Doug’s mom lived in a nursing home. After she spent all her money and assets on nursing home care, the nursing home’s social worker completed a Medicaid application for her. Before the state made a decision on the application, Doug’s mom died. The nursing home sued Doug, claiming he was responsible for his mom’s unpaid bills, even though he never agreed to pay them. Does the nursing home have a case? It just might.

During the last 5-10 years, nursing homes have successfully sued adult children for their parents’ nursing home expenses using state filial responsibility laws. These laws require that adult children whose parents are or become indigent pay for their parents’ necessities unless the children lack the means to do so. Necessities include medical care, food, shelter, and clothing.

The good news is that once someone qualifies for Medicaid (a state-administered program that helps low-income and indigent people afford health care), the filial responsibility laws don’t apply. That’s because the government has agreed to pay the nursing home. In Doug’s situation, however, the state never agreed to pay for his mom’s care; the application was pending when she died.

You, your siblings, and your loved one can avoid this mess by planning for your loved one’s care long before she needs it. Talk with an attorney who specializes in estate planning and find ways for you and your siblings — those who have the means — to share the burden of your parent’s nursing home expenses should your parent becomes indigent. Next, find out how a person living in your parent’s state qualifies for Medicaid and when the application should be filed. Do not put off the application process until your parent is absolutely destitute.

The 28 states with filial responsibility laws are: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.