If You Don’t Visit Your Parents, It Could Affect Your Credit Score

A close-up of a REJECTED Loan Application document.

Imagine you were really busy with your job, your children, and your everyday life (which is the case for many of us!). Your parents are in their 80’s and, although you love them very much, you rarely get to visit them, let alone call them. Then, you go to buy a car or refinance your mortgage, and try to take advantage of the best interest rate available. The sales person tells you that they are sorry, but your credit score is too low to do so. You are shocked because you pay all of your bills on time. Then, you find out that because you didn’t visit your mom and dad enough, your credit score was lowered. Sounds crazy, right? Well, as of May 1, this has become a reality for those living in Shanghai, China.

That’s right! Under new rules, all citizens of working age who live apart from their mother and father must “visit or send greeting often,” or they will face a harsh penalty — the authorities could intervene to lower the neglectful children’s personal credit scores.

Luo Peixin, Deputy Director of the Law Office of the Shanghai Municipal People’s Government, told reporters that parents will now have the right to file lawsuits against their children for neglect. The credit rating adjustment will be used against those who fail to heed court directives. Beijing introduced a similar law in 2013, but it was criticized as “vague” and “unenforceable,” as it imposed no specific penalty for those who failed to visit their parents. He said that linking credit scores with filial responsibilities would mean the law could be more easily enforced.

Is this something that could happen in the U.S.?

There is probably little risk that any similar law would be enacted in the U.S. However, 29 states, including Virginia and Maryland, have filial responsibility laws making children financially responsible for the care of their indigent parents. These states are: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Citizens of Puerto Rico are also subject to filial responsibility laws. According to the National Center for Policy Analysis, 21 states allow a civil court action to obtain financial support or cost recovery, 12 states impose criminal penalties on children who do not support their parents, and three states (including Virginia) allow both civil and criminal actions.

Filial responsibility laws in the U.S. aren’t new. In fact, they were initially derived from England’s 16th century “Poor Laws.” At one time, as many as 45 U.S. states had statutes obligating an adult child to care for his or her parents. Some states repealed their filial support laws after Medicaid took a greater role in providing relief to elderly patients without means. Other states did not, and a large number of filial support laws remain on the books.

The filial responsibility laws in the U.S. obligate adult children to pay for their indigent parents’ food, clothing, shelter, and medical needs – including nursing home care. When the children fail to do so, nursing homes and government agencies can bring legal action to recover the cost of caring for the parents. Not only can they sue you for the money, but in some states, as mentioned above, adult children can go to jail if they fail to provide filial support.

Although some say that filial support laws are rarely enforced, they have in fact been used throughout the last century, and started increasing over the last half of the 20th century, with more and more cases are hitting the courts.

In 1931, the New Jersey Supreme Court compelled three adult sons to contribute to their father’s support in the case of Glassman v. Essex County Juvenile Court.  In 1959, a New Jersey Court in Terenzio v. Nelson upheld a New York State Filial Responsibility statute as not being penal in nature and therefore enforceable in New Jersey. As a result, a financially able son was required to pay his mother’s unpaid hospital bills totaling $4,338. Also in 1959, a New Jersey court in Pavlick v. Terenski found that although the plaintiff owned a house and furniture, both were required for her shelter, and due to her physical condition and advanced age, she could not earn money to support herself and unless she received support from her sons, she would become a public charge. Therefore, she was “poor” within the meaning of the statute and her sons were required to cover their mother’s monthly living expenses. In the 1964 case of Monmouth County Welfare Board v. Coward, the New Jersey Court compelled the son of a pauper woman to pay one-third of her welfare allowance per month even though the son had offered to support the mother in his home.

More recent examples include two 2012 cases.  One was a 2012 North Dakota case, where Elden Linderkamp had to pay Four Seasons Healthcare $104,276.62 for his parent’s care (Four Seasons Healthcare Center, Inc. v. Linderkamp). And one was a 2012 Pennsylvania case, where John Pittas received the nursing-home bill of $93,000 for his mother, and was held liable (Health Care & Retirement Corporation of America v. Pittas).

In Virginia , nursing homes frequently sue the adult children of residents who run out of money and didn’t bother to get their parent on Medicaid, but these cases typically get settled or tried in the lower courts so we don’t have any high court decisions to cite.

Please read our blog post “More Filial Responsibility Cases are Ending Up in Court,” for more details on filial responsibility cases.

Plan Ahead So You Don’t Fall Victim to Filial Support Action

The only way you can make sure you do not fall victim to a filial support action is by planning ahead. Children need to be proactive regarding how their parents are financing their long-term care. Some families of modest means may assume Medicaid will cover a parent’s care once the parent has depleted savings and other resources. But it’s a huge mistake to assume that Medicaid will be easy to obtain.

Medicaid laws are the most complex laws in existence, with 8 separate bodies of law (4 at the Federal level and 4 at the state level) dealing with Medicaid and Medicaid eligibility.  To do proper Medicaid asset protection planning, families need the help of an experienced Elder Law Attorney, preferably a Certified Elder Law Attorney such as me.  And the best time to do Medicaid Asset Protection planning is now.  Whether your parents are years away from needing nursing home care, already in a nursing facility, or somewhere in between, the time to plan is now, not when your parents are about to run out of money.  Call us any time to make an appointment for a no-cost introductory consultation:

Fairfax Elder Law Attorney: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law Attorney: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law Attorney: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law Attorney: 202-587-2797

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