When parents become care recipients, children can be called upon to support their parents. This is soon to change in many cases.
The question of who pays for care is also a matter of emotion Photo: Imago / EPD
Johanna Fricke’s* mother-in-law had become frail, and the old lady lives alone. "It was clear that she needed some help in the morning and evening," Fricke says. Son and daughter-in-law work full time. A nursing service was requested.
The service charged 1,300 euros for outpatient care, but the nursing care insurance fund only paid just under 700 euros a month. The old lady’s pension was too small to cover the care gap. The social welfare office stepped in.
A short time later, a letter from the social welfare agency arrived at the Frickes’ home. They had to declare their income, rental costs, expenses for professional expenses, maintenance costs for the three children, information about assets. "We had to disclose everything," Fricke says. It was as if the couple had applied for welfare themselves.
In the end, the social welfare office calculated an amount of 25 euros per month as the Frickes’ contribution to "help with care" for their mother-in-law. The couple earns slightly above average, but the small amount came about because of the high maintenance payments for three children who are studying. "If the children finished their studies, we would be fully called upon under current law," says Johanna Fricke.
No timetable yet for agreed law change
But that’s not likely to happen. According to the coalition agreement, adult children of parents in need of care will hardly have to contribute financially to their care in the future. "In the future, the income of children of parents in need of care will only be taken into account if their income exceeds 100,000 euros per year," says the coalition agreement.
This means that even those who earn well will not be burdened in the future. The new regulation must be poured into a law, a time schedule for it is not fixed yet, explained a spokeswoman of the responsible Federal Ministry for Social Affairs on inquiry.
The question of who pays for care costs is not just about money, but also about feelings
"Such a new regulation will exempt a larger number of people from the obligation to pay maintenance," says Susanne Hermann, a specialist lawyer for social law in Baden-Baden. The current legal situation is considerably stricter.
Hermann currently recommends that couples who have a combined household net income of 4,000 euros or more and who no longer have to support children should "take the precaution of finding out" what they would have to pay if one of their parents needed outpatient care or had to go into a home.
Money from long-term care insurance is not enough
In any case, the money from the nursing care insurance is not enough to cover the need for professional care. A personal contribution is always necessary. If the person in need of care has only a small income of his or her own, the social security office must step in.
There is a clear sequence: First, the person in need of care must also pay for the care with his or her own assets, with the exception of a small amount. Real estate used by the patient is protected, but the social welfare office can later reclaim part of the money from the heirs.
If income and assets are not sufficient, the maintenance obligation of the adult children is reviewed. But there are deductibles and allowances. According to the legal requirements, married couples, for example, can claim a deductible of 3,240 euros, while single persons are subject to a deductible of 1,800 euros net.
In addition, there are expenses for increased housing costs, for travel costs, professional expenses, and for a private pension. If maintenance must also be paid for one’s own children, this is also taken into account. The obligation to support one’s own children always takes precedence over support for the elderly parents.
For example, a single person with a net income of 2,500 euros per month, a warm rent of 600 euros and deductions from a private pension comes to a contribution of 177 euros per month for the elderly mother or father.
If both married couples earn 2,000 euros each, i.e. the total net household income is 4,000 euros, a married couple with a warm rent of 900 euros only has to pay 88 euros for one parent as a contribution. The rest is financed by the social welfare office.
Exemption limits apply to the sheltered assets, which are based on income. For example, someone who earns 50,000 euros gross per year and has 35 years of professional experience behind him or her has a tax-free allowance of a good 190,000 euros.
Moreover, owner-occupied property and a car belonging to the children are not counted. In the case of the self-employed, who will need their assets as retirement provisions later on, the tax-free assets for parental maintenance can be significantly higher.
The question of who pays for care costs is not only about money, but also about feelings. Not least of the parents themselves. "It’s already shameful when the social welfare office has to step in," says Susanna Saxl, an employee of the press office of the German Alzheimer’s Association.
If the children then also have to disclose their income, it’s a double blow for the parents in need of care.
The concern that the children may be called upon sometimes has "catastrophic effects" on an individual basis, Saxl says. Because then, in terms of care, "only what the long-term care insurance pays for is called upon." By definition, however, long-term care insurance is not a fully comprehensive insurance for professional help; a personal contribution is always required to cover the need.
In outpatient care, therefore, underprovision sometimes occurs when the income and assets of relatives are to be spared. Ute Zentgraff, care expert at the VdK social association, knows these cases. "Then the care service might only come three times a week and not seven times," she reports.
The issue is not only the obligation to support the adult children, but also the income and preservation of assets for the spouse of the person in need of care. Spouses are considered a "community of need," which means that the couple’s joint income and assets must first be used up to certain deductibles before the social welfare office steps in to help with care costs.
The VdK welcomes the planned restriction on recourse for maintenance for adult children, says Zentgraff. "But all dependents would have to be included in this privilege, including spouses." The fear that a long-term care case will lead to impoverishment runs deep in families.
* Name changed