Is an adult child responsible for a parent’s nursing home costs?

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Can an adult be held responsible for a parent’s medical bills? In Pennsylvania, the answer is yes, according to a dramatic new ruling by the Pennsylvania Superior Court explained by elder law expert Katherine Pearson at Penn State Law in this recent interview.

“Pennsylvania’s law obligating certain family members to care for and maintain or financially assist indigent family members is now a high-profile matter in Pennsylvania,” she said.

Case details

The case is Health Care & Retirement Corporation of America v. Pittas, decided May 7. In that case, a nursing home obtained a judgment against an adult son for the cost of his mother’s nursing home care.

What makes this case unique in Pennsylvania, said Pearson, is that “it is the first time substantial dollars have been awarded against an adult son to support his mother who is in a nursing home — almost $93,000.

“It’s a game-changer in terms of the dollars and cents that we are talking about in terms of filial support.”

Nursing home costs

The average cost of a private room in a Pennsylvania nursing home is $96,725 per year, according to the 2011 Genworth Financial Cost of Care Survey. Pearson noted that the funds awarded in the Pittas case would not go to the mother — they would go to the nursing home.

“The plaintiff in this case was the nursing home,” she said.

Pearson explained that child support and spousal support figures in Pennsylvania are established by statutory guidelines that people can learn in advance.

However, Pearson explained, no such guidelines exist for adults involved in filial support litigation in Pennsylvania. The consequences for families of the filial support statute “can be huge,” she said.

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