Dear Michael: We read some things in the paper and heard on the news where children have been held responsible for their parent’s long-term care costs. Is that possible here or is that another scare tactic by Medicaid? We saw where a family had responsibility of $43,000 of their mother’s care. Are we financially responsible for the costs of our parent’s care? – Surprised

Dear Surprised: I’m sure that’s exactly how the family felt when they received a judgement against them for the costs of care – surprised.

The best way to answer this is, yes, you are responsible under the current laws of North Dakota for your indigent parents under a law that’s over 100 years old.

North Dakota is one of about 25 states that has this filial law on the books in their state. For a long time, it was strongly enforced, but then Medicare and Medicaid came along and it hasn’t been used for many years.

However, almost 25 percent of our state’s expenditures (and as much as 40 percent in some states) go toward health care costs – primarily Medicaid. When you read articles about how the state doesn’t have enough money to pay for roads or upkeep or salaries, old laws like this are dusted off and brought back to the forefront again. Almost every state is having financial issues with budget shortfalls and expect more and more states are going to make moves to protect themselves.

If you read the column regarding this, when asked about this law a few legislators stated they’d like to do away with it, but a few more said the law “certainly needs to be re-worked” – which means it’s likely not going away and it’s just going to be clarified as to who is responsible and who is not. But the law will stand in some fashion.

The other thing I noticed in the article, as the dumbfounded children were seen staring at the bill, was the quote from them saying, “We didn’t even know how much the nursing home was costing because we didn’t think we were responsible.”

Guess what, folks? If your parents need to go into a long-term care facility, the children need to go with the them, find out how much it costs, see if your parents can afford this amount or what needs to be done. Don’t walk away and assume it someone else’s problem.

It seems to me (reading between the lines of the article), this is what happened to these elderly people and this is the state’s way of saying, “Hold on now, you could at least come in and talk about this without just dropping them off at the curb. If you just assume someone’s going to take care of it, you’re right – and it might be you, depending on the circumstances.”

We’ll keep a close watch on this during the next legislative session to see if they do away with, or if they modify, the current law in some way, and what those modifications might mean to you and your siblings regarding your parent’s costs of care.

Parents, if you need to go to some type of care facility, take more than one of your children with you so they can have a chat with the financial department and iron out who is going to pay for this.

I know you want to be strong and independent, but let’s face it, if you need care of some sort, you’re probably in the position to need family members with you so they know what’s going on and can do what they need on your behalf. As it turns out, it’s possibly for their own benefit as well. This law enforced by the state will motivate more children to attend!

Write Michael Baron at Great Plains Diversified Services at 1424 W. Century Ave., Ste. 208, Bismarck, ND 58501.

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Michael Baron provides estate planning guidance at Great Plains Diversified Services in Bismarck, North Dakota. Email him at


Michael Baron provides estate planning guidance at Great Plains Diversified Services in Bismarck, North Dakota.