Most parents intend to leave some sort of inheritance to their children. However, there is a Pennsylvania law that can actually cause a parent to leave their children with significant debt. The law is commonly referred to as the filial responsibility law. This law requires spouses, children and parents of indigent persons to care for and financially assist them.
A 2017 news article by InvestmentNews touches on two court rulings involving filial responsibility in Pennsylvania. In Health Care & Retirement Corp. of America v. Pittas, a son was required to shell out $93,000.00 to fulfill a debt to a nursing home that had provided care for his elderly mother. In Eori v. Eori, one of three siblings sued the other two because he was providing support for their mother and the other two were not. The court ruled that the other two siblings were accountable for their mother’s support under the law. Both rulings will have impacts on future PA filial responsibility cases. If you’re wondering exactly what the state’s filial-responsibility law entails, we’ll discus it in more detail below.
What is Pennsylvania’s filial-support law?
Pennsylvania’s filial-support law (23 Pa.C.S. § 4603(a)-(c)) provides that individuals such as spouses, children, or parents who possess “sufficient financial ability” of an “indigent person” has “[the] responsibility to care for and maintain or financially assist an indigent person, regardless of whether the indigent person is a public charge.”
To put it simply, Pennsylvania law stipulates that an individual can be held financially responsible for the debts of a spouse, child, or parent who is unable to pay these debts themselves. However, the law does allow for exceptions to filial responsibility.
Exceptions to the PA Filial Responsibility Law
There are some exceptions to the filial responsibility law:
- First, it does not apply to children who do not have the financial ability to support their parents.
- Second, if the indigent parent had abandoned a child for ten continuous years while the child was a minor, the child will not be required to foot his or her parent’s bill.
Typically, if a parent is unable to pay for nursing care, he or she can apply for to Medicaid to pay the bills. However, the filial responsibility law may kick in where Medicaid is denied, incomplete, or delayed.
If you have a low-income elderly parent who is or will be receiving nursing care, it’s important to educate yourself on both the Medicaid process and long term care planning. If you are in a situation where you think the filial responsibility law would apply, the attorneys at Herr and Low will be happy to meet with you to discuss what debts you may be legally responsible for. Contact us today to consult with our legal team!
Matt Grosh is an attorney at Herr & Low. He practices in the areas of estate planning and administration, corporate law, nonprofit organizations and taxation.