The annual cost of care study was just released by Genworth, showing the average private room in a nursing home – for the first time ever – costs over $100,000 a year. If that number doesn’t shock you, it should.
Imagine your parents needing this type of care. Now imagine that instead of your parents having to pay it, you must cover the bill. This might surprise you, but a little-known legal doctrine on the books in about half of U.S. states, called filial support laws, could hold you responsible for the long-term care bills of your parents or other family members.
While filial laws have been on the books for decades, the massively underfunded liability of future long-term care costs for today’s retirees is sparking a new look at these old rules. The cost of long-term care in the U.S. is becoming a serious issue for retirees and taxpayers.
Retirees must to set aside large portions of their savings, buy long-term care insurance, or rely on family or Medicaid. And while Medicaid serves as a de-facto safety net if you run out of money in retirement, the heavy reliance on the program is putting stress on state budgets and taxpayers to fund the system.
Legal Precedence Taking Shape
The most widely discussed and popularized case of filial laws being applied to long-term care costs came in 2012: Health Care & Retirement Corporation of America v. Pittas. In this case, the Pennsylvania appellate division upheld a lower court ruling that found an adult son liable for his mother’s $93,000 nursing home bill. The mother had left the country and was not covered by Medicare. Additional court cases have erupted since.
In a more recent case, Eori ex rel. Eori v. Eori, a Pennsylvania court upheld a finding of filial-support obligation from one brother to another to help pay for the long-term care support of their seriously ill mother. This was an interesting development because it applied the law outside of an existing debt and professional facility.
Laws on this matter vary significantly by state. Some state laws apply only from parents to children and children to parents. Others include siblings. Some, like Pennsylvania, have a very broad scope of what costs you could be liable for. Others, like Arkansas, limit it only to mental health care. Meanwhile, while some states do not have filial support laws, different doctrines may require spousal support for medical or other necessary expenses, like burial costs.