Filial Responsibility 101

Have you ever heard of Filial Responsibility Laws? Well you’re not alone, but a recent case in Pennsylvania is getting a lot of us to take a second look at these rarely used and even more rarely discussed laws.

filial responsibility

Consider this scenario: Maria is in a car accident that requires she enter a nursing home for rehabilitation. Like many elders, she is unable to cover all the costs of care. With her Medicaid application pending, Maria returns home to Greece where family can help in her care. When she leaves for Greece, Maria owes the nursing home about $100,000.

While the nursing home is waiting for the Medicaid application to be decided, they sue Maria’s son John for the $100,000, citing the state’s Filial Responsibility law. The court finds for the nursing home, deciding the nursing home does not have to wait for the Medicaid application or go after any of Maria’s other children.

Does this sound like a scary and unlikely hypothetical? Well it’s not. These are the facts of case recently decided in Pennsylvania.

What does that mean for us here in Massachusetts?

The first thing to remember is that in Massachusetts this law is very rarely enforced. However, in our changing political landscape, and with budgets stretched tight across America, from individuals’ budgets to State and Federal budgets, this may be a good time to start paying attention to the implications to this legislation.

The second thing is your parent would have to indigent, the Massachusetts legislation describes it as “destitute and too infirm” to care for themselves. Your parent would then have to incur charges in a nursing home, or require assistance from the government.

Lastly, the law does give the courts discretion. If you yourself are having financial trouble or in the middle of paying your own high medical bills or a child’s college tuition, the courts are unlikely to require you to use your limited funds.

What is a caring son or daughter to an aging parent to do? First, have a serious discussion with your parent about their situation, and their plans if any. Second, contact an elder law attorney. An expert attorney can help you figure out a plan to ensure your parent is protected and cared for, and that your life savings are not placed at risk to ensure this.

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