An Overview of Filial Responsibility Laws

Father in a wheelchair and son outsideTaking care of aging parents is something you may need to plan for, especially if you think one or both of them might need long-term care. One thing you may not know is that some states have filial responsibility laws that require adult children to help financially with the cost of nursing home care. Whether these laws affect you or not depends largely on where you live and what financial resources your parents have to cover long-term care. But it’s important to understand how these laws work to avoid any financial surprises as your parents age.

Filial Responsibility Laws, Definition

Filial responsibility laws are legal rules that hold adult children financially responsible for their parents’ medical care when parents are unable to pay. More than half of U.S. states have some type of filial support or responsibility law, including:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

Puerto Rico also has laws regarding filial responsibility. Broadly speaking, these laws require adult children to help pay for things like medical care and basic needs when a parent is impoverished. But the way the laws are applied can vary from state to state. For example, some states may include mental health treatment as a situation requiring children to pay while others don’t. States can also place time limitations on how long adult children are required to pay.

When Do Filial Responsibility Laws Apply?

If you live in a state that has filial responsibility guidelines on the books, it’s important to understand when those laws can be applied.

Generally, you may have an obligation to pay for your parents’ medical care if all of the following apply:

  • One or both parents are receiving some type of state government-sponsored financial support to help pay for food, housing, utilities or other expenses
  • One or both parents has nursing home bills they can’t pay
  • One or both parents qualifies for indigent status, which means their Social Security benefits don’t cover their expenses
  • One or both parents are ineligible for Medicaid help to pay for long-term care
  • It’s established that you have the ability to pay outstanding nursing home bills

If you live in a state with filial responsibility laws, it’s possible that the nursing home providing care to one or both of your parents could come after you personally to collect on any outstanding bills owed. This means the nursing home would have to sue you in small claims court.

If the lawsuit is successful, the nursing home would then be able to take additional collection actions against you. That might include garnishing your wages or levying your bank account, depending on what your state allows.

Whether you’re actually subject to any of those actions or a lawsuit depends on whether the nursing home or care provider believes that you have the ability to pay. If you’re sued by a nursing home, you may be able to avoid further collection actions if you can show that because of your income, liabilities or other circumstances, you’re not able to pay any medical bills owed by your parents.

Filial Responsibility Laws and Medicaid

Senior care living areaWhile Medicare does not pay for long-term care expenses, Medicaid can. Medicaid eligibility guidelines vary from state to state but generally, aging seniors need to be income- and asset-eligible to qualify. If your aging parents are able to get Medicaid to help pay for long-term care, then filial responsibility laws don’t apply. Instead, Medicaid can paid for long-term care costs.

There is, however, a potential wrinkle to be aware of. Medicaid estate recovery laws allow nursing homes and long-term care providers to seek reimbursement for long-term care costs from the deceased person’s estate. Specifically, if your parents transferred assets to a trust then your state’s Medicaid program may be able to recover funds from the trust.

You wouldn’t have to worry about being sued personally in that case. But if your parents used a trust as part of their estate plan, any Medicaid recovery efforts could shrink the pool of assets you stand to inherit.

Talk to Your Parents About Estate Planning and Long-Term Care

If you live in a state with filial responsibility laws (or even if you don’t), it’s important to have an ongoing conversation with your parents about estate planning, end-of-life care and where that fits into your financial plans.

You can start with the basics and discuss what kind of care your parents expect to need and who they want to provide it. For example, they may want or expect you to care for them in your home or be allowed to stay in their own home with the help of a nursing aide. If that’s the case, it’s important to discuss whether that’s feasible financially.

If you believe that a nursing home stay is likely then you may want to talk to them about purchasing long-term care insurance or a hybrid life insurance policy that includes long-term care coverage. A hybrid policy can help pay for long-term care if needed and leave a death benefit for you (and your siblings if you have them) if your parents don’t require nursing home care.

Speaking of siblings, you may also want to discuss shared responsibility for caregiving, financial or otherwise, if you have brothers and sisters. This can help prevent resentment from arising later if one of you is taking on more of the financial or emotional burdens associated with caring for aging parents.

If your parents took out a reverse mortgage to provide income in retirement, it’s also important to discuss the implications of moving to a nursing home. Reverse mortgages generally must be repaid in full if long-term care means moving out of the home. In that instance, you may have to sell the home to repay a reverse mortgage.

The Bottom Line

elderly woman in a wheelchair outsideFilial responsibility laws could hold you responsible for your parents’ medical bills if they’re unable to pay what’s owed. If you live in a state that has these laws, it’s important to know when you may be subject to them. Helping your parents to plan ahead financially for long-term needs can help reduce the possibility of you being on the hook for nursing care costs unexpectedly.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about what filial responsibility laws could mean for you if you live in a state that enforces them. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be a complicated process. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect, in just minutes, with professional advisors in your local area. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • When discussing financial planning with your parents, there are other things you may want to cover in addition to long-term care. For example, you might ask whether they’ve drafted a will yet or if they think they may need a trust for Medicaid planning. Helping them to draft an advance healthcare directive and a power of attorney can ensure that you or another family member has the authority to make medical and financial decisions on your parents’ behalf if they’re unable to do so.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Halfpoint, ©iStock.com/byryo, ©iStock.com/Halfpoint

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Source: smartasset.com

How to Change the Executor of a Will

A last will and testamentDrafting a last will and testament can help to ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes after you pass away. You can also use your will to name a legal guardian for minor children or choose an executor for your estate. It’s possible to make changes to your will after it’s written, including removing or adding an executor if necessary. If you’re wondering how to change the executor of a will after the fact, the process is easier than you might think. As you go about the process, it may behoove you to find a trusted financial advisor in your area for hands-on guidance.

Executor of a Will, Explained

The executor of a will is the person responsible for carrying out the terms of a will. When you name someone as executor, you’re giving him or her authority to handle certain tasks related to the distribution of your estate.

Generally, an executor can be any person you name. For example, that might include siblings, your spouse, adult children or your estate planning attorney. Minor children can’t serve as executors and some states prohibit convicted felons from doing so as well.

There’s no rule preventing a beneficiary of a will from also serving as executor. While beneficiaries can’t witness a will in which they have a direct interest, they can be charged with executing the terms of the will once you pass away.

What Does the Executor of a Will Do?

Being executor to a will means there are certain duties you’re obligated to carry out. Those include:

  • Obtaining death certificates after the will-maker passes away
  • Initiating the probate process
  • Creating an inventory of the will-maker’s assets
  • Notifying the will-maker’s creditors of the death
  • Paying off any outstanding debts owed by the will-maker
  • Closing bank accounts if necessary
  • Reading the will to the deceased person’s heirs
  • Distributing assets to the persons named in the will

Executors can’t change the terms of the will; they can only see that its terms are carried out. An executor can collect a fee for their services, which is typically a percentage of the value of the estate they’re finalizing.

Reasons to Change the Executor of a Will

While you may draft a will assuming that your choice of executor won’t change, there are different reasons why making a switch may be necessary. For example, you may need to choose a new executor if:

  • Your original executor passes away or becomes seriously ill and can’t fulfill his or her duties
  • You named your spouse as executor but you’ve since gotten a divorce
  • The person you originally named decides he or she no longer wants the responsibility
  • You’ve had a personal falling out with your executor
  • You believe that a different person is better equipped to execute your will

You don’t need to provide a specific reason to change the executor of a will. Once you’re ready to do so there are two options to choose from: add a codicil to an existing will or draft a brand-new will.

Using a Codicil 
to Change the Executor of a Will

Woman changes her will

A codicil is a written amendment that you can use to change the terms of your will without having to write a new one. Codicils can be used to change the executor of a will or revise any other terms as needed. If you want to change your will’s executor using a codicil, the first step is choosing a new executor. Remember, this can be almost anyone who’s an adult of sound mind, excluding felons.

Next, you’d write the codicil. In it, you’d specify the changes you’re making to your will (i.e. naming a new executor), the name of the person who should serve as executor going forward and the date the change should take effect. You’d also need to validate the codicil the same way you did your original will.

This means signing and dating the codicil in the presence of at least two witnesses. Witnesses must be legal adults of sound mind and they can’t have an interest in the will. So, a beneficiary to the will couldn’t witness your codicil but a neighbor or coworker could if they don’t stand to benefit from the will directly or indirectly.

Once the codicil is completed and signed by yourself and the witnesses, you can attach it to your existing will. It’s helpful to keep a copy of your will and the codicil in a safe place, such as a safe deposit box. You may also want to give a copy to your estate planning attorney if you have one.

Writing a New Will to 
Change the Executor of a Will

If you need to change more than just the executor of your will, you might consider drafting a new will document. The process for drafting a new will is similar to the one you followed for making your original one.

You’d need to specify who your beneficiaries will be, how you want your assets to be distributed and who should serve as executor. The new will would also need to be signed and properly witnessed.

But you’d have to take the added step of destroying all copies of the original will. This is necessary to avoid confusion and potential challenges to the terms of the will after you pass away. If you’re not sure how to draft a new will to replace an existing one, you may want to talk to an estate planning attorney to make sure you’re doing so legally.

What Happens If You Don’t Name an Executor?

Probate court hearing form

If, for any reason, you choose not to name an executor in your will the probate court can assign one. After you pass away, eligible persons can apply to become the executor of your estate. The person the court chooses would then be able to carry out the terms of your will. If you don’t have a will at all, then your assets would be distributed according to your state’s inheritance laws.

That’s why it’s important to take the time to at least write a simple will. This way, there’s no question of your estate being divided among your heirs the way that you want it to be.

The Bottom Line

Making a will can be a good starting point for shaping your estate plan. Naming an executor means you don’t have to rely on the probate court to do it. But if you need to change the executor of your will later, it’s possible to do so with minimal headaches.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about creating an estate plan and what you might need. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect with an advisor in your local area. It takes just a few minutes to get your personalized recommendations online. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • A will is just one document you may need as part of your estate plan. You may also consider setting up a trust, for example, if you have extensive assets or own a business. Life insurance is something you may also need to have, along with an advance health care directive and/or power of attorney.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/eric1513, ©iStock.com/kate_sept2004, ©iStock.com/courtneyk

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Source: smartasset.com