Review of Child’s Responsibility to For a Pay Parent’s Nursing Care

Will a Child Have To Pay For Mom’s or Dad’s Long Term Care Costs?

Ever since the 2012 PA case, Health Care & Retirement Corporation of America v. Pittas (Pa. Super. Ct., No. 536 EDA 2011, May 7, 2012), was decided and a son was found to be personally responsible for paying his mother’s unpaid nursing home expense, children have become increasingly concerned that they might have to pay for their parents’ nursing care costs.  You can read an earlier Elder Law Solutions article outlining the Pittas case facts and analysis.

This filial support issue is not to be taken lightly and every one should be concerned about the consequences if their parent is in need of long term care.  The care cost can be exorbitant and therefore could have a crippling impact on a child forced to be economically responsible.

There was a recent decision in Montana, which is a filial support state, that gives us some level of guidance and hope that not all children will have to pay their parents’ nursing home bills.  Again, this is a Montana case and therefore not controlling in Pennsylvania.  It does give us some guidance on how a case might be reviewed in PA.

The Case Review:

Son in Filial Support State Not Personally Liable for Mother’s Nursing Home Care Expense

In a case argued in a trial court in Montana, a state with a filial support statute, the nursing care facility sued a son to collect his mother’s outstanding care bills.   A summary judgment in favor of the son of the nursing home resident was enered.  Heritage Place, Inc. v. Jerry A. Jarrell (Mont. Dist. Ct., 11th Dist., No. DV-11-430(D), July 2, 2013).

Jerry Jarrell’s mother, Dena Mae Jarrell, received care from Heritage Place, a nursing home.  Mr. Jarrell, acting under a durable power of attorney, signed all of the admissions paperwork on his mother’s behalf, including a contract stating that “The Agent is not a guarantor of the Resident’s obligation to the Facility.”  When Ms. Jarrell passed away, Heritage Place sued Mr. Jarrell, alleging that as his mother’s attorney-in-fact, Mr. Jarrell had a duty to pay Ms. Jarrell’s debts, that he had made oral promises to pay the debt, and that he was liable for the debt under Montana’s filial support statute.

Mr. Jarrell filed a motion for summary judgment claiming that he was only acting as his mother’s agent and was not personally liable for his mother’s debt.  He also argued that both Montana and federal law prohibited nursing homes from forcing relatives to guarantee residents’ debts as a condition of admission.  Finally, Mr. Jarrell argued, inter alia, that the statutory bases for the argument that children have a duty to maintain their indigent parents are preempted in this case by the state and federal prohibition on guarantees of nursing home debt.

The Eleventh Judicial District Court of Montana grants Mr. Jarrell’s motion for summary judgment.  The court finds that “[i]t is undisputed that Jerry indicated in the Admissions Agreement that he was not a voluntary guarantor but was an agent/responsible party.  As such, he ‘[was] not a guarantor of the Resident’s obligation to the Facility.’ . . . Montana and federal law clearly bar nursing homes from requiring a third party, like Jerry, to guarantee payment as condition for either the admission or continued stay of a patient. . . The specific prohibitions on nursing homes soliciting payment from third parties accordingly trump the more general language of [the filial support statute].”

For the full text of this decision, click here.

The Jarrell case is a good result for those concerned about possible filial responsibility.  From a practical perspective, the case outlines that children must take steps to protect themselves from personal liability.  Children acting as Agents under a POA should never sign to accept economic responsibility for anything, let alone nursing home care costs.  In fact, they should go out of their way to have the care facility sign something that says that the Agent/child IS NOT personally liable.  Obviously, children do not want the economic responsibility of having to pay for Mom or Dad’s care, but they also do not want to have to fight a legal battle to protect themselves.  As we all know, legal battles can be expensive and lengthy even if you win.

For more information regarding Elder Law and Estate Planning in Pennsylvania, please contact Douglas L. Kaune, esquire at 610 933 8069 or email him at Unruh, Turner, Burke & Frees, P.C. is a full service law firm which has three convenient office locations in Phoenixville,
West Chester and Paoli, Pennsylvania.  The firm primarily services clients in Chester, Montgomery, Delaware, Philadelphia, Bucks and Berks Counties,
but can represent clients throughout Pennsylvania.