Medicare and Social Security are two safety net programs for elder Americans facing massive funding challenges. The national health care system is also financially burdened as more and more senior Baby Boomers retire and consume health services. Programs for public benefits in long-term care facilities such as Medicaid and VA Pension are becoming increasingly hard to qualify for as well.

At some point, something has to give.

Beyond the basic moral obligation adult children have for providing the best care they can manage for their aging parents, some states could end up resorting to enforcing “filial” laws.

While there are exemptions, filial laws, or filial responsibility laws, may require adult children of low-income parents or parents who need long-term care treatment to financially contribute towards the costs of their aging parent’s care. What most of our clients do not know is that filial laws have actually been on the books for a long time, but are rarely enforced although there are instances in states such as Pennsylvania. Spiraling hospital debts, Medicaid funding shortfalls and other costs, including public assistance compliant nursing homes, could eventually lead to some type of change.

While it may be a stretch to revive these remnant laws originating from the English common law system, there are other ways healthcare creditors can extract their pound of financial flesh. Able-bodied working adults, for example, could be on the hook to provide cost reimbursements for their elderly parents, especially if they have plentiful resources. This could also include paying for food, clothing, housing and other necessities, depending on the state.

If adult children refuse to use their own money to support their elder parents and instead leave the burden to others, like the government or third-party care providers, they may be morally negligent but also legally liable if certain laws start to be enforced.

Do not wait to plan ahead for elder parents’ financial and healthcare needs. Modest purchases of long-term care insurance, health care savings accounts, and early estate planning can go a long way toward providing relief for expensive eldercare services later on. We know this can be a confusing and concerning topic to discuss. We encourage you to ask us your questions on this issue or any other elder care challenge you may be facing right now.