Filial Responsibility Laws : Children Forced to Pay for Elderly Parents’ Nursing Costs
Our clients and readers are caregivers of elderly parents; they have chosen to take responsibility for their parents—whether it be physical responsibility, financial, or other. But what if instead of making that choice, you had responsibility for your aging parents thrust upon you? This is exactly the issue addressed in this recent article from Elder Law Answers.
“John Pittas’ mother entered a nursing home for rehabilitation following a car crash. She later left the nursing home and moved to Greece, and a large portion of her bill at the nursing home went unpaid. Mr. Pittas’ mother applied to Medicaid to cover her care, but that application is still pending. Meanwhile, the nursing home sued Mr. Pittas for nearly $93,000 under the state’s filial responsibility law, which requires a child to provide support for an indigent parent. The trial court ruled in favor of the nursing home.”
The article points out that many states still have filial responsibility laws on the books, but that those laws are rarely enforced. This ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court does not bode well for Baby-Boomers, many of whom are finding themselves caught between caring for elderly parents and for grown children who have not yet left the nest.
Perhaps one of the most disturbing things about this case is that the nursing home was given so much leeway. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that “the law does not require [the nursing home] to consider other sources of income or to wait until Mrs. Pittas’s Medicaid claim is resolved.” This would seem to condone (if not encourage) a litigious mind-set among nursing homes. As if this weren’t bad enough, the court “also said that the nursing home had every right to choose which family members to pursue for the money owed.” If you are one of many siblings you could find yourself involved in a lawsuit merely because you live the closest, are the wealthiest, or called mom more often than your brothers or sisters.
California has not yet seen a lawsuit which goes as far as the case in Pennsylvania, but the law is on the books and only time will tell if this becomes an issue in our state.
Meanwhile, the best way to ensure that your family doesn’t find itself embroiled in a similar lawsuit is to ensure that you (or your elderly parents) have a plan in place to pay for long-term care. That plan may include making a timely application for a Medi-Cal subsidy where appropriate.