Is my Mom responsible for Dad’s nursing home bill?

Q: My dad was in a nursing home and passed away. My mom received a bill saying that she owed $1500 for my dad’s stay in the nursing home. This was over a year ago. (White Oak, PA)

A: This used to be an easy question to answer. In the past, if the community spouse, in this case your mother, never signed the bill as a guarantor, and an estate was not opened for your father, I would say, no. However, many states, including your beloved Commonwealth, have passed “filial” responsibility statutes which hold spouses and next of kin responsible for the medical bills of an indigent person. I would hold off on paying it, exhaust all insurance coverage options, and let them explain to you why your mother owes this bill. If necessary, consult with an elder law attorney in your area.

Are the kids responsible for mother’s medical bills?

Q: Mother accrued a lot of medical bills throughout her lifetime due to illness. She didn’t own anything but a vehicle and some personal belongings so her estate will not have much to pay back her debt. Her estate would mainly be medical bills prior to her getting on Medicare and Medicaid. Will her kids be responsible to pay those bills now that she has passed? Can they garnish our personal assets? (Beechview, PA)

A: Generally, person A is not liable for person B’s debts when person B dies, unless person A signed as a guarantor on a contract. However, PA does have a filial statute that holds next of kin liable for the debts of an indigent family member. However, in my practice, I have not seen it enforced. You may or may not want to open an estate. I would consult with an attorney with whom you can share all the facts before making that decision.

Will step-father have to pay my mother’s nursing home expenses?

Q: Hi. My mother will soon be going to a nursing home. Is my step father responsible for her nursing home expenses after her money? My mom has $75,000 in liquid assets. I own the home she and my step dad live in. My step dad has about $200,000 in liquid assets and owns a farm valued at $950,000. The farm and his assets are in his name only. They have been married 27 years. Is he responsible for her nursing home expense after her money is used up? He lives on his social security and the income from his farm. My mother’s funeral has been prepaid through at trust. Is there anything else we should be doing? (Cecil, PA)

A:  If your step father just paid your mother’s medical expenses out of your mother’s money and waited until she was out of money, he few choices. He would either start to pay from his funds. If he refused, your mother would need Medicaid funding to maintain her care. Your mom has to be eligible for Medicaid, to receive Medicaid benefits. If she is not, her husband could be personally liable for care costs as PA recognized filial responsibility. For determining eligibility for benefits, Medicaid pools the resources of a married couple together so it doesn’t matter at this point who owns what. Through appropriate Medicaid planning, assets can be transferred and repositioned is such ways as to accelerate Medicaid eligibility while protecting the estate, but you need professional help. You really should seek a consultation with an elder law attorney versed in Medicaid regulations.