In 29 US states, “filial responsibility laws” hold adult children responsible for their parents’ long-term care costs. Here’s what to know…

How it works: These are state laws, so the particulars vary. But it’s important to know that if you live in one of the filial responsibility states, your children can be sued for your unpaid hospital or long-term-care bills after you die, even if your children live in states without such laws. Plaintiffs can pursue any debts not settled by the estate. The exorbitant costs of long-term care raise the specter of families having to sell homes and forgo inheritances.

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

Protect your family. If you’re looking to avoid filial responsibility, the cleanest solution is long-term-care insurance. Unfortunately, unless you have access through an employer group plan, you’ll need to medically qualify for an expensive private plan.

Medicaid covers long-term care, but most people don’t qualify if they have visible assets. Setting up a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust walls off your assets into an irrevocable trust that’s invisible to Medicaid. Note that such a trust has a five-year look back, so your assets must have been placed in the trust at least five years in advance.

Look for filial responsibility laws when you’re choosing where to retire. Inadvertently subjecting your descendants to one of these laws could have devastating implications.

What if it’s too late? If you’ve already been sued for your parents’ bills, go through your state bar to find an elder-care attorney who is familiar with your state’s law.

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