If your parents rack up big medical bills during their lifetime - or end up in a nursing home that they can’t really afford – did you know that you could be forced to pay their bills? More and more adult children are being sued by nursing homes to pay the medical bills of their parents. Especially children who take money from their parents’ bank accounts, not to pay mom and dad’s medical bills, but for their own purchases. The lawsuits are based on little-known laws that date back to 1600s Colonial America called “filial support” or “filial responsibility” laws – which require adult children to support parents who have no money.

So why are more and more kids being sued to pay for their parents medical care? Because nursing homes are going broke caring for residents. The American Health Care Association says that most nursing homes are struggling to stay in the black these days, with profit margins hovering around 1%. Most of the money they do get comes from Medicaid, a state and federally-funded program that provides health care. Thanks to the recession, it’s harder than ever for nursing homes to collect Medicaid for their residents. So, how can you lower your risk of having to pay your parents’ medical bills?

  • First, don’t take money from your parents’ bank accounts or investments to pay for your own wants or needs, because if your parents’ nursing home sees you spending your parents’ money on yourself, they can come after it.
  • Also, if your parents are having trouble paying their bills, help fill out the paperwork necessary for them to qualify for Medicaid. The fact is: Nursing homes often file suit to force someone to apply for Medicaid coverage just to get their money. So, save yourself the aggravation and apply for Medicaid up front.
  • Finally: If you do get sued, check your local laws. Some states – including Pennsylvania – can’t target adult children for the debts of their parents if they don’t have the means to pay.