Currently, thirty states (Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, 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) have passed filial (due from son or daughter) responsibility laws. In a nutshell, these laws require adult children to financially support their parents if they are not able to take care of themselves. This includes food, clothing, shelter, and medical needs. The laws vary from state to state, but in general, the following is what you need to know if this may apply to you.
Very broadly, the following criteria need to be met in order for filial responsibility laws to apply:
- Your parent is accepting financial support from the state government.
- Your parent has a medical or nursing home bill, acquired in the state which has a filial responsibility law, which they cannot pay.
- Your parent is considered indigent, meaning the cost of their care is exceeding their Social Security benefits.
- Your parent does not qualify for Medicaid, which would typically be used to cover such expenses.
- The caregiver has reason to believe the patient’s child has the money to pay the bill, and chooses to sue the child for what is owed.
If you are sued and a court of law holds you accountable for the bills, you risk stiff penalties for not paying them, including possible jail time. In some states, judges have the discretion to garnish your wages or place a lien on any property you owe in an attempt to collect the money. Having either of those things happen to you will result in your credit rating being lowered.
The positive news is that judges also have the discretion over deciding to enforce filial responsibility laws. If you can demonstrate that you do not have the financial means to pay for your parent’s bills, the court system is generally not inclined to impoverish you by making you responsible for them. Additionally, if you can show that you have significant family expenses you are dealing with otherwise, such as medical bills of your own, or even college tuition, a judge may exempt you from having to pay your parent’s debts as well.
Finally, if you can demonstrate that your parent abused or abandoned you as a child, the law typically considers that individual to be undeserving of your support. (Some states do require a certain number of years of abandonment prior to age 18 in order for the abandonment rule to apply.)
If you live in one of the states mentioned and fear that you may be sued under filial responsibility laws, your best course of action is to seek out an elder care attorney in your state for further advice. Alternately, you may wish to consult with an elder care attorney if you would like to put a plan in place to make sure your parent will be provided for in the event they need long term care in the future.