While parents today may be generally informed that they could be liable for the debts of their children, they rarely consider whether they may actually find themselves on the hook for the debts of their parents. Did you know that over half of the United States have filial responsibility statutes on the books? This may come as a surprise to many people.

A filial responsibility law provides that an adult child has the responsibility to support his or her adult parent. The statutes vary between states. Arkansas requires only payment for mental health services and Connecticut only applies if the parent is under sixty-five. Meanwhile, a court in Pennsylvania entered a judgment of $93,000.00 against an adult son for his mother’s nursing home bill.  

The positive news may be that, in most instances, these statutes are old laws that have not been repealed and are rarely enforced. Until they are removed from the books, however, the risk may be out there that these laws may be used as a collection tactic, as the gentleman in Pennsylvania discovered, much to his chagrin. Once one long-term care facility successfully utilizes the filial responsibility laws to collect from an adult child, it may only be a matter of time, until others follow suit.

The key takeaway here is to take a proactive, rather than a reactive, approach to filial responsibility laws. Having conversations with your parents regarding their finances, as well as, plans to cover the cost of a nursing home before the need arises, can be very important. If they have a long-term care policy, get a copy. It may also be prudent to be designated as their durable power of attorney to manage their finances should they become unexpectedly incapacitated. 

An estate planning attorney can explain the filial responsibility laws in your state to you and your parents.  In addition, the attorney can discuss options to safeguard against liability under these laws, such as Medicaid eligibility, long-term care insurance, life-insurance policies with long-term-care benefits or even the possibility of a reverse mortgage on your parent’s home. For more questions on this topic and related matters, please reach out to our office to schedule an appointment.