Is there a legal responsibility for adult children to support their parents?

In some situations, yes. West Virginia law states that relatives of indigent persons must provide support for necessities and burial costs. However, a relative is not required to let an indigent person live in his or her home.  

The law also creates a priority listing for which relatives of an indigent person are liable for support. Children of an indigent parent are first in priority. The priority list is as follows: 1st, Children; 2nd, Father; 3rd, Siblings; 4th, Mother. When a relative is only able to partially contribute, the Department of Health & Human Resources (DHHR) may go down the priority list to collect the rest of what is necessary from other relatives.  

If a child assumes responsibility for a parent in a written contract to a third party, those obligations are enforceable. In addition, if an adult relative is a caregiver sharing actual physical possession or care of the individual on a full-time or temporary basis, the relative may not neglect the incapacitated individual, regardless of whether the relative is under contract or not. Among other things, neglect includes the failure to provide the necessities of life to an incapacitated adult. 

The DHHR Division of Human Services is responsible for enforcing this law. West Virginia does not provide criminal penalties for failure to support an indigent relative. In addition, statutes similar to West Virginia’s statute have been criticized and are said to be rarely enforced. However, when a care giver neglects or abuses an incapacitated adult, whether or not the care giver is under a contract to provide support, criminal penalties are enforced. 

Federal law allows income of a spouse or parent to be considered in determining eligibility for Medicaid. Federal law does not allow the state to consider the income of any other relative in determining your Medicaid eligibility. As such, children, siblings and other relatives of an applicant cannot have their income counted against the applicant. 

However, when a relative actually does provide support to an indigent person, that support may be considered in determining eligibility for public programs. In such cases, the actual support provided is counted, not the relative’s total income. 

For more information, see: 42 U.S.C. §1396a(a)(17)(D) (2015); W. Va. Code §61-2-29 to -29b (2015); W. Va. Code § 9-5-9 (2015); W. Va. Code § 9-5-18 (2015); Joan M. Krauskopf et al., Elder Law: Advocacy for the Aging § 25.48 (2nd. ed. 1993).