Are You Legally Responsible for Your Parents’ Care?

By Elizabeth Thielke / Posted on 07 July 2009

iStock_000006569915XSmallThere will come a day when your aging parent may need someone to handle his or her care, and that someone will very likely be you. In fact, many adult children expect that such a day will come when they must assume responsibility for their parents’ well being. After all, that’s the circle of life, and morally the right thing to do. Of course, what happens when you’re not on speaking terms with a parent? Or when you’re already maxed out financially and physically caring for your own family? What if someone was to tell you that it’s too bad — you’re legally responsible to deal with your parents, no matter what?

That could very well happen, believe it or not, as 30 states currently have laws making adult children responsible for their parents’ care if their parents can’t afford to take care of themselves. Though these “filial responsibility” laws are not often enforced, there is some speculation that they will be in order to save Medicaid money. According to the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), those states with filial responsibility laws:

Twenty-one allow some sort of civil court action to obtain financial support (or cost recovery) and 12 specify a criminal penalty for filial nonsupport; three states allow both civil and criminal actions. Of course, in many cases state filial responsibility laws limit children’s liability under a variety of conditions, such as whether the adult child has enough income to actually contribute, or if the adult child’s financial circumstances change, or if they were abandoned or deserted by the parent.

If filial responsibility laws are enforced, it will affect the common practice of exhausting or transferring a senior’s assets so that a senior may qualify for Medicaid, often prior to entering long term care. Currently, Medicaid only looks at the assets of the individual, but since Medicaid is in financial trouble, the government is looking at the filial responsibility laws to help deal with the crisis.

The New Old Age Blog looks at the filial responsibility topic as well, and there is some interesting discussion in the comments. It’s a tough topic to legislate because so many people are taking care of their own families, but then again, many adult children are able to contribute toward their parents care and they don’t, even when their parents’ situation is less than desirable. I also know that government resources aren’t unlimited, either, it’s a complicated topic.

Someday, I will be responsible for my dad. I will do everything that I can, but I also have my own family to consider. I’m fortunate that he has planned very well, but I can’t help but feel for others who might not have that luxury. Especially now that the government may be putting all of the burden on them.

What do you think — should your aging parents be your responsibility no matter what?

-Elizabeth Thielke

There are 17 Comments about this post

  1. Great article. Lots of things to think about, that’s for sure! And as we in the Baby Boomer Generation continue to age, we’ll start seeing more and more people having to deal with this. Combine that fact with all the economic woes and it could make for a bleak outlook over the next few years!


    on 15 July 2009 / 11:41 PM

  2. Lynn says,

    The most important thing is having a good relationship with your parent(s) in the first place. I know this isn’t always easy, but keep trying no matter what.
    I think we have an obligation to help one another, even if you’re not related.


    on 17 September 2009 / 5:32 PM

  3. carol says,

    I wouldn’t want my kids to be responsible for me, I wouldn’t but that burden on them. I agree it’s good to have a relationship with your kids, but they shouldn’t be responsible for you as you get older. You are no longer responsible for your kids once they turn 18 and they are adults, so why put a burden on them to care for you. It’s hard enough for your kids to financialy take care of themself’s and a family, let alone trying to take care of an aging parent.
    That’s totaly wrong.


    on 10 January 2010 / 5:01 PM

  4. Matt says,

    My mother has been ill now for 21 years with all sorts of symptoms that medical science does not know the cure for and where they do not even recognize it as an illness and throw it on the ‘stress’ or ‘psychosomatic illness’ or just ‘plain imagination’ heap.

    My younger brother, who is 30, still lives at home to ‘to care off’ our mother.

    At first I would stop by my mother’s place to see how she was doing, but when one of the symptoms subsides, there is another thing that comes up, and another, and another, without there being an illness that is really defined. My mother went from being an independent, intelligent, creative woman to a self pitying shadow that is stuck in the next “what-has-she”.

    I broke off most contact with my mother. The situation has even driven my brother and me apart of late, because he feels I should come over to take care of my mother when she deems it necessary, stating that she is ‘my mother too’.

    I do not feel I am responsible for the life that my mother is living nor that I am responsible for the way my brother lives his life.

    I have been thinking what I would do, if I were in my mother’s situation. I would have myself admitted to some hospital or care center instead of becoming a burden on my children, because I am still the one responsible for me, and nobody else.

    I am not sure if any of the above is valid, because I feel a huge amount of anger with the idea of having to be responsible for my parents.

    Kind regards,

    I feel I am not responsible for the life of my mother


    on 01 May 2010 / 7:44 AM

  5. Rosemary says,

    I see much about the health conditions of aging parents but what about them living in filth and still refusing to leave? Are adult children responsible for reporting this condition?


    on 09 April 2011 / 3:03 PM

  6. An excellent question, Rosemary…what do others think? That is a difficult call to make. You’re right though – it’s not always so black and white.


    on 12 April 2011 / 1:46 PM

  7. Confused daughter says,

    My mother force me to provide for her financially after quitting her job. I have a meager income especially that i just bought my own house. I am paying for my mortgage and support myself. I would have extra income at times but not often. She makes me feel guilty everytime she asks for money and I could’nt provide for her. But i have my priorities like my house. Am torn between living comfortably and taking care of her. I love her and wants a good relationship with her. Am i a bad daughter if I wouldn’t provide for her?


    on 20 June 2011 / 9:49 AM

  8. Sara Gabler says,

    I strongly agree with the Filial Responsibility Law! Remember the 6th Commandment! Our parents cared for us and paid for us, we should do the same for them. My widowed Mother is currently living with My husband, myself and our 23 yr old Son. Fortunately she and my deceased Father planned very well for their retirement. Her elder care has not hit us financially yet but we are prepared for when/if. It is and should be, in my opinion, the responsibility of each child to care for and or provide care for their elderly parents(s). Period!


    on 18 March 2012 / 1:44 PM

  9. I am 61 years old and I raised my kids alone, sometimes working 2 jobs. I am terrified of my future and hate the thought that my kids would have to take care of me, but I took care of my Mother. I didn’t do it because I had to, I took care of her because I loved her and wanted to give back to her what she had done for me. Trust me my Mother and childhood were not like Ozzie & Harriet, It is the circle of life and we should honor our Mothers and Fathers. How about some selflessnes. My Mother took care of her Mother which is the root of the family.


    on 04 July 2012 / 10:31 AM

  10. It’s a difficult situation sometimes, but you’re right, it is the natural cycle of life. Thanks for your comment!


    on 06 July 2012 / 9:45 AM

  11. JULIE MARSDEN says,

    My Mother has not spoken or wanted anything to do with me or my brother for 24 years.
    If she has to go into care could we be financially responsible for her care, as my brother and I do not want anything to do with her.


    on 09 July 2012 / 12:37 PM

  12. JCH says,

    Greetings all, does anyone have any insight as what these laws mean for a family where the aging parent has financial means, but is suffering from mental illness?
    My mother (70 years old) is struggling with paranoid delusions, but is what the doctors keep calling “high functioning”. However, she is currently living in a hotel and won’t go back to her home because she feels she is the subject of a medical experiment and her house is bugged by the police. I live out of state. I left many years ago to escape my living environment with her. I am the only living realative, but she is extremely combative and aggressive with me. Growing up with her menal illness left me with severe PTSD and my own mental health stuggles. As I try to find a place where she fits into the state’s mental health infrastructure (Georgia), rather than getting any useful information, I get a guilt trip. I keep hearing she is my responsibility. However, when I try to work with her, it leaves me in a place where I have difficulty functioning in day to day life and caring for my family. I have called this website’s hotline, NAMI, and all state agencies, and we haven’t found anywhere she fits or anyone even willing to try and help us talk through a solution. Does anyone know if the state can force me take responsibility for her care?


    on 23 October 2012 / 2:15 PM

  13. JOYCE says,

    I agree that the aging parent should be taking of by the children ,after all they did spend their live making sure that we had every thing we needed to survive, while doing without the things they needed for themselves.


    on 17 June 2014 / 9:36 PM

  14. Ru-ru says,


    From an adult child’s perspective:
    I feel it is the right thing to do to take care of one’s parent. I have been working in my parents’ company for the past 12 years, doing work I don’t even enjoy, because I am concerned about their welfare and feel I can take oversee their interests. I am not interested in inheriting the company – want to get as far away from it as possible the day my parents are no longer there. When I think of leaving, I feel guilty and just stick it out some more.

    From an elderly parent’s perspective:
    I don’t feel my children should be financially responsible for me, and I certainly don’t want them to have to spend their hard earned money on me, goodness, life is tough enough as it is. But I do hope there is enough emotional connection for them to care about me and show me love and at least visit me every once in a while wherever I end up in my old age.

    Devils’ Advocate perspective:
    I’ve seen adults scramble to take care of financially well-off parents and others avoid their impoverished parents.

    Is life so cheap and common that its value amounts to a fistful of dollars?


    on 06 August 2014 / 10:54 AM

  15. Kate says,

    My parents stopped speaking to me over 7-8 years ago. They haven’t met 2 of my children. I was hospitalized 30 times and they never called or wrote. They told my husband that they wanted to testify against me in a custody hearing so that my children would be taken away from me (while I was hospitalized and my husband and I were going through a tough spot).
    This was because I won’t allow my mother-in-law around my children because she hit one of them. They took her side.
    When they were around, they were nothing but highly critical and verbally and emotionally abusive. They told me to abort each and every one of my kids when we were speaking. They were horrible… Just horrible. I am so thankful they are out of my life. I wouldn’t even attend their funerals.
    If they didn’t save enough money for retirement, I really don’t care. They can ask my sister or rely on the state. If they came to me looking for cash, I would absolutely seek to be legally “separated” from them. Not my problem anymore.


    on 13 December 2014 / 10:51 PM

  16. tim k. says,

    I love my wife very much. She has a host of medical conditions, some of which are life threatening. Our son is high functioning autistic, requiring some special care at times, and most of the time he is emotionally unstable. My wife and her mother do not get along for very long periods of time, and every time she comes to live with us to ‘help out with things, it turns into a nightmare of discontentment and self pity. I am active duty military, and already have to end up taking care of my son and wife with all their medical needs, plus cooking, plus cleaning, appts, etc, and did I mention that I’m active duty and have a full day of work too? My wife has no income and my finances are already maxed out. We have no space to be financially responsible for anyone other than ourselves. Through lack of planning, guilt, and self pity, her mother is trying to force her hand…did I mention that she and her soon to be ex husband have not gotten along for years?.. And had gone bankrupt twice previously? Every time her mother has lived with us she also tries to force things her way, contributes barely anything financially…because she does not work and hasn’t for years… And continuously threatens the livelihood of my household and career when something doesn’t get taken care of her way. In case I forgot to mention, she’s also an only child so has no help from siblings. There is no way we should be able to be forced to be responsible for her mother with these circumstances. Her mother also spreads lies about my wife, has thrown things at her, and has hit her on multiple occasions… Further proof that he mother can NOT reside in this household.


    on 30 December 2014 / 8:57 PM

  17. tim k. says,

    And I meant my wife is an only child. My mother in law’s sibling she was raised with is a child-molesting, drug-using ex con.


    on 30 December 2014 / 9:02 PM


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