Fewer adult children may be required to pay off their parents’ outstanding debt for long-term care under a bill signed into law by the North Dakota governor.

North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum signed legislation Thursday amending the state’s filial support law that required all adult children to pay off their parents’ outstanding debt for long-term care.

North Dakota state senators drafted the bill, which received unanimous support in the state Senate and House, after some children became ensnared in litigation with nursing homes over their parents’ unpaid bills. The new legislation removes some of the burdens that have been imposed since North Dakota adopted its filial statute in 1877, a dozen years before it became a state.

Nursing homes and other creditors in North Dakota are still permitted to go after children age 18 and older who receive a disqualifying transfer of parents’ income or assets within five years of the parent needing medical and nursing home services. Creditors can also seek recovery from “an adult child who acted in bad faith by misappropriating, misuing or diverting income or assets of the other adult to prevent or avoid payment for necessary health services,” says the new legislation.

While North Dakotans may be able to sleep a little easier, adult children nationwide need to be aware of filial support laws in nearly 30 states. Children struggling to meet their own financial obligations can be unexpectedly sued for tens of thousands of dollars.

According to Genworth’s 2018 Cost of Care Survey, the annual median cost of care ranges from $18,720 for adult day care services to $100,375 for a private room in a nursing home.

In a filial law situation, children can also potentially face criminal punishment for a parent’s unpaid debts, Benjamin Brandt, CFP, president of Capital City Wealth Management in Bismarck, N.D., said during a January episode of his weekly podcast series Retirement Airs Today. Brandt has not had any clients sued by a nursing home, he told Financial Advisor, “but it is a topic we warn clients about.”

During his podcast, Brandt pointed out that John Pittas was successfully sued in Pennsylvania for his mother’s $93,000 in outstanding nursing home bills after she moved to Greece. “John hadn’t tried to do any sort of financial funny business to divert or hide his mother’s assets,” he said. And because the court also concluded that the state had no duty to consider other possible sources of payment, said Brandt, defendants who want their siblings to chip in may have to sue them.

“I’m a big advocate of learning as much as you can about these sort of strange laws that aren’t talked about that much that can really crack and scramble your nest egg,” said Brandt. People who live in states without filial laws should also pay attention, he emphasized. “I see this as being a nationwide problem eventually,” he said, because of skyrocketing long-term care costs and tight states budgets that could be squeezed even further should a recession occur.

He encourages children to contact elder care attorneys near where their aging parents are already receiving or may soon need to receive long-term care.