What Is My Legal Responsibility to Support My Senior Mother? Lawyer Says...

This week, our family lawyers reassure one Maryland citizen worried that they're about to become their senior mother's retirement plan...

The Question: What is my legal responsibility to support my senior mother in Maryland?

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Can someone explain filial responsibility laws in Maryland? Are they enforced?

I live in a state with filial laws and my mother lives in Maryland. She is in good health currently, but she has made bad financial choices her entire life, has no savings, doesn't try to save, no retirement, doesn't have a stable job, and we have no relationship.

I'm terrified I will be responsible for her financial burdens one day.

Can someone explain the filial laws in Maryland? I tried looking it up, but it still isn't clear.

The Answer: Maryland has no filial responsibility laws since 2017, and the only state to enforce them in recent years is Pennsylvania.

First, to answer your question about Maryland filial laws: You're probably okay.

Maryland repealed its filial responsibility laws back in 2017. Since you say have no personal relationship with your mother, there's probably no binding contracts or paperwork you signed to say you agreed to fund or otherwise financially support her.

Therefore, you will probably not be legally responsible for your mother's personal expenses in her old age.

(Quick aside: If she stole your identity and took out credit cards or other loans in your name, then that's a whole other story. Without quick legal action -- including filing stolen identity reports with the police -- you could end up responsible for the debt.)

While many states have filial laws -- as your current home does! -- they're rarely enforced, and typically designed for use by state governments as a way to replenish Medicaid coffers.

That means another point in your favor here is that any services your mother would use come from Maryland -- with no filial laws -- instead of your home state. Since your home state isn't footing her bill, it probably won't come after you for reimbursement.

Of course, as our generation becomes increasingly older and places more financial pressure on the state-funded retirement support programs, that lackadaisical attitude toward filial responsibility law enforcement could all change in coming years.

Of particular note is a 2012 Pennsylvania case, in which the state's Supreme Court upheld a matter between a private nursing home seeking to collect a large unpaid balance from the former resident's son. Uniquely, it was a private business -- not the government -- which sought and won compensation per the filial support laws.

However, it's been almost 10 years since the Pittas case without any substantial cases or enforcement actions concerning filial support laws.

Just keep an eye on this space for any possible legal developments, and talk to an estate lawyer to see what possible planning you can do in the meantime to prepare for the future.

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Our general disclaimer: We're lawyers, but not necessarily your lawyer, and do not represent the individual who asked this question. We're providing this information for general educational purposes based on the publicly available information provided by the anonymous Internet user. Any number of details may change how this individual's attorney may pursue this legal situation, differently from how we suppose above. If you have a similar question, then you should consult with a lawyer about your specific situation to get a "real" response!