Can Adult Children Be Held Responsible for Nursing Home Costs?

As the average life expectancy in this country increases, one of the most difficult decisions that many adult children are faced with is placing their elderly parents in nursing homes. A recent ruling by the Ohio Court of Appeals reaffirms the importance of families consulting with elder law attorneys when making decisions that involve an older family member’s future and long-term care.

The decision to place a parent in a nursing home is often one that occurs after a lengthy period of time where the adult child has been the primary caretaker of the parent. According to a study conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC), MetLife, and New York Medical College, the number of people who are taking care of elderly parents has tripled in the past 15 years, to approximately 36 million families. In almost one-third of those families, the parent has needed full-time caretaking for more than five years.

Being an elderly parent’s primary caretaker can take both an emotional and physical toll on the adult children. By the time the decision is made to place the parent in the nursing home, the caretaker is often struggling with exhaustion and depression, which may now be compounded with guilt at no longer being able to take care of the parent at home. These emotions can interfere with how a person normally reacts and processes personal and business issues.

A frequent example of this is for a son or daughter to be handed a large stack of papers by a nursing-home administrator and told that the papers are just routine and needed in order to admit the parent. It is also common for the son or daughter – given how emotionally overwhelmed they are with the decision to place the parent in a home – to not carefully read the papers they are signing.

In one unfortunate situation, an adult son, as his elderly mother’s power-of-attorney, was handed a stack of papers to read over and sign upon his mother’s admittance to a nursing home. Among the paperwork was a document that, by signing, made the son personally responsible for the cost of his mother’s care. When his mother passed away, the facility sued him and obtained a judgement for the full amount still owed. While careful scrutiny of the admittance paperwork prior to signing may have prevented his predicament, the confusion and emotions involved can make objective decision-making extremely difficult.

If you are struggling with the prospect placing your parent in a nursing home, it is important to consult with an experienced Orland Park elder law attorney to make sure that you will not be held financially liable for any of the expenses that may incur for the care of your parent.