By definition, “filial” means the relationship of child to parent.  Over the past few years, we have seen new state laws addressing this relationship by requiring adult children to be responsible for their parents if their parents cannot afford to take care of themselves. States that have enacted such filial responsibility laws are: 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. Fortunately, these laws have rarely been enforced, and federal law provides that these state filial responsibility laws apply only to those situations where elder or ill parents have yet to enroll in Medicaid.

However, this week we have now seen this scenario play out in a Pennsylvania appeals court where an adult son was found to be liable for his ill mother’s $93,000 nursing home bill under Pennsylvania’s filial responsibility law. However, it did not have to be this way if this son had consulted with a Personal Family Lawyer® when his ill mother first needed care.  If the son had contacted a Personal Family Lawyer®, then he would have received the necessary assistance and guidance to have his mother qualify for Medicaid to pay for her care.

Filial responsibility lawsuits like this one will continue and certainly increase in volume as baby boomers continue to grow older.  Additionally, with the costs of long-term care rising (an average nursing home stay now exceeds $200/day), and with increasingly strict Medicaid rules making it tougher for people to receive government assistance, hospitals, doctors and nursing homes may find themselves with more unpaid bills. Under these filial responsibility laws, senior service providers also have the legal right to choose which family members to pursue for the money owed to them.

While these filial responsibility laws do not directly apply to Medicaid recipients, these state laws may force children to pick up their parents’ long-term care costs long before their parents are eligible for Medicaid. Such a step could still shift significant costs from states to families.

As a son or daughter, or elder or ill parent, you are now being forced by the law to plan for your family’s disability, estate planning, long-term care insurance, Medicaid planning, health care decisions, etc.  In fact, some states make it a criminal offense for failing to take care of your parents, which includes liability for unpaid bills, fines and jail time.

If an elder or ill parent enters a nursing home with insufficient funds to pay for their care, adult children should be vigilant about potential claims against their own assets to pay for that care. As a result of these filial responsibility laws, estate planning for both the family’s adult children and elder/ill parents should be considered by all families.

When you work with us, we will formulate an estate plan for you that addresses your family dynamics and these filial responsibility laws so that you and your family’s healthcare road map is clear and your assets remain protected as states wade further into enforcing these new laws.

To your family’s health, wealth and happiness!

David Feakes

P.S.  Want to get started on the most important planning you’ll ever do for your family?  Give our office a call at (978) 263-6900 to get started.  You’ll be so glad you did.

David Feakes is the owner of The Parents Estate Planning Law Firm, PC – a law firm for families in the Acton, Massachusetts area. David helps parents protect the people they love the most.  If you would like to receive David’s exclusive, free report, “Six Major Mistakes To Avoid When Choosing An Estate Planning Attorney,”  you can get it right here.


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The Parents Estate Planning Law Firm, PC

At The Parents Estate Planning Law Firm, we answer your questions at your convenience; we stay in frequent communication; and we meet to discuss changes in life circumstances and in the law to ensure that your assets are protected.

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The Parents Estate Planning Law Firm, PC is a unique estate planning law firm serving families in Massachusetts. Our team is committed to helping parents at all stages make sure their loved ones are completely protected if the unexpected happens, while making things as easy as possible for their families.

31 Nagog Park, Suite 301, Acton, MA 01720 | 978-263-6900 | [email protected] |