What is Filial Responsibility and Why Should You Be Concerned About It?

Do You Have Filial Responsibility for Your Parents' Medical Bills?

Nurse supporting elderly woman
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Filial responsibility definition: A duty owed by an adult child for his parents' necessities of life.

What happens when a person who is in need of long-term health care is unable to pay for it? Many states have laws that can make adult children financially responsible for their parents' necessities of life when the parents do not have the means to pay for such necessities on their own. The extent of this responsibility can vary by state.

These laws are referred to as "filial responsibility" laws and can be used by nursing homes and other long-term care facilities as a means to seek reimbursement for unpaid bills.

Although filial responsibility laws have rarely been enforced in the past, a case in Pennsylvania may indicate a new trend. In Health Care & Retirement Corporation of America v. Pittas (Pa. Super. Ct., No. 536 EDA 2011, May 7, 2012), the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld a lower court's decision making an adult son liable for $93,000, a debt resulting from six months' skilled nursing care and treatment received by his mother at a Pennsylvania facility. The court concluded that the state did not have a duty to consider the woman's other possible sources of payment, including a husband and two other adult children or the fact that an application for Medicaid assistance was pending. Instead, the court found that the facility had adequately met its burden of proof that this particular son had the means to pay the $93,000 bill, and the trial court was correct in holding the son responsible for paying it.

This Pennsylvania case demonstrates the importance of long-term care planning from the perspectives of both elderly parents and their children. Without proper planning and legal advice from an experienced elder law attorney, adult children may very well be on the hook for thousands of dollars of care required by their aging parents.

Forty-five states once observed filial responsibility laws, but many repealed them. As of 2014, only 29 states hold adult children responsible. The states that have filial responsibility laws on their books in some shape or form are:

Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, 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.

Arkansas requires adult children to pay only for mental health care. Connecticut's law applies only to parents younger than 65, and adult children in Nevada are only liable if they have signed a written promise to pay for care. 

NOTE: State laws change frequently and this information may not reflect recent changes. Please consult with an attorney for current legal advice. The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for legal advice.

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