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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.