North Dakota is looking at a possible change to a state law that allows nursing homes to obtain unpaid debts from residents’ adult children.

The legislation in question is called the “filial support” law, which requires children to support their indigent parents, the Bismarck Tribune reports. It’s been in place since 1877, and at least two dozen other states have similar such laws on the books.

Shelly Petterson, head of the North Dakota Long Term Care Association, told McKnight’s that nursing homes are legally obligated under Medicaid to pursue collecting such debt. She added that operators only use the statue in circumstances where parents transfer income or assets to children and no longer qualify for Medicaid. “This is a complex issue and the suing of a child is a last resort,” she said.

But the adult children who receive the bills say they have no way to pay and are fighting in court. In one case, a family said it received a $43,000 nursing home bill six months after their father, a resident at Augusta Place in Bismarck, died. The nursing home’s attorney contends the Augusta Place resident’s family retained possession of his assets both before and after his death, adding that the family were given “numerous attempts to reasonably resolve” the conflict and “have a duty to support” their father after his passing.

Officials with Augusta Place declined to comment to McKnight’s for this story, since litigation was still ongoing.

While the outcome of the case is unclear, two state lawmakers are exploring ways to modify the statute.

Peterson said operators are open to that possibility.

“How do we protect, essentially, children from being responsible for potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills they had no say in?” Sen. Erin Oban (D-Bismarck) told the Tribune.