|Powder Springs Police Chief Charlie Sewell|
Licensed care facilities have a legal obligation to care for the wellbeing of their clients, but what legal obligation does an adult child have toward an indigent elderly parent? The answer to that question is hotly debated, surrounded by deep-rooted emotions, and there are probably as many opinions as there are elderly parents.
Society today makes it real clear that it is a crime when a parent neglects to give adequate nourishment to a child. But what if an adult child neglects to give adequate nourishment to an indigent elderly parent? What if an adult child neglects to provide other support for an indigent elderly parent? Is it morally reprehensible? Is it abuse? Is it a crime? Or is it just the elderly reaping what they sowed?
Some folks, who I will call the liberated, believe that adult children have no more moral obligation to support their elderly parents than any other person, and it doesn’t matter how much expense, trouble, love or care the parent gave them as a child. They also believe that it doesn’t matter how destitute or sick their parents become, it is simply not their responsibility. The philosophy of the liberated surrounds the fact that they did not ask to be born. They believe the elderly person should be self-supportive or be a ward of society.
There are also people who I will call the duty-bound who begrudgingly care for their elderly parents out of some type obligation, and the devoted who assume that responsibility without giving it a second thought.
The level of responsibility, however, doesn’t necessarily rest in the opinion of the adult child. Georgia is one of 30 states that has a filial responsibility law that casts some duty upon adult children to support their indigent parents.
Years ago, when Medicaid began financially helping the indigent elderly, some states reversed their filial support laws; others just allowed their laws to go unenforced. As the cost of elder care continues to rise, so does the debate on who should be responsible for that care. The norm of today might be different tomorrow.
Georgia statute states in part that “the father, mother, or child of any pauper, if sufficiently able, shall support the pauper.” If another entity pays for the support of an elderly pauper, said entity might seek legal action against the adult child in order to recover their loss.
I do not profess to be an interpreter of civil law, nor am I a lawyer; but whether you are liberated, duty-bound, devoted or think of yourself as an innocent bystander, it is better to know where you stand than to assume. Seeking legal advice now might help you to be prepared emotionally, legally and financially, and it might prevent surprise and heartache in the future.
Charlie Sewell is the retired Powder Springs police chief and is on the board of directors for the Cobb Elder Abuse Task Force. His columns run monthly in the MDJ.
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