Legal Blog

The Weekly Scenario from Steve Shane – 7.16.12

Question:  Is it possible for adult children to be responsible for their parent’s debts? Answer:  For the most part, children are generally immune from debts of their parents.  However, interestingly enough, thirty states have “filial support” laws that could be used to go after patients’ adult children for unpaid long-term-care bills. Filial responsibility laws date back to 17th century English law requiring children to financially support their parents when they couldn’t support themselves.  The Wall Street Journal reported on this last month (June 22, 2012) in an article entitled, “Are you on the Hook for Mom’s Nursing Home Bill?” A Pennsylvania case involved a woman who spent six months in a nursing facility recovering from an auto accident.  Her income was far less than the cost of her care.  The nursing facility sued her son for her unpaid bill.  He argued that she was not indigent since she had some income and that, even if she was, other family members also had an obligation to help and all the burden should not be placed on him.  The appeals court disagreed saying that in Pennsylvania someone does not have to be destitute to be indigent.  Family members are responsible even if she has income but has insufficient means to pay for her own care.  The court said that the facility could arbitrarily go after any family member it wanted, as long as it could prove that the relative had the resources to pay. In other cases, it seems courts will consider earnings, financial obligations (mortgage, credit card bill, etc.) and such child’s own children’s education costs when figuring out if the child can pay for an indigent parent’s care.  Since federal law prohibits states from going after families after someone is already eligible for Medicaid, these laws apply only before people enroll in Medicaid. Comment:  These filial responsibility laws are not new.  But they have rarely been enforced.  In Maryland, only the nursing home resident is responsible for a bill.  However, it doesn’t surprise me that long-term care facilities and state and local governments are doing what they can to collect payments for medical services rendered.  While these laws don’t directly apply to Medicaid recipients, they may force children to pick up their parents’ long term care costs long before mom or dad is eligible for Medicaid.  Such a step could still shift significant costs from states to families.  As some of these cases show, it is becoming increasingly important to engage the services of an elder law advisors to figure out the best strategy to achieve one’s long term care needs. Steven E. Shane                                            Principal                                              Offit│Kurman                                       Attorneys At Law                                   301.575.0313  Washington                    443.738.1513  Baltimore 410.218.9339  Mobile 301.575.0335  Facsimile Please note the above material discussed is intended to provide only general information.  Do not, under any circumstances, solely rely on this information as legal advice. Legal matters are often complicated. For assistance with your specific legal problem or inquiry please contact me directly.