Caring for our parents in their older age is something many Americans hope to do. After all, without their endless efforts and sacrifice, many of us may not be in the positions that we're currently in today. Therefore, we'd do anything in our power to take care of them when necessary.
Some states agree. Quite a few places throughout the United States have these pieces of legislature called “filial responsibility laws.” They require adult children to care for their elderly or ill parents, mostly in situations where they do not qualify for state or federal assistance.
Not all states share the same ideals, though. To thoroughly understand the way these filial laws work, check out the laws enforced in various states.
What is Filial Responsibility?
Filial responsibility is defined as the following statement:"... [laws that] impose a duty, usually upon adult children, for the support of their impoverished parents or other relatives." while they are rarely enforced, except for that one time in Pennsylvania, it’s still good to have them on your radar.
These laws originate with the Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601, which has gone down in history as one of the first times that the welfare of those in need was tackled by a governing body. This was the way states provided for the poor, and at one point in U.S. history, over 40 states had these kinds of laws.
Today, only 26 states have kept these laws on the books. Under these laws, adult children must care for their parents' bills and debt once they're unable to manage it themselves. Many of these debts include nursing home bills and other long-term bills. The amount an adult child is liable to pay can decrease due to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security. If their parents qualify for any or all these programs, then the only expenses they'll have to pay for our personal expenses, like nursing home fees and personal items.
Arkansas, for example, makes providing mental health services a legal obligation, but even that ruling has limitations.
For most states that apply these laws, the income level of the parent and child is considered. This rule helps those who may not be able to care for their parents' debt in the future. In most states, people who have a low income typically don't have to worry about these laws. Sometimes, this exception can apply to middle-class families if they all meet one condition: the parents must qualify for Medicaid.
Of course, people with higher incomes still abide by the law since they can afford to take on their parents' debt if needed. Lower and some middle-income families, on the other hand, may require more help, which exempts them from this law.
States with Filial Responsibility
Of course, each state sets its separate regulations surrounding this law, so it's crucial to learn the specifics of each area that abides by it. If you are in a state that has filial responsibility laws, be sure to do further research, as each county, municipality, and town can have different procedures.
Also, it should be noted that many lists include Idaho, Iowa, and Montana. This is incorrect as each one of these states have repealed their laws on filial responsibility, meaning support provided by an adult child.
In Alaska’s Legislature, Sec. 25.20.030. titled “Duty of parent and child to maintain each other,” there is a clear order to both parents and children. It says that “Each parent is bound to maintain the parent's children when poor and unable to work to maintain themselves. Each child is bound to maintain the child's parents in like circumstances.”
Arkansas’ filial responsibility laws (Code 20-47-106) are unlike any other state in that they only require participation if payment is required for mental care and the person is incapable of paying, the services are not covered by insurance, and the liable person (relative) is able to pay.
California does something that most states don’t, and it creates a murky legal situation for anyone facing filial responsibility issues. There are two laws that conflict. The first is California Family Code Sec. 4400, which makes an adult child responsible to “support a parent who is in need and to maintain himself or herself by work” as far as the adult child is capable.
The other piece of legislation that plays with the legal lines is the Welfare and Institutions Code WIC 12350. It prevents the government from pressuring relatives or holding them “legally liable to support or to contribute to the support of any applicant for or recipient of aid under this chapter.” Not only does this conflict with the Family Code law, but it also does not stop companies and other organizations from coming after relatives for payment.
The filial responsibility law in Connecticut is the only one in the United States that brings the age of parents into it. In Chapter 816, Sec 46b-215, the state considers a person who “neglects or refuses to furnish reasonably necessary support” to their parent who is “under the age of sixty-five shall be deemed guilty of nonsupport and shall be imprisoned not more than a year” unless you prove otherwise.
The filial responsibility laws in Delaware are average. Delaware Code Title 13, Chapter 5, Subchapter I. Duty to Support, Section 503 titled “Duty to support a poor person” states “the duty to support a poor person unable to support himself/herself rests upon the spouse, parents, or children, in that order,” and section 507 gives jurisdiction over such cases to Family Court.
In Section 36-12-3 titled “Duty of relatives to support paupers generally; right of the county to recover from relatives for provisions furnished” gives the responsibility of those in need to “the father, mother, or child of any pauper” and any county where relatives refuse have the right to pursue repayment.
As one of the most involved states for filial responsibility, Indiana has more legislative content on the topic than any other state. IC 31-16-17-1 titled “Duty to furnish support for parents” attaches duty to any child “whose father or mother provided the individual with necessary food, shelter, clothing, medical attention, and education until the individual reached sixteen (16) years of age; and (2) who is financially able due to the individual's own property, income, or earnings; shall contribute to the support of the individual's parents if either parent is financially unable to furnish the parent's own necessary food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention.”
Additionally, in IC 12-20-16-12, the statute creates clear legal ground for the adult children to be held liable for the money the municipality paid for the parent’s burial. It even gives different parties the ability to sue for standing costs and attorney fees.
Kentucky, in section 530.050, the law creates labels for two different kinds of neglect or “nonsupport” that you can be guilty of in the Bluegrass State. First, there is basic nonsupport, which is the failure to support in a way that a relative has a duty to provide and reasonably can to a minor, child who is mentally disabled, a spouse that is indigent, and an indigent parent. The penalty for the first offense is a Class A misdemeanor, the send results in seven (7) days in jail, and the third offense could end in a minimum of 30 days in jail.
The second kind of nonsupport is “flagrant nonsupport”, which is a continuous lack of support that they know they are legally (by a court or administrative order) and morally obligated to provide. Someone is guilty of this when their actions result in
- Six (6) consecutive months without payment
- “Destitute circumstances” which the state and ruling parties will define
Louisiana places filial responsibility on both descendants and ascendants to provide “basic necessities of life” to those in need if there is proof that that individual is incapable of obtaining them. The responsibility of support first goes to the spouse and then to the ascendants.
In Massachusetts General Laws, Part IV, Title I, Chapter 273, Section 20, there is a statute titled “Neglect or refusal to support parent” that delivers a penalty for not providing for a relative in need. If a relative over the age of 18 refuses to provide support to a parent that they reasonably can, they will be fined $200 and possibly face imprisonment of one year.
In Mississippi Code 43-31-25, titled “Certain relatives to support a pauper; liability of pauper’s estate”, the family and all descendants of any person unable to work is required to “relieve and maintain such pauper” as directed by a relevant board supervising the case. If the relative/descendant refuses, they “shall forfeit and pay the county” $150.00 each month. They also might be liable to pay back the government for what they supply the person in the relative's stead.
Additionally, once the person in need dies, the estate “shall be liable to the county in a sum equal to not more than One Hundred Fifty Dollars ($150.00) for each month or any part of a month for which the county maintained the pauper” in a home.
Nevada law (NRS 428.070) only mandates filial liability if A) there is a written agreement to pay for care, B) the child has control over and access to the parent's assets, or C) has sufficient income to do so. That does not mean if you have the money, you have to pay for it. There has to be an initial agreement, and even then, you have to have the money to contribute. In every other situation, the child is in no way responsible to pay back the county for the care of indigent people.
Additionally, Nevada defines indigent as a person who is
- Not covered by health insurance
- Ineligible for medicare, medicaid, the children's health insurance program, or any other federal or state program
- Has an extremely low income
Filial responsibility in New Hampshire requires relatives of someone in need (including the step-parents) “assist or maintain” when that person needs it. The relation will only be pressed to do so when their “weekly income is more than sufficient to provide a reasonable subsistence compatible with decency and health.”
The consequence of refusing is having a judge choose the amount you are required to pay and the kind of assistance that money is contributing to. Refusing to pay, or even placing yourself in a position not to pay, can result in a sentence of 60-90 days imprisonment.
The state of New Jersey has three relevant laws to filial responsibility. The first (44:4-100) allows the state to ascertain whether or not there is family (relatives) that they can pursue assistance. The second (44:4-101) makes it clear that any person that qualifies for assistance will be caring for “the poor person or child” via an order from whichever party has jurisdiction over their case. There is the opportunity to appeal.
The third ruling (44:4-102) covers failure to complete the order given by the second of these laws. It gives the state the right to take “action to recover any sum of money due for relief, support and maintenance” that they gave in your stead.
The statute 14-326.1 titled “Parents; failure to support” makes it clear that if you are of “full age” with “sufficient income after reasonably providing for his or her own immediate family” and you leave one of your disenfranchised family members out to dry, there will be consequences. It’s a Class 2 misdemeanor, but if it continues, it’s a Class 1 misdemeanor.
This applies when the parent(s) are “sick or not about to work and have not sufficient means or ability to maintain or support themselves”.
In North Dakota, they rope both parents and children into the same piece of the legislature (14-09-10) called “support of poor” that places requirements on both the parent of a child and the adult child to care for a parent “who is unable to support oneself”.
During the 132nd General assembly of 2019, Ohio signed Senate Bill 70 into law. The section on filial responsibility is called Section 2919.21 Offensives Against the Family. It states “No person shall abandon, or fail to provide adequate support to” the underage child and the “person’s aged or infirm parent or adoptive parent, who from lack of ability and means is unable to provide adequately for the parent’s own support.” The degree and details of the penalty for abandonment depend on a lot of different factors and will likely be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Keeping it short and sweet, Oregon legislature Section 109.010 legally requires parents to “maintain their children who are poor and unable to work to maintain themselves,” and it states that “children are bound to maintain their parents in like circumstances.”
Pennsylvania is the only state in the last 25 years to have a case where filial responsibility laws were enforced. It resulted in an adult child paying over one hundred thousand dollars in nursing home fees.
The law states that the support of “an indigent person”, be that maintaining, caring for, or giving monetary assistance, must be done by the spouse, the child, or the parent of that person. The amount of financial assistance required will likely be determined in court.
In Rhode Island, the sections that cover filial responsibility include the initial obligation, a penalty for failure to fulfill that obligation, and exceptions to the rule. It makes it clear that a person deemed responsible for a “pauper” will be provided for them as is reasonable in relation to their income. The law goes so far as to say that the cost of nursing care can be “recovered by the nursing facility from any person who is obligated to provide support to that patient.”
The penalization states that “any person” over 18 years of age that “unreasonably neglects or refuses to provide for support and maintenance of his or her parent” that is living within the state of Rhode Island. They define destitute as living without “means of sustenance and unable by reason of old age, infirmity, or illness to support and maintain himself or herself”, which falls in line with most other states' definitions.
The penalty is a fine of $200 or imprisonment of up to one year, but you could be dealt both. The law makes exemptions for adult children who were neglected or mistreated, and it guides state officials on how to handle each step of the process, which is much more legislative guidance than most other states provide.
The Mount Rushmore State handles filial responsibility in two parts. In section 25-7-27, they attribute the legal obligation of care to the adult child of a parent who is destitute. The adult child will provide “necessary food, clothing, shelter, or medical attendance for a parent who is unable to provide for oneself.” Notice has to be given to the adult child before they can be held responsible for that assistance.
They also have a section (25-7-28) on the siblings of the responsible adult child being liable for contributing to the destitute parent’s care.
The law in Tennessee is not as cut and dry as in most other states. The filial responsibility laws are not so clear as stating that the adult child is responsible for the parent. They are also placed differently in the welfare rules rather than being tied up in family law.
The rule (71-5-115) states that “responsible parties” can be held to “supplement or reimburse for any benefit or benefits rendered to the recipient pursuant to this part.” In the previous section, it defines “responsible parties” as “the following representatives and relatives of recipients of medical assistance pursuant to this part who are not financially eligible to receive benefits under this part: parents, spouses, children, and guardians.”
In Chapter 14, titled “Support of Poor Relatives”, there is only one section, and that is called “Order in which relatives are liable,” which very clearly establishes filial responsibility. When the parent is in need, children will “will first be called upon to support their parents” followed by that person’s parents, siblings, and grandparents.
Vermont clearly lays out that “an adult child possessed of sufficient pecuniary or physical ability to support his or her parents, who unreasonably neglects or refuses to provide such support when the parent is destitute, unable to support himself or herself, and resident in this State, shall be imprisoned not more than two years or fined not more than $300.00, or both.”
As is the way with most states, Virginia hands filial responsibility to both parents and adult children of those who are unable to provide for themselves. One difference is the way they cover the subject of “more than one person bound to support the same parent or parents” who will “jointly and severally share equitability in the discharge of such duty.”
Another difference Virginia holds is the amount of the fine ($500) for failing to support the person in need, as well as 12 months in jail.
The only mention of filial responsibility that West Virginia makes is in giving the Department of Health and Human Resources the directive to “pay for direct cremation or direct burial for indigent persons” and places limitations on the amount that can be spent. It also states that before the burial or cremation is completed, the department needs to ascertain two things. The first is whether or not the person themselves had financial assets that can be pursued. The second is if there are relatives who are liable for the cremation or burial expenses.
The relatives who have satisfactory income “shall be liable to pay the direct cremation or direct burial expenses,” and relatives will be pursued in the order of spouse, children, parents, and ending with siblings. The State of West Virginia has no laws requiring support.