Pennsylvania’s Filial Support Law – What is it?

June 13, 2023
Nichole M. Baer

Welcome to the first part of our three-part blog series on Pennsylvania’s Filial Support Law.  This installment will explore filial support and its implications for adult children.  Let’s dive in!

What is filial support? 

In Pennsylvania, filial support refers to a legal obligation placed on adult children to financially support their parents if they cannot meet their basic needs.  These laws are also sometimes known as filial responsibility and filial piety laws.  They exist in other states in the United States and other countries.  Filial support laws and their interpretation differ between states and countries and are often used by government and private entities.

Filial Support in Pennsylvania

Only about half the states in the United States have a filial support law, and Pennsylvania is one of them.  Some states with filial support laws include California, Delaware, Georgia, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Ohio.  These laws typically require an impoverished person’s family to pay for their food, clothing, housing, and medical expenses.  Filial support laws are not the same as the five-year lookback from Medicaid/Medical Assistance applications (three years in some states) but sometimes intersect in their application.

Historical Background

The Pennsylvania law has been on the books since before the Revolutionary War, but only recently has it been used by nursing home facilities (see part 2 coming soon).  Pennsylvania revived the filial support law with Act 43 of 2005, which became part of the Pennsylvania Domestic Relations Law under Chapter 46.  Pennsylvania’s filial support law requires the indigent person’s spouse, child, or parent to financially care for, maintain, and assist the person regardless if that person is a public charge.

Understanding Key Terms:

Unfortunately, the law did not define “indigent” or “public charge.”  Therefore, we must look at court cases and other statutes to see how these terms have been interpreted.  Case law may help determine when someone could be considered indigent (see part 2).  And in most circumstances, the public charge typically means that a person is reliant on benefits provided by the government, such as public cash assistance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.

Exceptions to the Requirement:

While the law stipulates that family members must contribute to an impoverished person’s care, there are two exceptions to this requirement:

  • Lack of Sufficient Financial Ability: If you do not possess the necessary financial means to support the indigent person adequately.
  • Abandonment of Minor Child: If the indigent person abandoned their minor child for a period of ten years.

Filial support laws in Pennsylvania and other states impose a legal obligation on adult children to financially assist their parents in times of need.  Understanding the nuances of these laws and their interpretation is crucial for both adult children and their parents.  Stay tuned for part 2 of our series, where we will explore the impact of asset preservation and Medical Assistance.