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Can a child be held responsible for a parentís debts after death?

We recently published a post about who inherits credit card debt when the cardholder dies. But other types of debt may be an issue as well. One primary concern is who will pay for a loved one’s health care expenses after death if insurance, Medicaid or some other type of payment doesn’t cover them.

In Nevada, these expenses come under a law known as “filial” responsibility.  As of 2012, 29 states have filial statutes although many of them haven’t been used to collect debt for decades. These laws are based on moral obligations from centuries past that required children to basically obey the Ten Commandments: to respect and obey their parents as well as personally provide their care.

Almost all of the 50 states at one time had filial responsibility statutes but as other options for payment of these debts, such as Medicaid and Social Security, were implemented, the use of the statutes to enforce collection was rare except when children with the means to support a parent largely neglected those expenses. Now that the government has decreased some of these benefits, large balances may be due when a parent dies.

In Nevada at least, the obligation to pay these expenses is somewhat limited. Nevada Statute 428.070 requires filial support, but ONLY where the child has promised to do in writing. This requirement is an excellent example of how the advice of an estate planning attorney in Nevada can help prevent this obligation. A review of any estate planning documents prepared for the parent can ensure that none of them contain anything that could be construed to fulfill the requirement of this written obligation.

Even though Nevada’s law is limited at this time, other situations may arise if the parent lives in a different state with more stringent laws for collection of the debt. If those states are still able to use their law to reach a child who is a Nevada resident, more significant obligations may be enforced. Again, the advice of an estate planning attorney before the death of a parent may help determine whether a child will be subject to such laws, and possibly how to avoid them.

Source: AARP.org, “More Filial Support Cases Ending Up in Court,” Lisa McElroy, October 28, 2013

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