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Elder Law and Estate Planning Blog - Lancaster, PA

Monday, June 25, 2012

Filial Responsibility

In our latest e-newsletter, there was an article titled "Son Liable for Mom's $93,000 Nursing Home Bill Under 'Filial Responsibility' Law."  The same day our newsletter went out, local attorney Patti Spencer had an article in the Lancaster newspaper regarding the same topic, that a son was responsible for his mother's nursing home bill.  Because of these, we've had some questions regarding filial responsibility, namely what is it and what does it mean?  Well, here's a quick run down on what Pennsylvania's filial responsibility law entails.

Pennsylvania, as well as 29 other states, has a filial responsibility law.  Although these laws vary from state to state, they all say generally the same thing; they require adult children to provide financial support for their indigent or poor parents.  In Pennsylvania, not only do the children have the responsibility of maintaining their mother or father, but the spouse of and the parents of the indigent person hold the responsibility as well.  Caring for a person also includes financially assisting him or her, however there is an exception in the case that an individual does not have the ability to support the person financially.  Additionally, A child shall not be liable for the support of “a parent who abandoned the child and persisted in the abandonment for a period of ten years during the child's minority,” meaning a child who was abandoned for 10 years while under the age of 18 is not responsible for his or her parents' care.

In order for the filial responsibility law to be enforced, a civil lawsuit must be filed to get court-ordered judgment. The amount of the liability will then be determined by the judgment from the lawsuit.  Civil action may be taken by the indigent person or any other person, public body or agency who has interest in the care and well-being of the indigent person.  Most commonly, it is the nursing home who takes civil action.

If you are found liable and fail to comply with the order, the court will schedule a contempt hearing.  If the court determines that the individual found liable has intentionally failed to comply with the order, that individual could face 6 months of jail time.

In the past 30 years, there have been only 3 cases discussing the filial responsibility law.  However, in wake of the recession and budget woes affecting state-funded nursing home programs, nursing homes and other care facilities may turn to filial law to recover the lost funding.  You can protect yourself and your parents now through estate planning, long-term care insurance and knowing home Medical Assistance works.  Legal action for filial responsibility isn't all that common now, but the trend may change.  If you are at all concerned about this, or have more questions, call our office at (717) 560-4966 or email us at questions@piersonelderlaw.com and we will be more than happy to help.

Want to read more?  You can find our newsletter article here or the article by Patti Spencer here.  Additionally, to read the current Pennsylvania statute on filial responsibility, click here.

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