Elderly Couple Might Be Responsible for Deceased Son’s Medical Bills

Are parents and adult children responsible for each other’s debts?

Indiana is one of approximately 28 states that have filial responsibility laws. Modeled after centuries-old English laws, these provisions have not often been applied in modern times, but they are still “on the books.” Indiana’s filial responsibility law provides that if a child is financially able and a parent is financially unable to pay for medical care, the child shall contribute to the costs; however, there is no clear rule defining financial ability.

Recently, filial responsibility laws have been the topic of renewed discussion as Indiana elder law attorneys consider developments in Pennsylvania and wonder how Indiana judges might rule if presented with a similar case.

In 2012, a Pennsylvania court ruled that an adult son was responsible for his mother’s nursing home bill under that state’s filial responsibility law. The court simply looked at the son’s annual income without considering his other financial obligations or the fact that his mother had a husband and two other grown children.

In 2014, an elderly Pennsylvania couple was being pursued by debt collectors claiming the couple is liable for their deceased adult son’s unpaid medical bills. Again, the state’s filial responsibility laws were relied upon, raising the question whether these laws work both ways, making parents and children potentially liable for each other’s debts.

Under federal law, nursing homes are generally prohibited from requiring third parties to be personally responsible for a resident’s expenses; however, state filial responsibility laws would seem to contradict that. Since these laws have been out of use for so long, it remains to be seen how courts will handle their applicability.

Some states have repealed their filial responsibility laws; there is no indication that is currently being considered in Indiana. The existence of this law makes creating an estate plan even more crucial.

Posted in Estate Planning

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