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Filial Laws and How They Could Affect You

When parents age, the medical expenses can mount. Whether it’s for medical treatment, long term care, in home care, or end of life care, bills can exceed what someone’s parents are able to afford. If your parents pass, leaving significant medical expenses, debt collectors may turn to you as their child to pay those expenses. Knowing your rights can help you deal with this unexpected problem.

What Are Filial Laws

Many states have what are known as filial laws. These are laws that automatically hold an adult child financially responsible for the medical care and treatment of their parents. Some states repealed these laws when Medicaid began, but others still have these laws on the books.

Many medical providers won’t rush to avail themselves of these laws. Many will seek instead to recover upon the assets of the deceased’s estate, if there are any. But filial laws normally apply to patients who are indigent, meaning that there often won’t be any asset in probate for a creditor to go after. Thus there has been an increase in suits against the adult children of those who owe medical debts.

And unlike most debt-related suits, filial lawsuits carry criminal penalties in some states. There are, however, exceptions, for those who aren’t financially able to pay, or those who were abused or abandoned by their parents.

Florida’s Laws and Protecting Yourself

Thankfully, Florida does not have filial laws, meaning that generally, an adult child isn’t responsible for her parent’s medical debts. Still, there are some issues to be aware of to make sure you’re not on the hook for those expenses.

There is no law prohibiting medical providers from making you guaranty the medical debts of parents by signing documents. Whatever you sign may be a contract, so make sure you read before signing admission papers, especially to long term care facilities.

Also remember that you may be domiciled in another state, and if you have an estate plan done there, and then move, your estate could be subject to the filial laws of your (former) home state.

If your parents have assets, be careful about moving them around. Creditors can claim that you hid money or diverted funds to avoid payment. For example, if mom gets sick, and you suddenly close her account and move it into yours, if she passes, the creditor could say that you purposefully diverted assets that would have been available to the creditor in probate.

The best way to deal with that problem is to have an estate that puts a parent’s assets into trusts or other vehicles, that will make them creditor-exempt. Don’t be your own estate planner by selling or transferring assets.

Lastly, remember that debt collectors will often call anyone they can find to collect a debt. Don’t assume that because they are calling you on a parent’s debt, you owe it. Ask questions, and get legal advice before simply paying a bill that you may not owe.

Plan to protect your family and their assets from creditor claims. Contact Tampa business and probate attorney David Toback to discuss your needs and make sure you understand how to best plan all areas of your estate.

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