Do you have to take care of your aging parents?

Adult daughter taking care of the elderly mother.

Do you have to take care of your aging parents?

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A pictorial illustration of an adult daughter caring for the mother

Some adult children all over the world struggle with it, while a few dread the question, “Do you have to take care of your aging parents?”. In my opinion, the problem is both moral and legal.

Did you know that you can be held responsible for the care of your elderly parent(s) in many states? Growing up in Nigeria, I was unaware such a law existed and could send somebody to jail for refusing to do what I thought was a natural obligation – taking care of a parent.

I still remember listening in on an exchange my father had with our eldest brother, ” I have no doubts you will take care of my absolute rights, or how would you explain your refusal to your colleagues? Would you be able to look them in the face again?” Please see this post.

During writing this article, I had the opportunity to look at the state of California filial responsibility law. And I learned that if you have the means,  you are required to take care of your parents, the people that brought you to this world and, under tremendous pressure and inconveniences, nurtured you.

The purpose of this post is to bring to light parenting a parent, the laws guiding it, and where to get help if needed.

Filial Responsibility Laws

A filial responsibility law is the only law that can impose legal responsibility on an adult child (male or female) to care for an aging parent that lacks the wherewithal to do so himself.

During aging, many elderly parents run out of money and or the ability to care for themselves. Many countries would not just sit by and watch an aging adult suffer such indignity.

These countries have old-age facilities like long-term nursing homes, private facilities, etc., that will provide the needed help. The state or private facility will then go after an able son or daughter or pay the bills accumulated before death. I think it is noteworthy to mention here that more than thirty states in the U.S., including Puerto Rico, have passed these filial responsibility laws.

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Parenting A Parent

I detailed the difficulties of parenting a parent here. It is not an easy task. But the love for your parent(s) will see you through.

Besides dealing with an older adult’s physical and emotional needs, you may find yourself confronted with lifestyle, medical, and financial issues. In my experience, a challenging part is parenting a person who, not long ago,  was parenting you. Many find the role reversal challenging to execute. A healthy aging parent can drive you nuts with the assertion, “I know what I’m doing; I have been doing this all my life.”

Help Is Available

The financial strain on the state or private eldercare facility is much. Consider how much money a state can spend on one older person; it can run into thousands of dollars when you figured into the equation the cost of food, clothing, accommodation, medical needs, and health care.

Because of the high cost, they go after the able adult children to recoup all the expenditure. So it is best to get prepared for this eventuality.

There are many avenues to getting help to avoid facing a filial responsibility lawsuit. The first thing to do is being aware of and understanding the filial laws. If you are not, this post will be handy.

Consulting a lawyer, an estate lawyer, who will advise estate planning to protect your estate assets may be your second line of action.

If you know the financial burden that would come your way after the loved one passes away, find an appropriate time when he is still sane to discuss the financial responsibility. You might learn that your loved one was ahead of the game.

You might even discover your loved one has life insurance that would take care of all or part of that. Some adult children encourage their aging parents to afford it, to buy adequate life insurance.  Besides, in the U.S., many support agencies would come to your aid in such situations.

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Final Thought

I think it will be useful to start this section of the post with a beautiful council from Alexis Abramson, Ph.D., a lifestyle gerontologist. I urge you to read it.

Indeed, it is not easy to parent your parent, as described here. Note: This post discussed taking care of a parent – physical and mental wellbeing.

Filial laws don’t deal with debts. Your parent’s obligations are taken care of by the estate or written off by the company.

However, if the adult child is a cosigner of a loan, he/she will be liable when the parent dies.

Finally, awareness of this law, including starting on time to look for solutions, is key to avoiding facing the filial statutes and the courts.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post.

Please Leave Comments/Reply

Please share your thoughts about this post in the Comment section below.   I would love to read them! If you have some experience with filial responsibility laws and prefer to share them here, you are welcome.




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Comments ( 8 )

  • Patricia Bracy

    This is a great article on taking care of aging parents.  Because my mother is 90 years old, I often think about the possibility of having to take care of her full time.  This article definitely helps as it is filled with useful information should I need it.  I did read the post, beautiful council and find it to be very informative and encouraging.  This is a site I will keep for reference if the need arises.  Thank you.

    • Cal Mbano

      Thanks for your time and comments. I’m happy you found the contents of the article useful. And I wish you and your elderly mother good luck.


  • Carolyn

    It is with interest that I read your post. The people that are in the position to take care of young children as well as aging parents are called the sandwich generation. It brings additional stress when they are dealing with the normal stress of every work-a-day world in their business life.
    I agree, it is good to have a conversation before the fact, as to what the desires of the aging parent are and how they can best be provided for. Forethought goes a long way in reducing that stress when the aging parent can no longer take care of themself.

    • Cal Mbano

      Hello, Carolyn,

      Thanks for your time and comments.

      Yes, an early start preparing for the eventuality is necessary including having a useful conversation with your elderly loved one. Some people may not even know the existence of the filial laws or the preparations the aging parent may have already made.

      In all, I believe that caring for an elderly parent is a natural act and should not involve the laws to enforce it. 

      Good luck.


  • Cynthia

    Caring for aging parents should be the goal of every adult child but unfortunately, this is becoming a rarity in this country.  It comes as a surprise to many that they may be on the hook for debts their parents left behind. I hope that people will take your advice and go to an attorney to plan for what will happen financially when their parents pass away.  I also know one son who (with his father’s knowledge and permission) took out and paid for an insurance policy aimed specifically at covering last expenses and debts.  

    • Cal Mbano

      Hi, Cynthia,

      Thanks for your time and comments.

      It is rather unfortunate that an able adult daughter or son will need the law to make him/her do what is natural. I would advise all governments to institute filial laws. Adult children who may become caretakers may find this post interesting and useful by realizing the importance of early preparation.

      Remember, children are responsible for parents’ debts they cosigned only.

      Again, thanks.


  • Evelyn

    Hello Cal. It was not all that long ago when I found myself having to take care of my parents. It was awkward at first because of that “role reversal” but I soon got over it. You are correct when you say the love you have for your parents overrides all the rest of your feelings and you move forward and do what you have to do. I loved both my parents so very much and it was a high honor to take care of them in their elder years. I was not aware of the filial law, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. I was doing my part for my parents. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thank you for this post and all the great information!

    • Cal Mbano

      Hi, Evelyn,

      In my opinion, you are both a beautiful woman and kind-hearted for, “but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. I was doing my part for my parents. I wouldn’t have it any other way”. Those words are rare these days. But there are no others to add to them.

      Many times you come across some adult children who, for some reason, fail to understand that the frail aging father or mother, now unable to care for him/herself, brought them to this world and under great inconveniences and personal sacrifices raised them. I don’t see what a son/daughter can do for the parents that can equal what they did for the child!

      I know it is not an easy task to parent your parent. But the unbreakable bond between parent and child will be the support. I will urge you to find the time to read my Series on Elder Abuse. You will find the blogs interesting and useful.



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