How to legally protect myself from filial support laws?
June 5, 2013 2:20 PM   Subscribe

After reading posts like this I've become concerned that my estranged, abusive family will some day drive me into debt. Please advise me on how to legally protect myself from filial support laws.

The specific details of my family situation are sad and probably not too relevant here. Suffice it to say, my mother abused me emotionally and physically, as did my father, although to a lesser degree. I put myself through college and cut contact with my entire family shortly after graduating. My mother died in 2006 and nobody bothered to tell me -- I found out two years after the fact, from a family friend. I've spoken with my father three times in the last ten years. Although he would like a closer relationship, I refuse to let that happen.

The meat of the issue : my father, throughout his life, has been hideously irresponsible with money, despite having a fairly successful career as a corporate lawyer. He's declared bankruptcy at least once, had his house foreclosed a few years back, and doesn't have any real assets or savings. He lives with his second wife who supports him to some degree. He also gets health care and some sort of under-the-table pension from one of his previous employers. And I guess he gets social security, as well. He's had a heart attack, for which he had a triple (or quadruple, I can't remember) bypass. He's a mess.

I want to take every possible legal precaution to make sure his problems never become my problems. The state that I live in (California) has filial support laws, however, the state he lives in (Missouri) does not. At first glance, it would seem that I'm safe. However, I want to make absolutely sure this never becomes an issue. For example, he could move to California. Or perhaps Missouri might pass filial support laws. What then? These are the kinds of things I'm worried about.

So my question is threefold :

1) Do I need to worry?
2) Is there some kind of document I could sign (like the kind hinted at in this comment) that would absolve me of responsibility?
3) Yes, I know, lawyer up. What kind of lawyer should I talk to? When I call their office and need to leave a message, how do I boil down my concerns to a 15-second voicemail? Do you know of any lawyers in the SF Bay area who could help me with this?

Also, bonus question : my older brother, who has loathed me since the moment I was born, is just as financially irresponsible as my father. To make matters worse, he's got serious long-term health issues. Fortunately, he lives in Florida, which has no filial support laws. However, I'm concerned that some day he may drive me into debt as well. Is there a way that I can legally protect myself from this possibility? Or do filial support laws only concern themselves with parents?

Thank you for your help.
posted by Sloop John B to Law & Government (4 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Definitely see a lawyer. They're the only person qualified to determine if you would be liable in CA for a parent living in MO. Simply ask if the CA filial laws make you liable for a parent living out of state.

As for your brother, as I understand it, filial laws pertain only to the parent/child relationship, not sibling relationships.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:27 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yuk. I feel you! I'd say that you should be about 5% worried. I doubt seriously that you'd ever be prevailed upon to pony up, but the world is a crazy place.

I'd seek out a Family Law attorney. San Francisco Law Library has free or low cost assistance and you'll probably sleep better if you consult with someone there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:28 PM on June 5, 2013

Many of the states who have those laws have never enforced them in all the time they've been on the books. I'd be more worried if you were in Pennsylvania, where there has been a recent upholding and judgment.

If you're really worried, you can consult an elder law attorney in California. You call up and say "I'd like someone to tell me what the likelihood is of ever being held liable for my out of state resident indigent father's bills, under California's filial piety laws or any other framework. I'd also like to talk about how I can protect myself from this liability, if it exists. What is your hourly rate and how long do you think it will take to do the research to find the answer to this?"
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:10 PM on June 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

I had similar terrors, and I looked at the laws. A lot of them are about much more disparate situations. You are a millionaire, but you are trying to get dad in county housing. They seem to be designed more to prevent rich cheapskates from gaming the system more than they are about spreading around hardship.

So I would be more like 1% worried. I kind of think these laws will be ruled unconstitutional eventually.
posted by gjc at 12:04 AM on June 6, 2013

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