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Should Children be Required to Visit Elderly Parents?

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A recently passed law in China requires children to visit their elderly parents. The new law has created quite a buzz in the media recently, and Marshall, Parker & Weber’s own Jeff Marshall was quoted in an article by journalist Francine Russo on the TIME Magazine Health & Family Blog.

China’s law goes a step beyond requiring children to provide financially for their parents by requiring them to provide for physical and emotional well-being as well. This requirement brings the rule into the arena of governing morality. Law, however, is often a poor substitute for morality. As is so often the case in law, enforcement is a major issue with China’s law. Although some people have already been ordered by a Chinese court to visit their parents, one must ask who will have standing to bring these suits? How will China’s government ensure that the law is being followed and children are visiting their parents? Furthermore, is just visiting a parent going to satisfy a requirement to provide for the emotional well-being of a parent?

While China’s new law leaves me with more questions than answers, I can provide clarity on an important point of law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – children can be responsible to provide financial support for their parents. People often ask me at seminars or office visits whether they can be liable for the nursing home bill of their parent or whether their children can be held liable for their own nursing home bill. Many of these people have already heard something about this issue, but those who have not are often surprised to hear that the answer is yes.

The concept of filial support laws are older than the Commonwealth itself. The law actually gets its roots from the “Poor” Laws of Elizabethian England in the 1500s. Pennsylvania’s law has become a hot topic for discussion recently in light of a decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to refuse to hear an appeal from a ruling by a lower court applying the law against an elderly woman’s son, John Pittas. The gist of that decision is that Mr. Pittas owes more than $90,000 to a nursing facility where his mother was a resident and received care.

Marshall, Parker & Weber’s blog has more information about the Pittas case and Pennsylvania’s filial support law.

Although this concept may seem scary to adult children, there is always a silver lining. Planning ahead and working with experienced elder law professionals can give you the guidance you need to avoid these issues in the future.