What Are Filial Responsibility Laws?

Aug.31.2021

An adult child can be held responsible for providing their parents with financial support, especially if their parents are impoverished or indigent. This duty that the adult child has towards their parents is known as filial responsibility. Defined by both state laws and federal laws, filial responsibility is a legal term that makes the adult child financially responsible for their parents’ long-term care or medical bills.


Filial Responsibility Laws

In the United States, many of the states have filial responsibility laws or filial support laws in place. Depending on the state your parents’ reside in, you may be held responsible for their unpaid medical bills or nursing home facility costs. If their health care provider decides to sue you for the unpaid bills of your parents, then the court may decide that you are liable for the debts of your aging parents.

The filial responsibility laws are only considered under certain circumstances. Because of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, the elderly have a safety net in place. But if your elderly parents do not qualify for the welfare programs and do not have long-term care insurance, then they will have to pay the bills on their own. If your parents are unable to pay for their long-term care costs, then you can be sued by the health care providers to receive reimbursement..


Filial Responsibility: State Laws

The responsibility of the adult child towards their parents will vary depending on the relevant state laws. Some states will impose limited filial responsibility on you, while other states will subject you to civil penalties or criminal penalties for not giving financial support to your parents.

If you are in the state of Arkansas, then your filial responsibility will only be towards your parents’ mental health care. In Nevada, you will only be held responsible for your parents’ medical bills if you have signed a note promising that you will pay for their care. The filial responsibility law in Connecticut will be applicable only if your parents are under the age of 65 – you will not be subjected to the laws if your parents are over this age.

The state of Georgia’s filial law merely states that an able adult child must support their impoverished parent, and Virginia’s laws allow you to no longer be responsible for long-term care costs if your parent is institutionalized for 60 months or more.

The other states that have filial responsibility laws in place include Alaska, California, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Puerto Rico.

 

Filial Responsibility: Federal Law

Federal law does not allow health care providers or nursing care facilities to deny someone admission based on a payment guarantee from a third party– that is, you. Even if you do not guarantee payment, they will not be able to evict your parent on the basis of the lack of guarantee. However, if your parent passes away, then their estate and settlements can be used towards reimbursement under the Medicaid Estate Recovery Program (MERP).

Can Adult Children get Sued for their Parents’ Long-Term Care Bills?

It is common for filial responsibility cases to revolve around elder care and long-term care bills. If the unpaid bills do not amount to much, then it will not be worth the effort of pursuing the case for the health care provider. However, if the outstanding bills are large enough, then the provider might be more compelled to sue you to settle your parents’ bills.

When it comes to filial responsibility law cases, the most well-known one is the case of Health Care & Retirement Corporation of America v. Pittas. An elderly patient did not pay her nursing home bill and then left the country. The nursing facility sued the woman’s adult son for the unpaid bills, and the court ruled that the son is liable for the debt incurred by his mother.

 

Another well-known case is that of Elden Linderkamp, who was held liable for his parents’ unpaid nursing home bills. Linderkamp had bought a property from his parents for less than the market value, and this made him liable for the debt. The nursing home claimed that the sale of the property was a case of fraudulent conveyance – that it was sold to defraud the parents’ creditors.


Filial Responsibility: The Key Takeaway

 

If the state that your parents live in has filial laws in place, then you will benefit by taking the following actions:

  • Get involved in the estate planning of your parents.
  • Take the help of an elder law attorney or a financial advisor regarding qualifying for Medicaid, and estate planning.  
  • Help your parents qualify for Medicaid.
  • Enlist the help of other family members.
  • Ensure that they have long-term care insurance, or their life insurance policy has a long-term care rider. 

A permanent life insurance policy will allow your parents to add a long-term care rider or even sell their policy through a viatical settlement or life settlement. To learn how a settlement can help your parents with their medical bills, reach out to Uplife.

FAQs

Q: Do adult children have to be responsible for their parents’ medical debt?

A: It depends. While there is help for the elderly in the form of Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid, your parents need to be eligible for those welfare programs. If they are ineligible and live in a state with filial responsibility laws, then you might end up paying for their medical care or long-term health care.

Q: My parents are not eligible for Medicaid long-term care. Do I have to pay their nursing home bills?

A: It depends on the state your parents live in. If their state has filial responsibility laws, you may get sued by their health care provider for their nursing home bills.

Q: If I am held liable for my parent’s medical bills, what will happen?

A: If the court decides that you are liable for your parent’s debt, you will be subjected to debt remedies - your wages might get garnished and your bank account may get seized. You may also face criminal penalties such as jail time.

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