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Can Adult Kids Be Held Legally Responsible for Parental Support? In Some Countries – and Some States – the Answer is Yes

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Here at AgingOptions, we feel we’ve seen it all when it comes to relationships between aging parents and adult children. In some cases, these relationships are wonderful models of love, respect and support; in other families, plagued by bitterness and old wounds, parents and kids are barely on speaking terms or are openly antagonistic toward one another. But we’ve rarely heard of a parent suing their child in court over the issue of support, until now.

Family Breakdown over Parental Support

The case in question is described in this article we recently discovered on the BBC website.  It describes a 75-year-old man in Bangladesh who had retired from his tiny business – a clothing shop – with very little income. As a result, he had to rely on his daughter and his estranged son to help him, but the son refused. “After he got married, he changed,” the man told the BBC, “and stopped caring about his parents.”  The man said “he had no choice but to pursue legal action against his son” for support. Of course, the son, who works as a banker, rejected the allegation that he had abandoned his father, and accused the father of filing suit under Bangladeshi law just to cause embarrassment and disgrace. In the end, father and son reached a negotiated settlement for a monthly stipend.

“It’s the kind of family breakdown that could happen anywhere,” says the BBC. The father decided his only recourse was to sue his son under Bangladesh’s Parents Maintenance Act, a statute that provides recourse for parents against their children who fail to support them. As the article points out, many Asian countries have such laws on the books, passed in the last two decades to cope with the needs of an aging population. According to the BBC, these laws are largely rooted in the value Asian cultures place on respect for one’s elderly relatives.  In Asian societies that traditionally prize family and communal values, these laws act in much the same way as alimony or child support.

Singapore, for example, has a law called the Maintenance of Parents Act “under which elderly parents who can’t support themselves can seek financial aid from their children [by filing] claims in cases where children are capable of supporting them, but fail to do so.” Many cases are resolved through conciliation and never reach the court, but when the tribunal does have to rule, they have latitude to award either a monthly allowance or lump sum. By one measure the law seems to be working: in 2009 there were 200 parental support cases filed in Singapore, versus fewer than 40 in 2017. About half resulted in court-required maintenance settlements.

Parental Support Laws in the U.S.

What about here in the United States? It might surprise you learn, according to this 2017 article on a Florida legal website, that 30 U.S. states actually have laws on the books which pass the obligation of paying for the basic care and needs of an aging parent to their adult children. Some state laws allow parents in need to sue their own kids. “Filial responsibility laws impose a legal obligation on adult children to take care of their parents’ basic needs and medical care,” the website says. “Although most people are not aware of them, 30 states in the U.S. have some type of filial responsibility laws in place.”  (Washington State is not one of them, but Oregon and Idaho are on the list.)  However, there are big differences in how seriously states take these laws. “Eleven states have never enforced their laws,” says the website, “and most other states rarely enforce [them].” The only state that reportedly enforces its filial responsibility laws “aggressively” is Pennsylvania.

In researching this topic we found a website called Medical Alert Advice where we discovered this explanatory article outlining the provisions under which children could be held legally liable under filial responsibility laws. If all these (plus a few other key provisions) are true, you could find yourself financially liable for a parent’s care, depending on your state of residence:

  • Your parent is accepting financial support from the state government.
  • Your parent has a medical or nursing home bill which they cannot pay.
  • Your parent is considered indigent, meaning the cost of their care is exceeding their Social Security benefits.
  • Your parent does not qualify for Medicaid.
  • Authorities believe you as the adult child have the means to pay the bill.

The positive news, according to the website, is that judges have broad discretion in deciding how aggressive to be. “As mentioned above, most states are very lenient with these laws and may not fully enforce them, if at all,” says the Medical Alert Advice article. “If you can demonstrate that you do not have the financial means to pay for your parent’s bills, the court system is generally not inclined to impoverish you by making you responsible for them.”

Parental Support Laws May Be More Rigorously Enforced

Nevertheless, some experts wonder whether filial responsibility laws might draw increasing attention – and enforcement – in the future, as the population ages and support services face increasing financial strain. This article from the website Investment News called these laws “a sleeping giant” that could have a huge impact on paying for long-term care.  As the article puts it, even though enforcement of filial laws has been rare to date, “some feel it’s only a matter of time before states start enforcing them more regularly” if their aid programs keep hemorrhaging money. If this should happen, the Investment News article conjectures, the fear that “they could inadvertently stick their kids with a huge medical bill down the road” might finally prompt some people to engage in the kind of long-term care planning they often put off.

But we at AgingOptions believe it shouldn’t take the threat of a lawsuit to get people to plan for their future.  No matter how old you are or what your circumstances, a solid retirement plan – in the form of a LifePlan from AgingOptions – is the answer to your future security. Even if you worry that you don’t have enough, a LifePlan can show you the way forward toward a better retirement than you thought possible. There’s no better way to avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones and to protect your assets as you age, because only a LifePlan from AgingOptions weaves together, not just your financial strategy, but all the essential elements that matter most, including legal, housing, health and family. With a LifePlan prepared, fear can be replaced with confidence and a sense of security.

If you’re ready to find out more, we invite you to join Rajiv at an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar, and bring your adult family members, too. To see a calendar of these popular free events, visit our Live Events page and register for the location that works for you. It will be our pleasure to greet you and to share with you and your loved ones the power of an AgingOptions LifePlan. Age on!

(originally reported at

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