As populations are rapidly aging worldwide, nations are increasingly being confronted with the ultimate question of: who is responsible for providing long term care for the elderly? Different public policies regarding how adult children should help shoulder the responsibility of caring for their aging parents have been formulated and adopted throughout the United States. These policies address the issue of a child’s legal obligation to pay for his parents’ care—often referred to as “filial responsibility”—and the role that it plays in providing long term care for the elderly.
Filial responsibility is rooted in ancestor worship and refers to the historic tradition of respect and duty towards aging parents. Due to the lack of a federal filial responsibility statute in the United States today, states vary significantly in their decisions to implement and enforce laws that require adult children to provide filial support to their aging parents. With the enactment of social insurance programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, many states have even repealed filial support laws as such programs were designed to support indigent and older populations.
Although Maryland is one of the 30 states that currently impose an obligation on adult children to care for their aging parents, it is rarely (if ever) enforced. Title 13 of Maryland’s Family Law article provides that adult children are obligated to financially support a destitute parent with food, care, shelter, and clothing. This filial support law most often raises the question of whether an adult child can be held legally responsible for a parent’s nursing home bills.
The Maryland Court of Appeals has held that no liability can fall upon an adult child in the event of elderly parent’s default unless the adult child signs a contract that “binds himself by definite words or stipulation.” However, Title 16 of Maryland’s Health-General article says that an adult child can be held financially liable regardless of consent if the aging parent is a receiving care in a state psychiatric hospital.
Since Maryland rarely enforces its filial responsibility laws, an adult child is typically not liable for his or her parents’ nursing home expenses unless he or she expressly agree to be (for example, by consenting to be liable in a nursing home contract). However, until Maryland repeals them, its filial responsibility laws remain “on the books.” The attorneys at Frank, Frank and Scherr, LLC can assist in the legal planning for an aging parent’s long term care need by advising on potential liability, reviewing nursing home contracts, and counseling on asset management and protection in efforts to minimize the costly effects of long-term care.