A thousand years ago, Gui Jujing wrote The Twenty-Four Paragons of Filial Piety. As the story goes, while grief-stricken over his father’s death, Jujing compiled true stories that demonstrated a child’s respect for his parents. At the end of each story, he added poetry.
Thus, we have a verse of how Shun the Great ascended to the throne of China as a reward for working hard in his parents’ fields despite their harsh treatment of him:
Elephants in file plow the fields in spring.
Little birds in flocks come weed the summer grass.
Following Emperor Yau, he took the Dragon Throne.
His filial conduct touched the hearts of creatures under heaven.
Shun the Great set the bar pretty high. The story of The Twenty-Four Paragons has been used to guilt generations of adult children into supporting their parents. It has been a touchstone in Chinese society, and the teachings don’t stop there. They have carried over into almost every civilized country.
The Colonies were not immune. Seventeenth century English law mandated the responsibility of children to provide their parents with financial support, and that concept traversed the ocean. Today 30 states have some type of filial responsibility laws on their books.
Filial Responsibility Laws
Filial responsibility turns on the notion that an adult child should be obligated to pay for a parent’s housing, care, and necessities. Only 8 of the 30 states provide that the child’s liability will be waived if the parent did not provide support for the child while a minor. For the other 22 states, a child’s liability is absolute.
These laws really hit home when a parent incurs an extraordinary expense like a nursing home. In one Pennsylvania case, a nursing home successfully sued a son for his mother’s $95,000 nursing home bill. Pennsylvania has a filial responsibility law.
Texas is one of the 20 states that does not have a filial responsibility law. That does not, however, mean that adult children who live in Texas may not be held liable for a parent’s expenses.
Consider what happened in another case involving a Pennsylvania nursing home. In that case, the nursing home threatened to sue two daughters who lived in Florida. Florida, like Texas, does not have a filial responsibility law. However, the suit was under Pennsylvania law. The case eventually settled when the mother qualified for Pennsylvania Medicaid and the nursing home was paid through Medicaid.
Most of the 30 states with filial responsibility laws do not enforce them. That may change when more people enter nursing homes, and the Medicaid money dries up. Someone must pay the nursing homes, and the government simply will not be able to borrow, print or tax enough money to carry the burden.
Aside from a blanket law, there are other ways that nursing homes rope children into paying for their parent’s care. One common ruse is the “responsible party” designation on a nursing home contract. Some admission agreements define a responsible party as being financially responsible for the patient’s care. It is not merely a designation of a primary contact or medical agent for the patient.
While nursing homes are prohibited by federal and state law from requiring a third-party guarantee of payment for expedited admission or continued stay, they are not prohibited from allowing someone to voluntarily assume financial responsibility. If you sign a contract as a responsible party, you are likely on the hook.
Filial responsibility is not the law of the land. It may soon be.
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Virginia Hammerle is in her fourth decade of practicing law. She is Board Certified in Civil Trial by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and an Accredited Estate Planner. Contact her at email@example.com or visit www.hammerle.com. This column does not constitute legal advice.