Dear Mr. Jones,
We represent the law firm of Tough Luck & Partners LLC and this letter is to inform you that you need to pay $75,000 to cover the cost of your mom’s past nursing home visit, or the Pleasant Nursing Home will sue you.
Pleasant Nursing Home
Don’t think this can happen? Think again.
The sucker-punch-of-a-letter above is an example of “filial responsibility.” In layman’s terms, filial responsibility means that the adult child has the legal responsibility to care for his/her parent financially if the parent cannot support themselves.
Filial responsibility laws apply when (and you might be expected to pay if) your parent is financially supported by the government or incurs a nursing home or other medical bill that he is unable to pay. If you live in a state that recognizes these laws, the government, nursing home, hospital or other third party can file a lawsuit against you, asking the court to obligate you to pay your parent’s bill.
Never heard of these laws? They aren’t new. In fact, they resemble England’s 16th century “Poor Laws” –legislation that supported the country’s helpless poor. Filial-support laws also echo Confucian Chinese philosophy which says that it is a virtue and a sign of respect to honor one’s parents.
There are currently 29 states that have filial responsibility laws. And with the soaring costs of nursing homes, there is a renewed interest to enforce these laws.
For example, on May 7th 2012, a panel of three state-court appellate judges ruled that an Allentown nursing home owned by HCR ManorCare could collect an unpaid bill of $92,943 from the son of a patient who received care from September 2007 to March 2008.1
Last July, China took it one step further when the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Elderly People was enacted. The new law states that adult children are required to frequently visit and send greetings to their elderly parents. 2
Filial responsibility legislature certainly adds an additional layer of complexity to long-term care planning for families. Now, not only do children need to plan for their future, but for their parents’ future as well.
One hundred years from now our society may need to give account for the way we’ve taken care of our aging population. Have we done our best to ensure they live out the rest of their days financially supported? After all, the need to honor our parents is not an idea originally authored by the state. It is a commandment that appears first in the Bible.
“Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.” -Leviticus 19:32
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