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Could Your Kids Be Stuck with Your Nursing Home Bill?

At Kimbrough Law, we talk a lot about the importance of planning ahead for long-term care costs. Yet many people don't plan for their future elder care expenses the way they might for their retirement or for their children's college education. Many people--especially middle and lower income people--assume that Medicaid will be there to pick up the nursing home tab.

And today, for many people, Medicaid is there to pick up the tab. But what happens if Medicaid goes away? If Medicaid doesn't pay, what happens to all the older adults who don't have the resources to pay for their own nursing home care? Who pays? Would adult children be forced to foot the bill?

As the annual cost of a private room in a nursing home passes the $100,000 per year mark for the first time ever (see the 2018 Genworth Cost of Care Study for all the gruesome details), a little-known legal doctrine called filial responsibility, is getting more attention. These laws, on the books in about half of the U.S. states, could hold adult children responsible for the long-term care bills of parents or other family members.

Filial responsibility is a name given to laws that make third parties (usually adult children) responsible for support for indigent family members. These laws are based on English "poor laws" from the 16th Century. Many states, including Georgia, have these laws on the books. Georgia's version, however, is more bark than bite. The Georgia statute, which is found at O.C.G.A. § 36-12-3, provides that the “county” providing care for a pauper may bring an action against a father, mother or child to recover support provided to the pauper. Counties rarely provide support to elders these days, so it's unlikely that a claim could be brought.

But that doesn't mean there's no risk that filial laws could end up affecting Georgia families. An article that ran on in February explains how these obscure laws are being applied to long-term care costs. Some say it's unfair and unjust to use these laws to force children to cover their parents' costs. Others say it's even less fair to pass these costs to the state (and ultimately, the taxpayers) in the form of Medicaid or other state payments.

The moral of the story is clear: the days of sticking your head in the sand and hoping that you'll die peacefully in your sleep are over. You may be comfortable sticking Medicaid with your nursing home bill, but how would you feel about saddling your kids with it?

If you're in Georgia and you're ready to plan, Kimbrough Law can help. Just give us a call at 706.850.6910.

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