Care Doesn’t Cover

If you have a pre-existing medical condition, you may not be eligible for long-term care during the exclusion period. The exclusion period can last for several months after your initial purchase of the policy. Also, if a family member provides in-home care, your policy may not pay them for their services.

Keep in mind, long-term care coverage won’t cover medical care costs. Many of your medical costs will fall under your coverage plan if you’re eligible for Medicare.

Long-Term Care Insurance Costs

Some of the following factors may affect the cost of your long-term care policy:

  • The age of the policyholder.
  • The maximum amount the policy will pay per year.
  • The maximum number of days the policy will pay.
  • The lifetime maximum amount that the policy will pay
  • Any additional options or benefits you choose.

If you’re in poor health or you’re currently receiving long-term care, you may not qualify for a plan. However, it’s possible to qualify for a limited amount of coverage with a higher premium rate. Some group policies don’t even require underwriting.

According to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance (AALTCI), a couple in their mid-50s can purchase a new long-term care policy for around $3,000 a year. The combined benefit of this plan would be roughly $770,000. Keep in mind, some policies limit your payout period. These payout limitations may be two to five years, while other policies may offer a lifetime benefit. This is an important consideration when finding the right policy.

Bottom Line

what does long term care insurance coverWhile it’s highly likely that you may need some form of long-term care, it’s wise to consider how you will pay for this additional cost as you age. While a long-term care policy is a viable option, there are alternatives you can consider.

One viable choice would be to boost your retirement savings to help compensate for long-term care costs. Ultimately, it comes down to what level of risk you’re comfortable with and how well a long-term care policy fits into your bigger financial picture.

Retirement Tips

  • If you’re unsure what long-term care might mean to your retirement plans, consider consulting a financial advisor. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • The looming costs of long-term care may have you thinking about how much money you’ll need for retirement. If you aren’t sure how much your 401(k) or Social Security will factor into the equation, SmartAsset’s retirement guide can help you sort out the details.

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