A tough question from Sue S. in Dallas: “I am in the process of moving my elderly mom into a nursing home. Her health needs have become too much for me to handle at home. Between finding the right place for her and trying to make sense out of her finances, Medicaid, and the contracts these facilities want you to sign, I am completely overwhelmed. I am a single mom trying to put my three kids through college. There is no way I can afford to pay both her medical bills and my kids’ tuition. If she runs out of money or Medicaid benefits, am I financially responsible for her care?

This is a heart wrenching situation. If placing your mom in a nursing home wasn’t traumatic and difficult enough, now you have to worry about your family’s finances being at risk if there isn’t enough money to cover her care.

The good news is you typically are not legally responsible to support your parents, including the cost of a nursing home. This true even if you have power of attorney authority over your parent’s finances.

However, there are some circumstances where you could be held financially responsible for your parent’s care.

Nursing Home Admission Documents

Like in Sue’s case, the responsibility for contacting a nursing home, discussing financial arrangements with the facility, and signing the admission papers on behalf of the parent usually falls on the adult child.

Read those admission documents very carefully. Adult children can sometimes unwittingly take on responsibility for their parent’s care when they are filling out the documents.

Power of Attorney

If you are signing the documents on behalf of your parent using your power of attorney, be sure to sign correctly. For example, if Sue is signing the documents on behalf of her mom using a power of attorney and her name is Sue Smith and her mom’s name is Linda Smith, Sue would sign, “Linda Smith, by Sue Smith, power of attorney.” Be sure to bring along a copy of the power of attorney for the nursing home’s files when you are signing the documents.

“Responsible Party” or “Co-Signor”

The admission documents often ask adult children to sign as the “responsible party” or “co-signor.” This is where you need to read the documents very, very carefully.

“Responsible party” could mean the person to be contacted in case of an emergency or the decision-maker regarding medical issues. If this is the case, then it is okay to sign as “responsible party.”

However, some nursing homes require, as a condition to the resident being admitted, that the adult child guarantee payment of the nursing home fees. Unfortunately, this puts the adult child in a terrible predicament. Signing as “responsible party” will help get their parent admitted to the nursing home, but this could cause a tremendous financial burden on the adult child down the road if the parent’s money runs out or her Medicaid benefit won’t cover the full cost of the fees.

Filial Responsibility Laws

Over half of states (not including Texas) have filial responsibility laws that make adult children responsible for their parent’s care. These laws are rarely enforced. The nursing home would have to sue the adult child and prove that the parent is indigent and doesn’t qualify for Medicaid and the adult child has the financial resources to pay.

Shared Assets

Own a house jointly with your mom or share a financial account? Such property and accounts can be reached by creditors or the state to pay for your mom’s care.

What Happens When the Money Runs Out

So what happens if your mom runs out of money for her care? Who pays for it then?

If your mom runs out of money to pay for her care, she can qualify for assistance under Medicaid, the federal state insurance program for low-income or disabled people. Of course, the cost of her nursing home may be more than what Medicaid is willing to pay. In that case, your mom will either have to move to a lower cost facility or someone else (like you) will have to pay the difference.

Once a Medicaid recipient dies, a state by law must try to recover the cost nursing home facility and similar care services, from the estates of recipients age 55 or older. Anything of value that the person owned, including a home, as something that can be used to pay off the Medicaid benefits. This will reduce what your inheritance from your mom.

There are restrictions on what can be recovered. If the deceased has a surviving spouse, a child under 21 years old or a blind or disabled child of any age, the estate is generally off limits, for instance. Property placed in trusts also can be excluded.

Have you helped a loved one with the nursing home admissions process? Leave a comment or send me an email.

Disclaimer: This website is made available for educational purposes only as well as to give general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this website you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the publisher. The website should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Copyright © 2017 by Siobhán Fitzpatrick Kratovil. All Rights Reserved.