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Can a nursing home force me to pay the bill for a family member or friend?
Usually not, although there are some exceptions. Many nursing homes try illegal strategies to frighten family members or friends into paying the bill. Don’t be intimidated. Read the question-and-answer discussion below, and consult with a local attorney.
Can a nursing home make me liable through the resident’s admission agreement?
Again, usually not. Federal law prohibits a nursing home from asking or requiring a third party to be a financial guarantor — in other words, a financially liable co-signer. If a resident is not mentally competent to sign an agreement, the nursing home can require the resident’s representative to sign the agreement on the resident’s behalf, but only to make the resident financially responsible. Find the relevant federal law at section 483.15(a)(3) of Title 42 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
Does it matter if the admission agreement says that the family member or friend has “volunteered” to become financially responsible?
No, using the word “volunteer” does not allow the nursing home to avoid federal law. Federal law prohibits a nursing home from requiring or requesting a financial guarantee.
How do nursing homes try to get around the law?
Beware of terms like “responsible party” in nursing home admission agreements. The agreement might try to define a “responsible party” as someone who is financially responsible, instead of just someone who wants to be available to help the resident and (as necessary) make decisions for the resident.
Some of these agreements state that the person signing on behalf of the resident agrees to handle the resident’s money in a certain way, such as paying the nursing home bill first before any of the resident’s other bills are paid or to take certain actions regarding potential Medicaid applications. These types of agreements can be dangerous for representatives to sign because, if the resident owes money, nursing homes sometimes sue representatives personally for failing to comply with specific obligations in the agreement.
Can a nursing home win a lawsuit against me for breach of contract if I signed a responsible party clause?
As explained above, federal law prohibits a nursing home from holding a responsible party personally liable for a resident’s bill. Also, general legal principles say that a representative is not liable for the debts of the person being represented.
That being said, courts sometimes rule in nursing homes’ favor on types of claims based on (for example) the representative’s failure to use the resident’s money to pay the bill or apply for Medicaid, as promised in the agreement. Often this type of ruling for a nursing home happens in egregious situations where the representative used the resident’s money for the representative’s benefit, rather than paying the nursing home. Sometimes, however, courts order representatives to pay the nursing home personally for the resident’s bill even if they have done nothing wrong. It is key to have an attorney advise you of your rights if you are sued for someone else’s nursing home bills.