In the recent case of Health Care & Retirement Corporation of America v. Pittas (Pa. Super. Ct., No. 536 EDA 2011, May 7, 2012), an appeals court ruled that a son was responsible for his mother’s $93,000 nursing home bill under Pennsylvania’s Filial Support law (23 Pa. C.S.A. §4603). In 2005, the legislature moved this old filial support law to the divorce code, putting new life into filial support. The current law states that certain individuals have “a responsibility to care for and maintain or financially assist an indigent person, regardless of whether the person is a public charge.” Those individuals with the responsibility include the spouse, the child or the parent of an indigent person. However, this responsibility does not apply if the “individual does not have sufficient financial ability to support the indigent person” or if a parent abandoned the child for 10 years during the child’s minority. Neither the terms “indigent” nor “sufficient financial ability” are clearly defined in the law.
In this court case, Mr. Pittas’ mother entered a nursing home in late September 2007 after completing rehabilitation for injuries sustained in a car accident. She resided in the facility until March 2008, when she relocated to Greece. She left behind most of her unpaid nursing home bill of $92,943.41. There was an application made to Medicaid that was apparently still on appeal throughout the process. The court found that Mr. Pittas was financially able to provide support for his mother, and that it was his responsibility to join others who also might (or should) assist in supporting his mother financially.
It is not clear why the Medicaid application was still pending and had not been approved or denied. However, Pennsylvania courts were willing to enforce the Filial Support law against the resident's son. Now if a parent enters a nursing home with insufficient funds to pay for their care, adult children should be vigilant about potential claims against their own assets to pay for that care.