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July 17, 2009


hiladelphia Inquirer - This one's going to blow baby boomers' minds. It concerns a little-known law dating to Elizabethan England suddenly being enforced with gusto in Pennsylvania. The law can force adult children to pay their parents' health-care costs. If Mom and Pop can't pay, you pay. If they have the money but refuse to pay, you pay. If you don't, watch your credit rating sink under the weight of a legal judgment that will haunt you for life.

It happened to Don Grant. It can happen to you. The Havertown man is nearly 50 and struggling to pay his mortgage and $100,000 in student loans incurred by his daughter, a recent Albright College grad.

Last year, Grant was sued because his mother, Diana Fichera, did not pay an $8,000 bill at a Delaware County nursing home, where she rehabilitated after surgery.

Grant went to court with his half-sister, who was also sued. He told the nursing-home attorney that he's estranged from his mother and that Fichera has income from Social Security plus two pensions.

The nursing-home lawyer told Grant that all would be resolved if Fichera paid up. When she again refused, the judgment was entered against the whole family. . .

"It was a big house in Drexel Hill," he recalls. "She lived on the second floor. We lived on the first. Sometimes, she'd show for dinner, sometimes not. She never did homework with us."

Grant says his mother has long overspent and mismanaged her money. Fichera declined to comment through her daughter, Grant's half-sister, who asked not to be named.

In 2006, the Wallingford Nursing & Rehab Center sued Fichera for not paying a $28,000 bill. Two years later, she accrued another debt at Brinton Manor in Glen Mills. This time, the nursing-home lawyer got creative.

Blue Bell lawyer Brian Scott Dietrich represents Brinton Manor, but did not return phone calls for comment. Pennsylvania State University law professor Katherine Pearson knew why as soon as I mentioned his name.

"There are three or four major lawyers in Pennsylvania who specialize in representing nursing homes and hospitals, and one of their favorite tools is Pennsylvania's filial statute. Dietrich is one of them," says Pearson, an expert on the arcane issue, also known as "support of indigents."

"These attorneys will bring suit against adult children even if the children live out of state and even if it's been years since they had contact with their parent."

The legal concept of requiring children to support their parents predates colonial America.

"It's a noble theory, a law to make families responsible for each other," Pearson notes. "It didn't work then, and it doesn't work now."

In fact, she adds, filial cases usually "end any real possibility of the family reuniting.". . .

Ezines - When the United States was settled, much of the legal standard the country adopted was based on English law. It was, after all, what people new. The Filial Support Laws were part of that body of laws and thus adapted. Although 30 states have these laws, each state has a slightly different version. In some states, only the children of the person are responsible for providing care while other states expand the requirement to include grandchildren. In California, it is a misdemeanor to not comply with the law. In other states, family members can sue other family members to make them pitch in on the cost of care.

[The states are] Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The interesting thing is these laws sat dormant for a very long time. Only recently have they gained the attention of, oddly enough, senior housing facilities such as nursing homes. These facilities are using the laws to try to get family members to pay the bill or at least get motivated to help persuade Medicare to cover the bills.

You might be thinking this is one of those things that sounds nasty, but rarely happens. In truth, it is occurring more and more as the baby boomer generation continues to reach their golden years. With the massive loss of value in retirement accounts due to the current economic troubles, one can suspect it is only going to get worse.

Knoxville News - Massachusetts is one of 12 states that actually have made it a crime, punishable by fine or imprisonment, for an adult child to refuse to support a needy parent. Tennessee has such a law, but it lies dormant at this time. . .


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like something that ought to go to the Supreme Court.

July 17, 2009 2:07 AM  
Anonymous Mairead said...

This seems grossly unconstitutional. How far is this from the kind of magical thinking that, until the Enlightenment, made people legally responsible for what someone else dreamt about them?

July 17, 2009 9:13 AM  
Blogger Felix Chesterfield said...

Has anybody ever had any experience with these North Carolina Lawyers ?

July 17, 2009 9:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quebec's Civil Code, based on old French law has the same obligation of adults towards their parents.

July 17, 2009 8:29 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

I guess the government wants to put us all in debt

August 7, 2009 3:27 PM  

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