The Pennsylvania Filial Support Act, which is contained in Chapter 46 of Title 23 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, permits an indigent person or any agency involved in the care of the indigent person, such as a nursing home, to make a claim against you for their care and for financial assistance if you are the spouse, the child, or the parent of the indigent person.
The amount of your liability to your indigent relative will be determined by the court in the judicial district in which the indigent person lives. If the court determines, after reviewing evidence of your assets and income, that you do not have sufficient financial ability to support the indigent person, then the Filial Support Act will not apply to you. Also, a child will not be liable for the support of their parent if the child was abandoned by the parent, and the abandonment lasted for at least a period of ten years during the child’s minority.
A petition for relief under the Act can be filed by the indigent person or any other person, public body, or public agency having an interest in the care, maintenance or assistance of the indigent person. If you are found liable under the Filial Support Act and you fail to comply with the court order, you can be found in contempt of court. In this case, the court can sentence you up to six months imprisonment.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently decided the case of HCR vs. John Pittas based on the Filial Support Act. In that case, Mr. Pittas’ mother had resided in the nursing facility for approximately six months before relocating to Greece. Unfortunately, a substantial portion of her bill, approximately $93,000, went unpaid. As a result, the nursing facility instituted legal action under the Filial Support Act against her son, John Pittas.
In finding Mr. Pittas liable under the Act, the court ruled that the nursing home had met its burden of proof in showing that Mr. Pittas had the financial ability to support his mother, since they had presented several years of tax returns for Mr. Pittas as well as his bank statements. Also, the court noted that Mr. Pittas testified that his income was in excess of $85,000 annually and that he had recently paid off a tax lien.
Mr. Pittas argued that the court should have considered alternative sources of income available to his mother before finding him liable. However, the court declared that nothing in the Filial Support Act requires the nursing home or the court to consider other sources of income or to stay its decision pending the resolution of his mother’s claim for medical assistance.
Actions under the Filial Support Act usually, but not always, arise in the context of the indigent person as a resident of a nursing home. As an elder law attorney, my experience with the Act usually occurs when a parent is a resident of a nursing home, the parent has made gifts to a child within the five-year Medicaid penalty lookback period and as a result, the parent is not found eligible for Medicaid benefits. The resident now lacks the funds to pay the nursing home privately. As such, the nursing home, who will not discharge the resident, institutes legal action under the Filial Support Act against the child who received the gift and any other children of the resident.
Given the viability of the Pennsylvania Filial Support Act based on the Pittas case above, if you have a friend or family member who may need nursing home care in the near future, it is important that you seek the advice of an elder law attorney before that individual makes any gifts. If not, you could find yourself being sued under the Pennsylvania Filial Support Act.
E. Garrett Gummer, III is a Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA) by the National Elder Law Foundation. He can be reached in his Feasterville office at 215-396-1001 or at his Doylestown office at 215-345-5858.