Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Filial Law Still Up for Debate in Families Issues over Offspring's Liability Linger in Cases

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Filial Law Still Up for Debate in Families Issues over Offspring's Liability Linger in Cases

Article excerpt

One of our most controversial columns in the past few years that garnered the most comments dealt with Pennsylvania's filial responsibility statute.

That's the name given to Pennsylvania Act 43 of 2005, which resurrected the sleeping and old filial support laws in our state that make adult children financially responsible for payment of their parents' long-term medical care costs (i.e. nursing home costs).

While the law has been on the books for decades, its resurgence has generated debate over whether adult children are truly financially "emancipated."

This law became the focal point of the interesting court case known as HCR Manorcare v. Pittas, decided in just the past two years. In that case, the son of a nursing home resident was held liable for paying his mother's $93,000 nursing home bill when she fled the country.

Ironically, neither the husband nor the other children of the nursing home resident were named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Last year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of the defendant son, and so now we have precedent in the Commonwealth.

Act 43 and the Pittas case warn us of the dangers of not addressing the planning needs of the elderly in advance.

Fast-forward to a parallel situation involving Peg and Bob Mohn, an elderly couple living in Pennsylvania. The Mohns' son died at age 47, leaving unpaid medical bills. Now, it is reported that debt collectors are pursuing the Mohns using the filial responsibility law as leverage.

Since we normally only hear about adult children being the target of supporting parents, this was a new one for us. While there are 28 states that have filial responsibility statutes on the books, frankly, we had to go back and check the law to see if Pennsylvania were one of the states that has "reverse" filial responsibility for debts of children.

Sure enough, our statute states, in part, "all of the following individuals have the responsibility to care for and maintain or financially assist an indigent person, regardless of whether the indigent person is a public charge: (i) the spouse of an indigent person, (ii) A child of the indigent person; and (iii) a parent of the indigent person. …

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