Are Adult Children Responsible for the Bills of Their Parents?

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I’ve been estranged from my Mother for my entire adult life, I am 33-years-old. She was absent for all of my childhood and adolescence (my dad and maternal grandmother shared custody of me and my sister when they divorced). When I have tried connecting with her even on a limited basis over the years it’s always ended poorly (i.e. always in a state of crisis and needing money and getting abusive if I am can’t help or try to set boundaries). There are many other gory details, but I will spare you :) Needless to say, I’ve made the conscious decision not to have her in my life. However, I just heard from my uncle that she is very sick and in the hospital and I am wondering what my financial obligations are. Both of my grandparents/her parents have passed and both of her siblings are incapable of providing any care (both financially and emotionally – one just declared bankruptcy and the other is autistic). My sister lives in CO and has washed her hands of the situation. So, that leaves me to shoulder the responsibility. That said, my questions are: If she were to name me next of kin, or appoint me power of attorney, what would the implications be for me legally? Would I be in anyway legally bound or obligated to cover any outstanding medical expenses etc? She doesn’t have any insurance and is currently on the San Mateo County Medical Plan and I THINK she is only 64 so not yet eligible for Medicare are there any other assistance programs that you are aware of that might help with expenses for low income/under-insured if she ends up needing hospice or long term hospitalization? I’ve started poking around on healthcare.gov as that may be an option for her, but as she has $0 income and is on cash aid and food stamps I am not sure that is an option. Any guidance you can provide would be hugely helpful. Thank you!

[NOTE: Articles and answers on DearEsq., while written and published by lawyers, do not constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship is formed by your reading of this information. You should always consult with an attorney for any legal situations.]

In regard to your first question, several states have laws known as Filial Responsibility Laws which make adult children responsible for their deceased parent’s outstanding medical bills. Though such laws exist, most states do not enforce them. If such laws are enforced, courts typically consider a variety of factors regarding the relationship between the parent and child prior to ordering the payment of any qualifying expenses (ex-medical bills). Further, the following factors are usually assessed in determining whether or not the child will be held accountable for their parent’s bill:

1. The parent received care in a state that has a filial responsibility law.
2. The parent did not qualify for Medicaid when receiving care.
3. The parent does not have the money to pay the bill.
4. The child has the money to pay the bill.
5. The caregiver chooses to sue the child.

You should contact an attorney for help if you are worried about the financial consequences that may occur in the event of your mother expiring.

In regard to finding healthcare coverage, you can review the health insurance plans displayed on Covered California here – Covered California. The website provides a variety of affordable health care plans for low income individuals.

Click the links below for more information about your rights and responsibilities regarding your mother’s medical bills in which you may be held accountable for:

Requiring Adult Children to Pay for Aging Parents

Your Obligation to Pay a Parent’s Nursing Home Bill

Adult Children Could Be on Hook for Parents’ Nursing Home Bills



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Author: House Attorney