Son In PA Liable To Pay Mother’s Nursing Home Fees

Son Liable for Mom’s $93,000 Nursing Home Bill Under ‘Filial Responsibility’ Law
There are 29 states that currently have laws making adult children responsible for their parents’ care costs if their parents are unable to pay for their own care. These “filial responsibility” laws have rarely been enforced, but six years ago when the Federal Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 made it more difficult to qualify for Medicaid long-term care coverage, some elder law attorneys predicted that nursing homes would start using the laws as a means to be paid.

It has taken some time, but Pennsylvania has seen the first case in which a nursing home sought to have a child pay a parent’s care expense by asserting the state’s filial responsibility law. In early 2012, a Pennsylvania appeals court found a son liable for his mother’s $93,000 nursing home bill under the state’s filial responsibility law. Health Care & Retirement Corporation of America v. Pittas (Pa. Super. Ct., No. 536 EDA 2011, May 7, 2012).

Facts of the Case

Defendant, John Pittas’ mother entered a nursing home for rehabilitation following a car crash. She later left the nursing home and moved to Greece, and a large portion of her bill at the nursing home went unpaid. Mr. Pittas’ mother applied to Medicaid to cover her care, but that application is still pending.

Meanwhile, the nursing home sued Mr. Pittas for nearly $93,000 under the state’s filial responsibility law. As mentioned above, this law requires a child to provide support for an indigent parent. The trial court ruled in favor of the nursing home, and Mr. Pittas appealed. Mr. Pittas argued in part that the court should have considered alternate forms of payment, such as Medicaid or other family members such as his mother’s husband and her two other adult children.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court, an appeals court, agreed with the trial court that Mr. Pittas is liable for his mother’s nursing home debt. The court held that the law does not require it to consider other sources of income or to wait until Mrs. Pittas’s Medicaid claim is resolved. It also said that the nursing home had every right to choose which family members to pursue for the money owed. For the full text of the Pennsylvania court’s decision in the Pittas case, CLICK HERE.

First of Many Legal Actions by Nursing Homes?

The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 made it much more difficult for the elderly to transfer assets before qualifying for Medicaid coverage of nursing home care. With enactment of the law, advocates for the elderly said that there would be increasing numbers of individuals seeking nursing care but cannot pay for it. Attorneys further speculated that in states that have filial responsibility laws, the nursing homes might seek reimbursement from the residents’ children.

Check out this link to a Dickinson Law School You Tube posting of an interview with law professor Katherine Pearson, who is very knowledgeable on the topic of filial support laws in Pennsylvania. In the interview, professor Pearson addresses many of the legal issues including What is the history of the filial support statute in Pennsylvania?, What is so dramatic about the Superior Court’s application of this law in the Pittas case?, What are the consequences of this decision? Why should we not make adult children support their parents? What policy questions does this case raise?

It will be interesting to see if this case is appealed further as the outcome is tough to swallow. It is still hard to imagine that the filial responsibility laws will apply in all cases. The facts of this case may differ substantially from the typical case confronted by an individual entering a nursing home. That being said, we have to be vigilant and plan accordingly. I do not see nursing homes rushing to litigation where there is a ready source of funding, such as Medicaid. It is important for us all to be aware of this legal issue and to guard against it to the best of our ability.

It is more important than ever to protect assets and to assess the best methods. We regularly take into account the filial support laws in PA and counsel clients on the issues relating to the possible application of the laws. To discuss the Elder Law Planning options available to you and your family members, please contact Douglas L. Kaune at 610 933 8069. Our staff will provide you with a confidential Elder Law Planning questionnaire and will also schedule a convenient meeting time.