This is the language of the Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 273, Section 20:
Section 20. Any person, over eighteen, who, being possessed of sufficient means, unreasonably neglects or refuses to provide for the support and maintenance of his parent, whether father or mother, residing in the commonwealth, when such parent through misfortune and without fault of his own is destitute of means of sustenance and unable by reason of old age, infirmity or illness to support and maintain himself, shall be punished by a fine of not more than two hundred dollars or by imprisonment for not more than one year, or both. No such neglect or refusal shall be deemed unreasonable as to a child who shall not during his minority have been reasonably supported by such parent, if such parent was charged with the duty so to do, nor as to a child who, being one of two or more children, has made proper and reasonable contribution toward the support of such parent.
A recent case in Pennsylvania shows what can happen if this law is enforced , see http://www.pacourts.us/OpPosting/Superior/out/A36025_11.pdf for the full case.
Here is what occurred. An elderly woman went into a nursing home after an auto accident. She recovered and left the nursing home without paying. Additionally, she left the country. For some reason, the Medicaid application never was resolved. The nursing home demanded payment from her son. The appeals court in Pennsylvania stated the son was responsible for his mother's bill in the sum of $ 92,943.41. Now the law in Pennsylvania is more specific as to how much the child is liable than here in Massachusetts , see the section § 4603. Relatives' liability; procedure.
(1) Except as set forth in paragraph (2), all of the
following individuals have the responsibility to care for and
maintain or financially assist an indigent person, regardless
of whether the indigent person is a public charge:
(i) The spouse of the indigent person.
(ii) A child of the indigent person.
(iii) A parent of the indigent person.
(2) Paragraph (1) does not apply in any of the following
(i) If an individual does not have sufficient
financial ability to support the indigent person.
(ii) A child shall not be liable for the support of
a parent who abandoned the child and persisted in the
abandonment for a period of ten years during the child's
(1) Except as set forth in paragraph (2), the amount of
liability shall be set by the court in the judicial district
in which the indigent person resides.
(2) For medical assistance for the aged other than
public nursing home care, as provided in section 401 of the
act of June 13, 1967 (P.L.31, No.21), known as the Public
Welfare Code, the following apply:
(i) Except as set forth in subparagraph (ii), the
amount of liability shall, during any 12-month period, be
the lesser of:
(A) six times the excess of the liable
individual's average monthly income over the amount
required for the reasonable support of the liable
individual and other persons dependent upon the
liable individual; or
(B) the cost of the medical assistance for the
(ii) The department may, by reasonable regulations,
adjust the liability under subparagraph (i), including
complete elimination of the liability, at a cost to the
Commonwealth not exceeding those funds certified by the
Secretary of the Budget as available for this purpose.
(c) Procedure.--A court has jurisdiction in a case under
this section upon petition of:
(1) an indigent person; or
(2) any other person or public body or public agency
having any interest in the care, maintenance or assistance of
such indigent person.
(1) If an individual liable for support under this
section fails to comply with an order under this section, the
court shall schedule a contempt hearing. At the hearing, if
the court determines that the individual liable for support
has intentionally failed to comply with the order, the court
may hold the individual in contempt of court and may sentence
the individual to up to six months' imprisonment.
(2) This subsection applies regardless of whether the
indigent person is confined in a public institution.
As state budgets are under more financial pressure, we may see more cases of this type. There is a saying that bad cases make bad law. In this case, the court did not find the son's testimony " credible" and we don't know why the medicaid application was not completed. Proper advance planning may have prevented this outcome.
As with all of my blogs, this is for information purposes only and is not legal advice. Please consult an attorney for specific legal advice as to your situation.