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Are Adult Children Legally Obligated For The Care Of Their Aging Parents

filial law

Every now and then I am asked by a client whether adult children are legally obligated to take care of their parents in their elder years.

Sometimes this question comes from an adult child and sometimes it comes from a parent with adult children. In either case, I can usually tell that there is a great deal of stress loaded in this question. Usually there is not a healthy relationship between parent and child when this question is posed.

It’s true that some parents were not good caregivers to their children. Some children may have been abandoned or abused mentally and or physically by their parents. And, in some cases the children may have abused the parents due to mental health issues.

There is a fairly standard answer based on filial laws that are on the books in 29 states, Georgia being one of them. You can look up filial law at Wikipedia which states that, “Such laws may be enforced by governmental or private entities and may be at the state or national level. While most filial responsibility laws contemplate civil enforcement, some include criminal penalties for adult children or close relatives who fail to provide for family members when challenged to do so. The key concept is impoverished, as there is no requirement that the parent be aged.”

Rarely Used Law Is Coming Into Play More Often

Based on English “poor laws” from the 16th Century, filial laws are rarely enacted. However, they may be making a comeback as a result of a fairly recent case in Pennsylvania. As published in investmentnews.com, “Health Care & Retirement Corp. of America v. Pittas, highlights just how substantial the financial burden can be on children. Enforcing Pennsylvania’s filial support laws, the defendant was found responsible for his mother’s long-term-care bill from a skilled nursing facility, to the tune of $93,000.”

The article goes on to say that, “As health care costs continue to grow at a rapid clip and state deficits could become more of an issue due to Medicaid outlays, states will likely begin enforcing their filial laws more regularly. Since the Pittas decision in 2012, more nursing homes have begun sending letters as a sort of “call to action,” notifying children of past-due bills for parents and threatening to enforce filial law if the individual needing treatment doesn’t enroll in Medicaid or if the bill isn’t paid.”

Another Motivating Reason To Create A Legal Long-Term Care Plan

Many parents do not want to burden their children with the financial responsibility for their care. This may be just the motivation required to seriously consider setting up a long-term care plan as part of an asset protection and estate plan. As I’ve said over and over again, neither asset protection nor estate plans are the exclusive domain of the wealthy.

There are ways to make sure your children will not be held financially accountable for your care, but you must put a plan in place. The sooner the better. There will come a time when it’s too late.

The sooner you begin discussing elder care plans with your adult children or with your aging parents, and doing your due diligence in finding an appropriate attorney, the better prepared you will be. We are elder care and estate planning and asset protection attorneys. It’s never too early to schedule a consultation.