Filial Support Laws

Countless senior citizens in the United States rely on Medicaid to assist with the cost of their healthcare needs, but more than half of the states in the country have another way to support their elder residents’ care - filial support laws. (A complete list of participating states can be found here.) If your aging parents live in one of these ”filial support law” states, the court could find you responsible for their healthcare costs even if you do not live in a participating state yourself.

In order to sue for filial support, each state requires the elder person to either be unable to provide their own support or be indigent. However, just because a parent is unable to pay for their own medical expenses doesn’t mean that their children are automatically responsible for the bill. Certain defenses, including the child’s financial inability to cover the costs or a history of abuse or neglect on the part of the parent preceding the child’s emancipation, can protect them from the responsibility of paying for their parent’s care. For example, Pennsylvania’s law, 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 4603 (i)(ii)[1] states that:

“(i) If an individual does not have sufficient financial ability to support the indigent person [they will not be liable for financially assisting an indigent person]… (ii) A child shall not be liable for the support of a parent who abandoned the child and persisted in the abandonment for a period of ten years during the child's minority.”

Pennsylvania has been a key state for filial law in recent years, notably in the case of Health Care & Retirement Corporation vs. Pittas[1]. In this case, the court ruled that the nursing home that provided Maryann Pittas with long term care could secure payment, a total of $93,000, from her son John after she moved out of the country. In previous cases, the child was only found responsible for their parent’s costs if they engaged in fraudulent transfers in an attempt to hide or divert a parent’s assets. In Pittas’ case however, the court found no instance of any such behavior.

In other cases, liens have been placed on the houses of children without the necessary funds in order to pay for their parent’s massive medical bills. With the constantly increasing cost of eldercare, these types of cases may become more common as senior citizens empty out their savings paying for the care they need to stay healthy. Medicaid reportedly pays over $100 billion for long-term care costs each year, and as those expenses go up the facilities providing care may look elsewhere to cover their costs.

Filial support laws can vary dramatically from state to state, and can prove to be endlessly complicated to argue in court. At Givens Givens Sparks, our Tampa family law attorneys will fight to ensure you have a financially stable future and aren’t taken advantage of in court. Contact us today by filling out our online form, or call us at (813) 336-3348 to speak with one of our family law lawyers.

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