4 Ways Filial Responsibility Laws Affect You


Filial responsibility can be defined as the financial responsibility an adult child has for their parents’ medical care or long-term care. If a parent is impoverished, then under filial responsibility law, an adult child can be made responsible for their parents’ life necessities.

Filial responsibility comes into the picture when an elderly parent needs a long-term care facility, but is unable to pay their nursing facility bills or health care bills. If the parent lives in a state that has filial responsibility laws in place, then their adult child can be held responsible for the debt.

What are Filial Responsibility Laws?

In several states of US, there are filial responsibility laws in place that require the adult children of elderly or aging parents to pay for the medical bills incurred by the parents’ medical care or long-term care. While there are systems in place to take care of the elderly – such as Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security – there can be instances where they don’t qualify for the social programs.

The state laws come into action when a health care provider sues the adult child for the costs that were associated with their parents’ care. You can be held liable for your parents’ medical bills if the following conditions apply to you:
  • Your parents haven’t been approved for Medicaid, or they do not qualify for Medicaid.
  • Your parents are elderly, indigent, or impoverished.
  • Your parents have bills related to medical care or nursing home care that they cannot pay.
  • In the past, your parents fraudulently transferred assets over to you.
  • You have the ability to pay your parents’ outstanding debt. 

The filial support laws can vary from state to state. While more than half of the states in the US have laws regarding filial responsibility, the financial support that the adult children have to provide can vary greatly. The states that do have filial responsibility laws are – Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Puerto Rico.

4 Ways Filial Responsibility Laws Affect You

If your elderly parents live in a state that has filial responsibility laws in place, then their estate planning should take such laws into account. If your parents are unable to pay their long-term care bills or nursing home bills, then you might end up in an unfortunate situation, including:

1. You May Get Sued

If your parents incur a high medical debt or high nursing home bills, then their health care provider can sue you for reimbursement. Usually, those without long-term care insurance or Medicaid eligibility rack up medical bills that they cannot pay. If they live in a state with filial laws, then their health care provider can take you to court. Under federal law, the health care provider cannot deny admission on the payment guarantee by a third-party – but certain state laws allow the provider to sue the third-party if the bills remain unpaid.

2. You May Face Civil Penalties or Criminal Penalties

If you get sued for your parents’ debt and the court rules that you are liable for the bills, then your wages can be garnished, or your accounts can be seized as a means for debt remedy. You may also face criminal penalties such as jail time. If you refuse to support your parents and they live in North Carolina, then you could get charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor – which comes with a jail time of 2-4 months.

3. Any Financial Transaction Between You and Your Parents Can get Looked At

Your parents’ finances will be scrutinized when they apply for Medicaid and when they are unable to pay their debts. If there are instances of recent property transfer or cash gifts, then it can be considered to be fraudulent conveyance – an asset transfer that is aimed at defrauding creditors. Your finances could be scrutinized as well if you get sued. If your parents are considering a property transfer, they should seek the legal advice of an elder care attorney, an estate planning attorney, or a financial advisor.

4. To Recover Funds, You May Have to Sue Family Members

When your parent is in medical debt, there are no defined guidelines based on which family members could get sued. You may have siblings or your parent may have a spouse – but the health care provider could choose to sue you. In that case, you may need to sue your family members if you want them to pay their fair share, or you want reimbursement for bearing your parents’ medical costs.

Filial Responsibility Laws: Things to Keep in Mind

If your parents live in a state that has filial responsibility laws, then you might end up bearing their nursing home bills or their long-term care costs. To avoid getting sued because of debt, you should get involved in your parents’ financial planning process. If you are their caregiver, make sure that you keep your finances separate. The government can look into the shared assets to settle debts under the Medicaid Estate Recovery Program (MERP).

You can help them qualify for Medicaid, or help them plan for medical emergencies. You can also consult with an elder law attorney – who can help your parents qualify for Medicaid or help them organize long-term care. .

A long-term care insurance or a life insurance policy with a long-term care add-on can help your parents pay for their medical needs. If they have life insurance policies, they may be able to sell the policy for a settlement. A life insurance policy settlement can help your parents clear their medical debt – to know more about settlements, reach out to Uplife. We can help you out.


Q: Am I legally responsible for the care of my elderly parents?

A: It depends on the state you live in. While more than half the states of US have some kind of filial law in place, your responsibility can vary greatly. For example, in Arkansas, the law states that an adult child has to provide for a parent’s mental health care if the child has the means to pay for it. .

Q: Can filial responsibility cross state lines?

A: It depends on the state the parent resides in. If the parent lives in a state where filial laws are in place, but the adult son or daughter is in a state with no filial responsibility laws - then the law will apply to the adult child. States may even cross state lines to reach the adult child, who may now be responsible for their parents’ debt.

Q: My parents do not qualify for Medicaid. Will I be responsible for their nursing home bills or long-term care costs?

A: Depending on the state your parents live in, yes. You may have to bear the cost if the state has filial responsibility costs. If your parents do not qualify for medicaid, have no long-term care insurance/life insurance policy with long-term care benefits, or assets of their own - then their health care provider can sue you to recover their care costs.

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