Three cases citing the state's filial statute have appeared before the North Dakota Supreme Court, according to Tammy Oltz, an assistant professor of law at the University of North Dakota, who specializes in family law.
In the most recent case in 2013, Four Seasons Healthcare Center Inc. v. Linderkamp, a son claimed his father agreed to sell him his farmland under a contract for deed. The son claimed he contributed to improvements on the property and purchased the property via contract for deed in February 2006.
In October 2006, his parents were admitted into a nursing home. After that, they executed a deed giving their son the property for an amount they agreed to. The mother died in 2009, and the father died the following year. At the time of their death, they owed the nursing facility more than $93,000.
The nursing home sued the son, stating the land transfer was a fraudulent conveyance and claimed liability under North Dakota's filial support law. The lower court held that it was fraudulent conveyance and the son was required to pay his parents' balance to the nursing home. The Supreme Court decided that his siblings also were liable.
"I think what's interesting about (the 2013 case) and what it did is that it reaffirmed that these statutes can be enforced," said Oltz, noting that, prior to that, the most recent case involving the filial statute was in 1986.
Oltz said the state Legislature had amended the statute in 1995 to allow third parties to file suits. In some states, it's only the parents who can use the statute to sue.
Additional lawsuits filed under the state's filial law could become more common due to the growing aging population combined with the rise in health care costs, according to Oltz.
To avoid a lawsuit, Oltz said adult children should be involved in their parents' long-term care planning.
"This only seems to come up when the parents aren’t qualifying for other types of insurance, in particular Medicaid," she said, adding that children could help their parents qualify for Medicaid by compiling necessary documents and filling out paperwork.