Filial responsibility laws

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Filial responsibility laws (filial support laws, filial piety laws) are laws in the United States that impose a duty, usually upon adult children, for the support of their impoverished parents or other relatives.[1] In some cases the duty is extended to other relatives. Such laws may be enforced by governmental or private entities and may be at the state or national level. While most filial responsibility laws contemplate civil enforcement, some include criminal penalties for adult children or close relatives who fail to provide for family members when challenged to do so. The key concept is impoverished, as there is no requirement that the parent be aged. For non-Western societies, the term "filial piety" has been applied to family responsibilities toward elders.

A “filial responsibility law” is not the same thing as the provision in United States federal law which requires a “lookback” of five years in the financial records of anyone applying for Medicaid to ensure that the person did not give away assets in order to qualify for Medicaid.

Similar laws also exist in Germany, France, Taiwan and Singapore.


Filial support laws were an outgrowth of the Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601.[2][3]

At one time[year needed], as many as 45 U.S. states had statutes obligating an adult child to care for his or her parents. Some states repealed their filial support laws after Medicaid took a greater role in providing relief to elderly patients without means. Other states did not, and a large number of filial support laws remain dormant on the books.[4]

Generally, the media has not covered filial responsibility laws much, and there has not been the political will to see that they are enforced.[5] As of 2012, twenty-nine states[6][7] have such laws on the books, and a few states require the potential support of grandparents or even siblings.

Support required[edit]

Typically, these laws obligate adult children (or depending on the state, other family members) to pay for their indigent parents’/relatives' food, clothing, shelter and medical needs. Should the children fail to provide adequately, they allow nursing homes and government agencies to bring legal action to recover the cost of caring for the parents. Adult children can even go to jail in some states if they fail to provide filial support.[8]

States with filial responsibility laws[nb 1][edit]

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nevada [nb 2]
  • New Hampshire[nb 3]
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

In addition, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico also has filial responsibility laws.

  1. ^ Source: Filial Responsibility: Can the Legal Duty to Support Our Parents Be Effectively Enforced? by Shannon Frank Edelstone, appearing in the Fall 2002 issue of the American Bar Association's Family Law Quarterly, 36 Fam. L.Q. 501 (2002).[9][10]
  2. ^ Nevada law only addresses support of children and not support of parents. [11]
  3. ^ "...New Hampshire enacted HB 481 which repealed the liability of children for their parent’s care costs. In addition to repealing the liability of children for their parents’ cost of care, the New Hampshire law also now limits the liability of parents for the support of their adult children." [12]

Trial case[edit]

In 2012, the media reported the case of John Pittas, whose mother had received care in a skilled nursing facility in Pennsylvania after an accident and then moved to Greece. The nursing home sued her son directly, before even trying to collect from Medicaid. A court in Pennsylvania ruled that the son must pay, according to the Pennsylvania filial responsibility law.[13][failed verification]

Similar laws in other jurisdictions[edit]


In Germany, persons who are related in a "direct line" (grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren) are required to support each other, this includes children with impoverished parents (de:Elternunterhalt, support to parents).[14]

In France, close relatives (such as children, parents and spouses) are required to support each other in case of need (fr:obligation alimentaire, duty to support).[15]


Singapore and Taiwan criminalize refusal of support for one's elderly parents.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Paying for Mom: Little-Known Laws Force Families to Fund Parents' Care". American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). Archived from the original on 31 December 2011. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  2. ^ Lopes, James L. (1975). "Filial Support and Family Solidarity". Pacific Law Journal. 6: 508–535.
  3. ^ Callahan, Daniel (1985). "What do children owe elderly parents?". The Hastings Center Report. 15 (2): 32–37, page 33. doi:10.2307/3560643.
  4. ^ Team, Northwestern MutualVoice. "Northwestern MutualVoice: Who Will Pay For Mom's Or Dad's Nursing Home Bill? Filial Support Laws And Long-Term Care".
  5. ^ Callahan 1985, p. 32
  6. ^ Pearson, Katherine, Family (filial) responsibility/support statutes in the United States, Penn State University, Dickinson School of Law, 5 March 2012.
  7. ^ "Who pays for nursing home care?". American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).
  8. ^ "More Filial Support Cases Ending Up in Court".
  9. ^ GROSS, JANE. "The New Old Age - States With Filial Responsibility Laws" (PDF).
  10. ^ "Discontinuing state-level legislative tracking". 11 August 2015.
  11. ^ NRS Chapter 125B
  12. ^, published in 2013
  13. ^ Weston, Liz (18 July 2012). "Will you get Dad's nursing-home bill?". MSN Money. Archived from the original on 21 July 2012. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  14. ^ Art. 1601 Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (BGB) (in German)
  15. ^ Loi Code Civil du 1 octobre 2018, articles 203-211
  16. ^ Chow, N. (2009), "Filial Piety in Asian Chinese Communities", in Sung, K.T.; Kim, B.J. (eds.), Respect for the Elderly: Implications for Human Service Providers, University Press of America, pp. 319–24, ISBN 978-0-7618-4530-0

Further reading[edit]

  • Ober, Paul R. (1972). "Pennsylvania's Family Responsibility Statute - Corruption of Blood and Denial of Equal Protection". Dickenson Law Review. 77: 331–351.
  • Samo, Gregory G. (1977). "Constitutionality of Statutory Provision Requiring Reimbursement of Public by Child for Financial Assistance to Aged Parents". American Law Reports Annotated 3rd. 75. pp. 1159–1178.
  • Garrett, W. Walton (1979). "Filial Responsibility Laws". Journal of Family Law. 18: 793–818.
  • Snell, James G. (1990). "Filial responsibility laws in Canada: An historical study". Canadian Journal on Aging. 9 (3): 268–277. doi:10.1017/S0714980800010709.
  • Pakula, Matthew (2005). "A Federal Filial Responsibility Statute: A Uniform Tool to Help Combat the Wave of Indigent Elderly". Family Law Quarterly. American Bar Association. 39 (3): 859–877. JSTOR 25740525.