Pennsylvania Filial Support Law

Filial support in the elder law context relates to the responsibility of an adult child to support their parents. The premise of filial support developed in the 16th century as Elizabethan poor laws which sought to enforce support obligations between family members in the American colonies to prevent indigency. These poor laws became part of the common law in Pennsylvania, and were later codified to obligate certain adults to care for or financially support specified indigent family members, including parents.

During the 20th century the United States established government programs, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which have alleviated some of the original necessity for the laws. However, certain states maintain filial support laws.

The filial support law remains in Pennsylvania and is now codified under the Domestic Relations code at 23 Pa. C.S.A. § 4603. The statute imposes liability on certain family members, specifically a spouse, child and parent, regarding providing for care and maintenance for their spouse, child, or parent who does not have sufficient means to pay for their maintenance and care. There are limited exceptions to liability under the law.

Early modern examples of application of the law occurred between parents and children as the parties to the actions, usually with the parents suing the child(ren) for support. However, beginning approximately twenty years ago, the use of the statute evolved to third party creditors bringing claims against children under the filial support law, which continues today. Perhaps the most cited case in Pennsylvania is the 2012 case of HCRA v. Pittas. In the Pittas case, a nursing home sued an adult son for his mother’s nursing home bill. His mother was admitted to the long-term care facility following a car accident. His mother then recuperated and moved to Greece, leaving the unpaid nursing home bill, of which the adult son was held liable for in the amount of approximately $93,000.00. Significantly, unlike child support or spousal support, filial support is retroactive.

When facing the potential of a parent requiring long-term care, it is important that families understand the options for payment for long-term care, as well as the potential ramifications of making gifts to family members – which may create unpaid nursing home bills subject to this support law.