Filial responsibility laws

I have children here and in Pennsylvania and are trying to decide where to retire.  I heard something about filial responsibility laws and want to know if they exist in South Carolina.

South Carolina does not have a filial responsibility law or a law that makes an adult child responsible to provide support for an indigent or impoverished parent seeking support from the government, a nursing home or to help pay for medical bills.  However, one-half of the other states do have such laws.  (An updated list can be found online).  These laws originated in a response to English “poor house” situations and fell into dis-enforcement when Medicaid came into existence.   Currently these laws give nursing homes, hospitals, a state government and 3rd party care providers the right to file a lawsuit and obtain a judgment against any one or more of the children to force the child or children to pay for a parent’s bill.  Our neighboring states of Georgia and North Carolina have such filial responsibility laws on the books.  The laws vary from state to state and some are severe in that failure to pay a judgment can result in jail time, wage garnishment, property liens and cause the judgment to be listed as an unpaid debt on the child’s credit report.

Pennsylvania made the news in 2012 because a nursing home sued and won a judgment of $93,000.00 against a doctor whose mother had applied for Medicaid, but she got well enough to leave the country and move to Greece.  The nursing home sued only the son who was a professional and did not allege he or the mother had done anything illegal to qualify her for Medicaid.  Pennsylvania recently ruled against a dentist who was sued for a mother’s care and he defending alleging his mother was horrid.  He had been placed in a foster home for a period of time and after the age of 18 he had no contact with her, putting himself through college.  In Pennsylvania the adult child had to be abandoned for 10 years prior to reaching 18 before the filial responsibility was severed.  The dentist lost.  Courts have some leeway and most won’t require you to further impoverished yourself or stop paying for a child’s college tuition to pay for a parent’s care, but there is concern that nursing homes and hospitals will start to seek reimbursement from the resident’s children.  Two states repealed their filial responsibility laws after the 2012 PA court decision.

There are many good reasons to retire to South Carolina including the beautiful weather, lower personal income and property taxes, and lower nursing home costs for private pay.  I’ve had two clients from different parts of the country, the New York area and New England, opt to place loved ones in this state for long term care because it was close to $3000 less per month for private pay.  I suppose you would call them snowbirds as both families had second homes here, which spouses converted to their primary residence and planned to sell their Northern homes to assist with long term care expenses.  Filial responsibility law might be one factor in your decision on where to retire.  Talk with an elder law attorney in Pennsylvania on whether the PA law could affect your situation.


Disclaimer: Information contained in this column is meant to be of general information on frequently asked questions regarding disability, elder law, estate planning and probate law, and is not specific legal advice to a client.  No attorney-client relationship is created by reading this column.

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