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Filial Responsibility Laws Can Create Surprising Problems

It is pretty well established that parents are financially responsible for the care and support of their minor children. However, in 30 states, the reverse is also true – adult children are now legally responsible to support their parents when they lack sufficient income to take care of themselves. This is known as filial responsibility and the number of states with filial laws is growing.

In a famous case from Pennsylvania, Health Care & Retirement Corporation of America v. Pittas, John Pittas was found liable for the $93,000 nursing home bill of his mother. In the case, Pittas’ mother was in a nursing home for rehabilitation following an auto accident. Upon leaving the nursing home, she moved to Greece, leaving unpaid bills.

The nursing home used Pennsylvania’s filial responsibility laws to sue Mr. Pittas for the unpaid bills. Despite the fact that Pittas’ mother is married, has two other adult children, and other alternative sources for the nursing home to seek payment, the court held Mr. Pittas liable for his mother’s bill under Pennsylvania’s filial law.

What Do You Have to Pay?

Filial responsibility laws typically don’t apply unless your parent receives support from the government or they incur a nursing home or medical bill that they cannot pay. The government, nursing home, or hospital can then file a lawsuit against you in those states that allow it.

Filial Laws Can Carry Criminal Penalties

In some states, if a nursing home, hospital or the state obtains a judgment against you, you can go to jail if you don’t pay. Approximately half of the states with filial responsibility laws impose criminal penalties if you fail to pay. Who says debtor prisons no longer exist in America? Other states will use the judgment to garnish your wages or place liens against your property. The unpaid debt will also appear on your credit report.

Minnesota Does Not Currently Have a Filial Responsibility Law as of this writing, But You Could Still be Responsible for Your Parent’s Unpaid Bills.

Minnesota does not currently have a filial responsibility law. However, under Minnesota law, you could still be responsible for your parent’s expenses if you are named as their financial power of attorney. If your parent were to pass away leaving an unpaid nursing home or medical bill, and if you were acting as their financial power of attorney at the time, the nursing home or hospital could sue you for the unpaid balance. In order for them to recover, they would have to show that you mismanaged your parent’s funds. That being said, in one instance, a nursing home won a judgment against the daughter of a woman who passed away with an unpaid nursing home bill by showing that the daughter failed to get the medical assistance application completed before her mother’s assets were exhausted and prior to her passing.

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