Is there any law that compels children to pay parent’s debt?

Last year, my cousin sister Emily got a debt collection letter from the hospital where her mom was admitted for several days in Texas. The hospital has charged her $80,000 for the long-term medical cost of Aunty. Quite obviously, she was shocked and devastated to receive such a huge medical bill without doing anything wrong. Not knowing what to do, she consulted an attorney to know the best course of action.

I must say that the attorney was good. He explained that she can go back to home peacefully since Texas doesn’t have “filial support law”. So, she was not legally bound to pay a penny to the hospital. She was free.

What is filial support law?

Wikipedia defines filial support law as,

“Filial responsibility laws (filial support laws, filial piety laws) are laws that impose a duty upon third parties, usually (but not always) adult children for the support of their impoverished parents or other relatives.”

The states which have filial support laws in the country are:

  • Delaware
  • Idaho
  • Oregon
  • Alaska
  • Indiana
  • Utah
  • Oregon
  • Ohio
  • Connecticut
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Arkansas
  • West Virginia
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • Massachusetts
  • Pennsylvania
  • California
  • Vermont
  • Georgia
  • Iowa
  • Tennessee
  • North Carolina
  • Louisiana
  • North Dakota
  • Mississippi
  • Maryland
  • New Jersey
  • Virginia

Most of these states don’t enforce this rule. But, Pennsylvania is the exception to this rule.

What happens when the child lives in Pennsylvania?

If Emily lived in Pennsylvania, then the situation would have been completely different. She would have been held responsible for paying $80,000 to the hospital. Even though Emily was not the Power of Attorney, she had to pay the full amount to the hospital because of 2 reasons:

  1. Her mom couldn’t pay the medical bill
  2. Emily was her biological daughter
What if Emily lived in Texas and her mom was in Pennsylvania? In that case, Emily would have been in trouble. She had to pay the entire bill in that scenario also. If she refused, the hospital had right to file a lawsuit in court for wage garnishment. If they won the case, then they could also impose a lien on Emily’s properties. In that scenario, Emily could:
  1. Settle medical debt with the hospital
  2. Use her mom’s funds to pay off debt
  3. Use Medicaid benefits (if eligible) to eliminate debt

What is the best course of action?

The best course of action is to consult an attorney. If your family member is receiving long-term care in a hospital that follows filial support law, then discuss the matter with an attorney. Ask your chances of getting sued for your family member’s debt. Discuss your options in those scenarios.

What happens to the Power of Attorney?

Suppose, Emily was just the Power of Attorney. She was not the biological daughter of Aunty. She did all the formalities in the hospital. In that case, could the hospital haunt Emily for bill payments?

The Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA) forbids hospitals to admit a patient on the promised payment by any third party. A few hospitals accept “voluntary” guarantees of payment. Other hospitals directly violate the NHRA.

It is important for the third party to read the contract carefully before signing it to avoid lawsuits in the future. If he/she doesn’t understand any clause, then it is better to consult an attorney to review the contract properly.

Lawsuits are bad. Even if the Power of Attorney wins the case, he/she will suffer emotionally and financially. In most cases, lawsuits are filed when family members are mourning the loss of their relative who had been in the nursing home.

If the contract specifies that the third party needs to pay the bill from the patient’s funds, then he/she has to do. If the third party fails to pay off the debt, then he/she may get sued. In this scenario, the third party will be liable to bear these expenses from his/her own fund:

  • Total medical bill amount
  • Attorney fees (both the parties)
  • Lawsuit expenses (both the parties)

If you have further queries, you can post your question in OVLG Answers. Our experts will help you clear your doubts.

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