Woman visiting parent in nursing home

Eating a healthy diet and exercising are both good for us but do not guarantee that we will avoid serious health issues as we age. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that nearly 70% of people aged 65 and older will need long-term care in their remaining years. On average, women need care longer (3.7 years) than men (2.2 years).

Inexpensive Nursing Homes Don’t Exist

In 2020, more than 1.29 million residents were living in certified nursing facilities across the United States, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Of that number, 36,397 people were in North Carolina nursing homes. The daily cost for a private room in the Raleigh area was $265 ($96,725 annually). For a shared room, it was $235 ($85,775 annually).

If you have parents or grandparents in nursing homes, you’re aware that Medicare does not pay for nursing home care after 100 days. Medicaid coverage is generally, although not always, reserved for those who have few assets and reduced income.

What you might not know is that North Carolina law declares you are responsible for your parents’ bills.

Say What??

It’s true. Since 1955, North Carolina law has maintained that adult children must support their parents if they can’t support themselves. (The law, which has been revised a few times, does not mention grandparents.) Children who neglect their filial duty are guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor, which can be up to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. For a subsequent offense, the charge is a Class 1 misdemeanor (45 days in jail/judge’s discretion on fine).

North Carolina courts have twice cited the filial law, although no one has been prosecuted. With tightening government budgets and the escalating costs of nursing home care, it may only be a matter of time before these filial responsibility laws start seeing broader enforcement.  Thus, if you’re signing paperwork to admit your parents or grandparents into a facility, pay attention to the fine print i the contract and consider consulting with an elder law attorney before signing anything.

Is North Carolina the Only State with This Law?

Similar filial laws exist in 24 states, although not all allow for criminal charges, and each varies in enforcement and penalties. Some statutes extend the children’s responsibility to adoptive parents and other relatives. Due to blended families, it is not clear whether a stepchild has the same duty as a biological child.

In some states, nursing homes have even filed lawsuits against adult children to help recover the high costs of caring for their elderly parents. A few lawsuits have been filed across state lines.

Protect Yourself

You can mitigate the financial and emotional crisis by planning now. Start by evaluating your long-term care plans. How will you cover your living and medical expenses as you age? Is your health care insurance adequate? Should you require daily assistance, where do you want to live? Who will manage your finances? If you have young children, who will care for them? If you are married, your spouse needs to address these issues as well.

It’s better to be proactive before you are suddenly facing a health emergency. The elder law attorneys at Carolina Family Estate Planning can walk you through these and other questions to determine the best strategies for you and your family.

Protect Your Parents

Next, schedule a meeting with your parents and siblings. If your parents currently live in their own home, are they financially able to remain there should they need long-term care? In 2020, it cost nearly $4,200 a month for a home health aide in the Raleigh area.

If they are in a nursing home, can they afford to stay there until death? If not, how will the family cover the bills? Are their estate papers (wills, trusts, power of attorney, health power of attorney) up to date?

If appropriate, you and your siblings may need to have the same conversation with your grandparents and other elderly relatives.

An elder care attorney can help guide you and your parents. In addition to preparing estate documents, Carolina Family Estate Planning has extensive knowledge of Medicare and Medicaid regulations and exemptions. We are also knowledgeable in state and veterans’ programs for elder care. Our elder law attorneys take the burden off your family by filling out and submitting all the paperwork to government agencies.