To a New Yorker, this seems impossible, but in some states, a child may be personally liable for a deceased parent’s medical bills. Over half the states have legislation variously referred to as Filial Support or Filial Responsibility Laws. These statutes oblige children to satisfy their parents’ medical debts even if the child made no promise to do so, signed no guarantee to do so, or received no assets from his or her parents. New York does not have such a statute. But New Jersey and Pennsylvania do have such laws! Should this still be source for concern to New Yorkers? Under the U.S. Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause could a judgment creditor in New Jersey or Pennsylvania under these laws be able to enforce that judgment in New York? While Medicare and Medicaid have reduced the impact of these laws, there have been cases where they have been enforced.
Filial Responsibility laws stem from England’s 16th century Poor Laws, a set of social measures meant to support impoverished citizens that resulted in debtors’ prisons, poor houses, government custody of children (imagine a Dickens novel, or his own youth). At one point, 45 states had statutes that left adult children responsible for the expenses of their indigent parents. Many states repealed these laws with the advent of Medicaid in 1965 and the reduced need for family support (generally, Medicaid prevents nursing homes from requiring family members to act as “guarantors” when admitting a new patient.)
Consider the following facts. A Pennsylvania resident incurred a $93,000 nursing home bill for rehabilitation care. When she was released from the facility she left the country, leaving behind the debt and her son. (Mom had applied for Medicaid, but the application was still pending at the time of this case.) The nursing home sued her son. The courts ruled that the son was financially able and therefore responsible for paying the bill under the Pennsylvania.
For more on this topic (and a body of law that, frankly, was unknown to this writer when he was searching for a subject to write about), see this article from a website called AgingCare (https://www.agingcare.com/Articles/filial-responsibility-and-medicaid-197746.htm ). It begins:
As a caregiver, keeping your finances separate from those of your loved one is difficult, if not impossible, especially if they have few assets and limited income. Even if an aging parent lives in a long-term care facility paid for by Medicaid, adult children often shell out money to help cover personal needs and the occasional treat. Many think that because the cost of care is covered by the government, they have been absolved of all financial responsibility, but this is not quite true in some states.
Now for the good news. New Yorkers do not have to worry about this happening here. In a 1967 case, the Second Department had to decide whether the Full faith and Credit Clause of the federal Constitution preempted local law. A Connecticut welfare investigator filed suit against a New York resident in a Connecticut court to recover monies expended for the New York resident’s mother in a Connecticut hospital. The case was “transmitted” to a New York Family Court where the son objected to such obligation in light of the repeal of New York filial support law. The Family Court held that the son was obligated to contribute to his mother’s care in Connecticut. The appellate court reversed the Family Court, ruling that while the 1966 filial support law amendment did not directly address the issue, the failure to do so was an “oversight” and that of all filial support obligations, “both intrastate or interstate,” were repealed by the statute. See, In The Matter of Welfare Commissioner v. Mintz, 28 A.D.2d 14, 17 (2d Dep’t 1967).