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Filial Responsibility Laws: Who Will Pay for the Care?

visitor in hospital

Never heard of the filial responsibility laws? Well, you should get familiar with this law, as it may affect your financial future.

What occurs if the aging senior member of the family requires long-term care but cannot pay for it? Did you know that there are currently 28 states* that have laws on the books that make adult children financially responsible for their parents’ necessities of life?


This occurs when the parents do not have the financial means to pay for such necessities. These laws, also known as “filial responsibility laws”, have been used as a means to seek reimbursement for unpaid bills by nursing homes and long-term care facilities in states that have these laws in place. 16 of those states actually impose civil penalties and will come after adult children’s assets or income if you do not support your parents. In eight states where these criminal penalties may be imposed, the prosecuting attorney can actually have the adult child put in jail.


It is rare that filial responsibility laws are enforced in fact, 11 of the 28 states have never enforce them at all. That could change with the aging population and the financial burden of providing care will fall on many states and providers of that care.

There however has been a recent case in Pennsylvania that may indicate a new trend. A suit filed by healthcare and retirement Corporation of America versus Pittas (Pa. Superior Court docket number 536 E D A 2011, May 7, 2012), the Pennsylvania Superior Court actually upheld a lower court’s decision that made the adult son of a woman responsible for a $93,000 bill for unpaid services in a skilled nursing home. The court decided that the state did not have the duty to consider the woman’s other possible sources of payment. In fact in this particular case this woman had a spouse and two other adult children. She also applied for Medicaid and that application was still pending. Instead, the nursing home organization was shown to meet its burden of proof that this particular son had the means and the ability to pay the $93,000 bill. The court did not take into consideration that this son had been estranged from his mother for over 40 years. The court upheld that the son was able to pay the $93,000 and should be held responsible for that payment.

As an RN and mother, I personally do not feel that this is the correct result. As far back as the ancient Romans, it has been understood that a child has a duty to care for their parents. The filial responsibility laws see this as a matter of ethics and reciprocity meaning; your parents took care of you as a child now it’s your turn to take care of them. The potential repercussions from this Pennsylvania suit demonstrate how important it is to plan for long-term care needs. Most parents do not want to be a burden to their children. For the government/court to impose a financial burden on adult children is absolutely frightening.

Lack of proper planning and legal advice from an experienced elder law attorney can make adult children responsible for thousands of dollars of care required by their aging parents. There are many things that need to be considered such as would this financially devastate an adult child and their family to maintain their parent? Are there going to be considerations for a child that has been abandoned or abused? In these cases there should be no responsibility to support the parent.

Bill from the doctor concepts of rising medical cost

Here is a link to learn more about this : Filial Support Laws in the Modern Era: Domestic and International Comparison of Enforcement Practices for Laws Requiring Adult Children to Support Indigent Parents

Stay tuned for more on this subject.

*(Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, were gone, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia and Puerto Rico)

Here is a list of updated statutes on the filial responsibility laws. 


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