Monday, December 21, 2015

Court Orders Child to Support Parent Needing Care

Under Pennsylvania’s support laws children have the responsibility to care for and maintain or financially assist parents who become unable to pay for their care.  See, 23 Pa. C.S.A. §§ 4601-4606, “Support of the Indigent”. This is commonly referred to as the “filial support law.” Nursing homes and other care providers have long been successful in using this law to collect from children for the unpaid costs of the services provided to their parents.
The filial support law can also be used by a child (acting on behalf of the parent) to seek contributions from siblings toward the parent’s cost of care being provided in the child’s home. A recent case, Eori v. Eori, illustrates this fratricidal application. Here is an article on the Eori case written by attorney Matt Parker of Marshall, Parker and Weber.  
A Pennsylvania appellate court ruled in the case of Eori v. Eori that you can be ordered to help pay for your parent’s caregivers if your parent does not have enough money to pay them. The court also ruled that your obligation to pay for your parent’s care does not turn on whether you had a good or bad relationship with your parent. And your obligation to your parent comes before your obligation to pay for your step-child’s college education.
Pennsylvania’s filial support law allows an indigent parent (someone who cannot pay their bills) to sue a child to help pay for the parent’s support. Mrs. Eori is a 90 year old woman who requires 24 hour care to live at home. Her modest Social Security was insufficient to pay for the care. In this case, Mrs. Eori’s agent sued two of her children on her behalf to force them to help pay for her caregivers.
Her son, Russell Eori (n/k/a Joshua Ryan), claimed he did not have a good relationship with his mother and had other financial obligations, including paying for his step-child’s college education. The Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the trial court’s decision, ordering Mr. Ryan to pay for some of his mother’s care. The Court found that the existence of a bad relationship with the parent was not a defense to a filial support claim. The financial obligations to support a step-child, such as college expenses, were found to be insufficient evidence of the inability to contribute towards the cost of the parent’s care. Mr. Ryan was ordered to pay $400 per month towards his mother’s care.
While many families have strong bonds and care for their aging parents, other families have been fractured and have no interest in helping to care for each other. In Pennsylvania, that lack of a relationship has no bearing on your financial obligation to help a parent under the filial support law (unless the parent had abandoned the child).
It is surprising that the cost of keeping an elderly parent at home by paying private caregivers, takes precedent over the obligation to educate a step-child. The Court focuses on the lack of a blood relation to discredit the college expenses as a legitimate expense. Given the holding in this case, it won’t matter if this is a “Brady Bunch” family and Mike Brady is paying for Marsha Brady’s Penn State tuition. His estranged mother’s 24 hour privately paid care would take precedent.
It is unclear why the family did not agree to institutional placement for Mrs. Eori. If Mrs. Eori suffered from dementia and needed 24 hour supervised care, nursing facility care would have been a legitimate option for care. Mrs. Eori’s care would then have been paid for by the Medicaid program. Institutional care would have avoided the need to sue family members to pay for 24 hour private care that most families cannot afford.

Jeff’s comment: It seems to me that Eori is mainly a case of the primary caregiver child trying to get more contribution from his siblings. When frail older adults remain in community settings an inordinate portion of the caregiving burden often falls on just one child. Since there is a growing emphasis on keeping care dependent seniors in the community, I expect we will be seeing a lot more litigation like that in Eori.    

Further Reading

Marshall Elder and Estate Planning Blog: PA Ruling: Son must pay mother’s nursing home bill

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