Visit Your Parents Often . . . or Else

Lola Wang is a 28-year-old marketing officer in China, who works long hours and rarely takes time off. With her demanding schedule, she can only make two six-hour trips each year to visit her elderly parents. By visiting them so infrequently, she could be breaking the law.

According to a CNN article, Wang’s dilemma is faced by many young people in China, especially since a new national law called the “Law of Protection of Rights and Interests of the Aged” was enacted last year. The law requires the offspring of parents older than 60 to visit their parents “frequently” and make sure their financial and spiritual needs are met. If adult children refuse to do so, they must pay their parents a monthly allowance. The law also stipulates that children cannot give up their inheritance rights in attempt to evade their duty to take care of their parents.

The Law of Protection of Rights and Interests of the Aged was passed by China’s legislature after a spate of reports about elderly parents neglected by their children. Although respect for the elderly is still deeply engrained in Chinese culture, traditional values have been weakened by the country’s modernization.

One of the drafters of the law, Xiao Jinming, a law professor at Shandong University, said the new law was primarily aimed at raising awareness. “It is mainly to stress the right of elderly people to ask for emotional support. We want to emphasize there is such a need,” he said.

The legislation also allows for the elderly to sue their children but does not specify the process or what penalties they might face if they are found guilty. The first of such lawsuits involved a 77-year-old woman who sued her daughter for neglecting her. The local court ruled that her daughter must visit her at least twice a month and provide financial support.

There is probably little risk that any similar law would be enacted in the U.S.  However, thirty states, including Virginia and Maryland, have filial responsibility laws on the books making children financially responsible for the care of their indigent parents.  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 allow both civil and criminal actions.

Filial responsibility laws in the United States 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.

It used to be that many states rarely enforced their filial support laws, except in the most gruesome cases of neglect. Recently, more and more cases are hitting the courts. Examples include a case in North Dakota, where Elden Linderkamp had to pay Four Seasons Healthcare $104,276.62 for his parent’s care and a case in Pennsylvania, where John Pittas received the nursing-home bill of $93,000 for his mother, and was held liable. Please read our blog post “More Filial Responsibility Cases are Ending Up in Court,” for more details.

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, and the best time to do Medicaid Asset Protection planning is now.  Whether your parents are years away from needing nursing home care, are 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 Virginia Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. today at 703-691-1888 in Fairfax or 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg to make an appointment for an introductory consultation.

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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