Skip to comments.If mom can't pay, adult child must (Pennsylvania's filial statute)
Posted on 07/12/2009 9:29:17 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet
This one's going to blow baby boomers' minds. It concerns a little-known law dating to Elizabethan England suddenly being enforced with gusto in Pennsylvania. The law can force adult children to pay their parents' health-care costs.
If Mom and Pop can't pay, you pay. If they have the money but refuse to pay, you pay. If you don't, watch your credit rating sink under the weight of a legal judgment that will haunt you for life.
It happened to Don Grant. It can happen to you.
The Havertown man is nearly 50 and struggling to pay his mortgage and $100,000 in student loans incurred by his daughter, a recent Albright College grad.
Last year, Grant was sued because his mother, Diana Fichera, did not pay an $8,000 bill at a Delaware County nursing home, where she rehabilitated after surgery.
Grant went to court with his half-sister, who was also sued. He told the nursing-home attorney that he's estranged from his mother and that Fichera has income from Social Security plus two pensions.
The nursing-home lawyer told Grant that all would be resolved if Fichera paid up. When she again refused, the judgment was entered against the whole family.
Family strife costly
Grant says that his relationship with his mother "has always been strained" and that he was raised primarily by his grandparents.
"It was a big house in Drexel Hill," he recalls. "She lived on the second floor. We lived on the first. Sometimes, she'd show for dinner, sometimes not. She never did homework with us."
Grant says his mother has long overspent and mismanaged her money. Fichera declined to comment through her daughter, Grant's half-sister, who asked not to be named.
Public records show pages of judgments and liens against Fichera, 71, who receives a $1,434 monthly pension after working for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for 23 years. (Unlike wages, which can be garnisheed, Social Security and pensions are generally exempt from seizure.)
In 2006, the Wallingford Nursing & Rehab Center sued Fichera for not paying a $28,000 bill.
Two years later, she accrued another debt at Brinton Manor in Glen Mills. This time, the nursing-home lawyer got creative.
Old law, new use
Blue Bell lawyer Brian Scott Dietrich represents Brinton Manor, but did not return phone calls for comment. Pennsylvania State University law professor Katherine Pearson knew why as soon as I mentioned his name.
"There are three or four major lawyers in Pennsylvania who specialize in representing nursing homes and hospitals, and one of their favorite tools is Pennsylvania's filial statute. Dietrich is one of them," says Pearson, an expert on the arcane issue, also known as "support of indigents."
"These attorneys will bring suit against adult children even if the children live out of state and even if it's been years since they had contact with their parent."
The legal concept of requiring children to support their parents predates colonial America.
"It's a noble theory, a law to make families responsible for each other," Pearson notes. "It didn't work then, and it doesn't work now."
In fact, she adds, filial cases usually "end any real possibility of the family reuniting."
Pay now or pay later
Grant learned of Fichera's rehab debt in a letter from Dietrich's office in March 2008.
"I said, 'Don't contact me. I have nothing to do with her. You're barking up the wrong tree.' "
A month later, Grant was laid off. In August, he was sued.
By the time of the court hearing, Grant had found work for less pay at a firm that sells foreclosures. "I talked to a lawyer," he says, "but he wanted $400, and I didn't have it."
Representing himself was an expensive mistake. Grant never knew he had a narrow window to appeal. Now, it's too late.
"Most of the time, the nursing homes will still compromise and settle, but not always," Pearson says. "Once they have a judgment, they feel empowered."
So a hurt and angry son is left with a dilemma he can't afford: Go into debt to pay his mother's debt, or ignore it and brace for the worst.
"If I go to buy a car, it's going to affect my credit," he says. "If we try to sell the house, it will come up."
Needless to say, Grant no longer speaks to his mother.
"The worst part? She's got as much money coming in as we do," he says. "And I'm being held responsible for her irresponsibility."
Trouble with pluralization?
Call OBOZO!He’ll fix it! OPPS! Grant is probably the wrong ethnic backround, so he is duilty until proven innocent!.......:-( Sotomayor will have NO empathy for him!
On the one hand I agree completely with your sentiments. On the other hand, my family has had so much tax money (including social security and medicare) confiscated from it by foul, stinking government scumbags during my lifetime that I want to grab back whatever I can, however I can. So I say, take care of my mother, you stinking government scumbags.
Well they already brought back one charming Elizabethan custom, debtors prisons, (for back child support), and nobody complained. So why not another? Maybe in the future we will return to the Elizabethan customs of the government forcing you into indentured servitude in some liberal public works project to pay off your grandfather debt to the national health care service.
Thing is, eventually it will hit you. Because of this everyone’s own rates on insurance and such could go up. Further who says they won’t come after the rest of us? Joint and Several liability is an evil thing.
Apparently I overlooked the financial assets of the mother. I would expect that if she did not pay her nursing home bills, she would have been legally forced to sell her home and/or any other assets she had to pay what she owed.
Once she owned no more assets, and couldn't afford to pay, even with her Medicare insurance, she would have qualified for Medicaid.
He could probably just move to Delaware or New Jersey. On second thought, Honduras sounds good.
maybe you can go after the rich elites and companies that own these facilities, or their lawyers...but an awful lot of people work very hard at menial, miserable work to keep nursing homes clean,dry and their clients happy...
cant remember chaper and verse,, but one of our founding fathers had a quote along the lines that law is clearly oppressive. when an honest and literate person cannot understand it without a paid specialist.
Hogwash. If a founding father did say this - and I don't care which one - he must have been either drunk, joking, or pandering. In fact, the majority of them were lawyers by trade! They knew even then that in legal matters the common man was no match against someone practiced in the law. It is no different than any other specialized field. If my car is having engine problems I go to a mechanic. If I am injured or sick I go to a doctor. If I am sued I call my attorney.
I fix computers. I'm good at my job. But my breadth of expertize is limited in other avenues. I'm smart enough to know when I am ignorant, and I will not begrudge hiring someone who knows what he's doing to use his professional skills for my benefit. In the few times I have found myself facing legal issues I hired an attorney without hesitation, even the times that I really couldn't afford it. In every single case it ultimately was money well spent.
I said it was a sad thing.
I don’t think it’s that strange at all. In recent years, many families have conspired to transfer or hide the wealth of an ailing parent so that they can qualify for Medicare payments for nursing home care, etc. Long term thinking children and parents will do this early to beat out the current laws (e.g., transfers under two years before admittance).
“Declare her mentally incompetent and then take control of all of her money.”
While that might or might not work, this issue for this man is he really wants nothing to do with his mother, so your plan would not solve that problem for him. We can only assume the mother has no “attachable” assets or they would have gotten a judgement against her.
It would definitely seem there is a case for countersue or whatever it would be called that he should have control of her assets if they are essentially declaring him responsible for her.
Did you mean maternity test?
Keep it up, and they’ll be some bodies littering the streets.
If my mother thought she could charge us, she would remodel her house and send us the bill.
America’s “Greatest Generation” strikes again.
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