Mary Ellen – my loving wife of 44 years – generously delivered our four sons and three daughters into this world, and with my assistance nurtured them into responsible adulthood.
Some people considered our prolific propagation to be ill-considered, an undesirable characteristic of our Irish Catholic ancestry. It was – friends suggested – the taking on of a financial burden that might leave us impoverished in our old age. It was considered to be, well, in a word, "reckless."
As it turns out, it wasn't. Children grow up to be adults. And when they do, in 30 states, parents enjoy a legally enforceable financial safety net in the form of "filial responsibility" laws. They exist in: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Filial responsibility statutes require that adult children "having financial ability to do so, shall provide necessary food, clothing, shelter or medical attendance for a parent who is unable to provide for himself or herself." Since we live in South Dakota and have children residing in California, Minnesota, and Virginia – all filial responsibility states – Mary Ellen and I have deliberately maintained a condition of financial insolvency.
We reside in a spacious, historic home, drive nicer autos than our station in life warrants, make imprudent donations to charities, rarely balance our checkbook, and feed our Irish Bird Dog "Finnegan" top-grade beef slices. We engage in this on-the-edge lifestyle for two reasons:
The first has to do with Jesus' hostility toward wealth, as expressed at Matthew 19:24: "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Insolvency negates this potential barrier.
The second relies upon the filial responsibility statute. Collectively, our adult children have excess financial capacity. Should the need rise, the law will require them to share it with us, and potentially, with a nursing home.
(Pro bono legal information, advice and assistance is available to persons 55 and older through the USD Senior Legal Helpline, 1-800-747-1895.)