Critter Corner: Am I Financially Liable If I Sign a Nursing Home Agreement for Someone Else?

Dear Oakley,

When a loved one enters a nursing home, who is the person who signs the legal documents? Would it be the individual themselves, the spouse, or the children? Does signing the papers make the person who signed financially responsible for the nursing home costs?

Thanks,

Lya Bull

Dear Lya,

If the nursing home puts a lengthy contract in front of you, you may be tempted to flip straight to the last page and sign just to get it over with. Do not do this. You could be agreeing to pay, out of your own pocket, for someone else’s care.

The better way to approach the situation is to have the individual who is being admitted, and only that individual, sign all paperwork. If your loved one has already been admitted without anyone signing a contract, which happens frequently when someone gets transferred from a hospital to a nursing home for short-term rehabilitation, then before anyone signs the contract, it’s best to bring it to an experienced elder law attorney for expert review and guidance and appropriate modification before anyone signs it. Once someone is physically in a bed at a nursing home, he or she cannot be legally evicted just because no one has signed an admission agreement, or the person who signs chooses to negotiate changes to the contract.

But if the facility will not accept your loved one without having a signed contract, then read the contract carefully and don’t expect any facility representative to explain what the contract actually says. Don’t sign anything you don’t understand. And, again, you are better off seeking the help of an experienced elder law attorney. Here is some of the main things to watch out for:

  • Do not sign the contract if it requires you to obligate yourself to pay with your own money. Pay particular attention to any language referring to you as the “responsible party” or “resident representative” or “agent.”
  • Keep an eye out for buzzwords such as “co-signor,” “guarantor,” “personally guarantee,” “personally liable,” “private-pay guarantor,” “surety,” or “individual capacity.” Words like these may obligate you, personally, to pay if your loved one is unable to pay or runs out of money.
  • Sometimes the contract might be confusing or contain ambiguous language. Do not rely upon the facility admissions person to explain the legalities of the contract to you. They may not understand it either and they have no obligation to look out for your best interest. This is why we recommend that you first bring the agreement to us. We can ensure, on your behalf, that you are not taking on unwanted obligations.
  • The agreement should clearly spell out what services are included in the facility’s basic daily rate. It should also include a list of charges for any services not included in that rate. You know your loved one’s needs. Talk through what your loved one can and cannot do for themselves with the admissions person and ask whether there would be any additional charges for services that your loved one is likely to need.
  • The nursing home contract must not require your loved one to waive the right to seek government assistance such as Medicaid, nor can it ask your loved one or you to sign any statement that he or she is ineligible for those benefits.
  • Watch for provisions allowing the facility to force your loved one to leave for any reason. You should not agree to any such provisions. See Mr. Farr’s recent article on this topic.

Remember, no matter how reputable the facility is, it is good judgment to consult an attorney, such as those at the Farr Law Firm, before you sign an admission contract. If that’s not possible, then take care and time to study the contract and strike out the objectionable provisions.

Elder Law Answers published an article on this topic and offers additional good advice that I will include:

“The person signing on behalf of the nursing home resident should not be personally liable for the charges unless she signs as guarantor. Nursing homes are prohibited from requiring third parties to guarantee payment of nursing home bills, but many try to get family members to voluntarily agree to pay the bills. Many contracts have a murky provision asking the family member to sign as ‘responsible party.’ In some cases, this has been interpreted as a guarantor and in others as simply the person who will use the resident’s funds to pay the charges. We counsel our clients to make it explicit that they are not signing as guarantor. Often they are signing on behalf of the nursing home resident under a durable power of attorney and they write that after their signature.”

Hope this is helpful,

Oakley

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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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