Kids Are Financially Responsible For Parents – It’s The Law In South Dakota

by | Oct 7, 2005 | Weekly Column

Is the way your parents spend their money any of your business?  It might be—at least if those parents live in South Dakota.  If you have parents who are residents of the state, you are financially responsible for them.

South Dakota law (SDCL 25-7-27) states, “Any adult child, having the financial ability to do so, shall provide necessary food, clothing, shelter, or medical attendance for a parent who is unable to provide for oneself.  However, no claim may be made against such adult child until the adult child is given written notice that the child’s parent is unable to provide for oneself, and such adult child has refused to provide for the child’s parent.”  A second statute requires adult siblings to share the responsibility of providing for needy parents.

Being willing to give our elderly parents the help they need, financially as well as physically, would be a no-brainer for most of us.  Several of my clients have as one of their financial goals the need to have resources to help support their parents in old age.  For many of us, supporting our parents if they need it is every bit as much our responsibility as is supporting our minor children.

From that perspective, a law requiring adult children to support needy parents isn’t much different from a law requiring divorced parents to provide financial support for their children.

The real kicker in this law, however, is the final item in the list of necessities an adult child is required to provide—medical attendance.  If someone’s medical expenses are covered by certain public assistance programs, that person’s children could be required to reimburse the program for those costs.  The law (which was originally passed in 1939) is not specific about which programs or forms of assistance might be reimbursable.  At least in theory, though, adult children could be required to pay for an elderly parent’s expensive long-term stay in a hospital or nursing home.  Such a financial burden could jeopardize the children’s own financial future.

Our attorney tells us that the state of South Dakota has successfully collected from adult children, even those who live outside of the state, for monies due the Title IXX program.  We are also told that the Department of Social Services is not consistent in its enforcement of this law. 

By the way, although spouses are required to support one another, I didn’t find a similar law requiring parents to support needy adult children.  Apparently, once the kids are grown, Mom and Dad are off the hook.

I have often reminded clients that taking care of themselves financially means their children won’t have to take care of them.  I tell my clients that they are not being selfish when they make saving for retirement their top financial priority.  Only after there is sufficient provision for their own retirement should parents divert savings toward paying for children’s education, helping them buy homes, or bailing them out of financial difficulties.  Knowing about this law puts some weight behind that position. 

As you’re planning for your own financial future, then, one aspect you might consider is to support your parents in planning for their own.  If you’re ever tempted to ask them for significant sums of money, you might want to think again.  You might be far better off if they keep those funds for their own retirement.  Knowing they are provided for can take a financial as well as an emotional burden off your shoulders.

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