A recent Pennsylvania case is shedding light on a trend taking hold in a few states regarding an adult child’s responsibility to support their parents. In Health Care & Retirement Corporation of America v. Pittas, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania found an adult child liable for $92,943.41 of a parent’s medical treatment. Currently 30 states have laws regarding filial responsibility which create a statutory duty for an adult child to support parents who cannot provide for themselves. Various states impose both criminal and civil penalties for failure to support ones parents.
North Carolina does have filial responsibility laws on the books. They may not gather much attention, but North Carolina General Statute 14-326.1 states:
“ If any person being of full age, and having sufficient income after reasonably providing for his or her own immediate family shall, without reasonable cause, neglect to maintain and support his or her parent or parents, if such parent or parents be sick or not able to work and have not sufficient means or ability to maintain or support themselves, such person shall be deemed guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor; upon conviction of a second or subsequent offense such person shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. If there be more than one person bound under the provisions of the next preceding paragraph to support the same parent or parents, they shall share equitably in the discharge of such duty.”
What does this mean to the average person? Basically, you could face criminal charges in North Carolina for failure to support your parents. If one or both parents are sick or unable to support themselves financially, it is a duty of a child who is financially able to do so to support the parent(s). If the child fails to provide this support, he or she could face a Class 2 misdemeanor for the first conviction and a Class 1 misdemeanor for any subsequent conviction. This law can mandate stiff penalties; depending on a person’s prior criminal record, he or she could receive active jail time up to 60 days for a first offense and 120 days for any following convictions.
Under the North Carolina law (and the laws of several other states) there are some exceptions listed. First, it should be noted that for a child to be liable they would have to have sufficient income left over after reasonably providing for their immediate family. The law is written such that a child cannot be placed in dire financial straits at the expense of supporting a parent.
Second, the statute also allows an exception for “reasonable cause”. While North Carolina has not defined what “reasonable cause” means, other states allow exceptions – either in the form of reducing or eliminating the support requirement – if the parent abandoned the child at any point, mistreated the child, or the child can prove other prior misconduct.
While it appears North Carolina is not currently enforcing such filial responsibility laws, recent cases such as the one in Pennsylvania show this issue garnering increased attention nationwide. As medical costs continue to increase and health care providers look for ways to recover losses for care, we expect the issue of filial responsibility will come back to the forefront again. The best option you may have is to encourage your parents to purchase long-term care insurance and, if you are financially able to do so, help them pay the premiums. You may also want to consider purchasing your own policy so as not to put your children in the same situation.
Re your recommendation that adult children “encourage your parents to purchase long-term care insurance, and if you are financially able to do so, help them pay the premiums. You may also want to consider purchasing your own policy so as not to put your children in the same situation”. I purchased long-term care insurance and paid for a few years (for myself only). However, the cost became so prohibitive that I cancelled this type of insurance. Everything I am reading now, as well as talking to friends who have paid for long-term care insurance, STRONGLY SUGGESTS that this type of insurance will soon be no longer available except for those with high incomes/investments, etc. because of the rising costs of long-term care. Another downside – if you have purchased this type of insurance-what you probably will receive is not what you have paid for – in other words, less will be covered than what you had originally expected. Why are your suggesting this as a “good” idea?
Thank you for your question. There is nothing to confirm that these type of policies won’t be available or will only be available for those with high incomes. It is understandable that these concerns exist when folks do experience a rise in their premiums. However, you should discuss all available options with your insurance provider prior to canceling coverage or, when selecting coverage on the front end, ask about all of the possible options that fit your budget and anticipated income limits down the road. Some older life insurance policies can also be converted into long-term care coverage if the need for those life policies is not what it was when they were originally taken out. LTC insurance is definitely not a “one size fits all” but generally most folks can find something that fits their situation and would act to cover at least a portion of LTC needs rather than them facing total liquidation of savings and other retirement assets.
Beyond getting long-term care insurance for parents, are there other legal strategies that children can take in order to insulate themselves from this law?
There is not a lot other than planning ahead and trying to encourage parents to have a plan in place; monies held in qualified retirement plans are typically protected from creditors, along with assets held jointly with a spouse who is NOT the child of the parent needing health care. Assets held in a business such as an LLC can also sometimes have more protection than those held individually. Thank you for your question.