Are you Responsible for the Cost of Your Parent’s Nursing Home Care?

Recently, I spoke with a gentleman who said that when he tried to check his parent into a Nursing Home, the Nursing Home refused to admit Dad as a resident unless the son signed a statement of personal responsibility. This means, that if Dad (or Medicare or whoever) doesn’t pay the bill, the Nursing Home can require the son to pay. Can they do this? Whom does the cost fall upon?

What if you “Agree” to cover the Cost?

The typical Admissions Process in a mind-numbing experience. By the time you get there, your mind is already fried. After all, you just admitted your beloved Mom or Dad or spouse to a Nursing Home! To make it worse, you may have promised them that they “would never go to a Nursing Home”. Your intent may have been to take care of them at home. However, their condition went from bad to worse and at some other point, you had no choice – you decided that now they would have to go to a nursing home. Many of our clients go through this and suffer extreme guilt from doing what they “have” to do. They love their parent, but had to face reality.

During the admissions meeting you may sign several documents. One of the many documents may be acceptance of responsibility to pay. If your Loved One doesn’t pay or can’t (because they have run out of money) OR if the governmental benefits programs don’t pay for whatever reason, then the Nursing Home can come after you if you have signed such an agreement.

T​he Nursing Home Admissions process is never easy. These 7 Tips will help you avoid pitfalls as you travel that road.

Can they “force” you to sign such an agreement? After all, this is technically Mom or Dad’s cost – not yours. With the average cost of care in a nursing home being in excess of $5,000 per month, this is a huge obligation to agree to assume! Can they force you to be responsible for this huge debt?

Well, they can certainly ask – and they often do. After all, it’s their Nursing Home and Nursing Homes are a business. Bottom line is that they want to be sure they are paid. If Mom or Dad don’t pay, they want you to pay.

Options to NOT Agreeing to Assume Responsibility

But do you have to sign? No. so, what are your options? I can think of only three:

You can just take Mom and leave.

The Nursing Home is offering a service on their terms, and you don’t have to accept their terms. You can say “No, Thank You” and go home. However, what if Mom desperately needs to be in a Nursing Home? If this wasn’t the case, you wouldn’t be there. You may feel like you are in a desperate situation and have no choice but to sign to be personally responsible for the cost.

You could try to negotiate the point with them.

It’s worth a shot. However, some Nursing Homes take the position that unless you sign this agreement, you go home.

You can try to shop around.

You can shop around and try to find another Nursing Home that won’t make you sign such an agreement. However, if you haven’t done this in advance, this may be impractical. If Mom is already at this particular Nursing Home, you probably don’t feel that you have the option of loading her in the car and driving to a different Nursing Home to see if you can get a better deal. In the best case scenario, you would have shopped Nursing Homes in advance of her need to be there, asked questions at each, and made a decision based not only on this point, but on which could best meet the needs of your Mom – but (again in the real world) that rarely happens, so you have to make a quick decision.

Send my Admissions Tip Sheet

Slow down and ask what you are signing. When you go to the Admissions meeting, you may not be thinking clearly. For this reason, you shouldn’t go to the meeting alone. Take  a clear thinking friend or family member that hasn’t been through the same emotional roller coaster with you.

The semi-good news is all of this may be a moot point. Usually once Mom’s money runs out, she will qualify for Medicaid which will pay the bill. AND if she has done proper planning with a Elder Law Attorney, she will be able to save a substantial part of her estate anyway. See our blog post How to Get Medicaid to Pay for Mom’s Nursing Home Care for reference. However, there may be months prior to Medicaid qualification for which you may be responsible if you have signed such an agreement.

Filial Support Laws

Several States have enacted parental support laws, also known as “filial” support laws that would allow a Nursing Home to attempt to collect an unpaid debt from a family member who may have the ability to pay. Even though these laws are on the books in several states, they have rarely been enforced. Arkansas has a stripped down version of this law limited to mental health care. However, some states and other foreign countries have laws that extend collection authority to long term care. Laws can change, so the best course of action is to plan in advance so your kids are never in a position to have to pay for your care.

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

Download the attached Tip Sheet for a few ways you can protect yourself in the event you ever find yourself in the unfortunate predicament of having to admit Mom to a Nursing Home today AND having to make some quick decisions that you otherwise would not have made.

If you are admitting your Loved One to a Nursing Home and want to ensure that their care cost will be covered, your goal is to help them qualify for Medicaid assistance as soon as possible. The key is to meet with an Elder Law Attorney before that trip to the Admissions Office. We can help you with the whole process and can help to preserve much of Mom’s money that would otherwise have been spent down.

Some planning in advance works wonders to nip a lot of these problems in the bud. If you are reading this and are in good shape cognitively and physically, but have not done your estate planning – now is the time! Read our blog article entitled, “If You Haven’t Done Your Estate Planning, Here’s Your Sign!” for more information.

The Nursing Home Admissions process is never easy. The key is to plan in advance by visiting with an Elder Law Attorney so your rocky road will not be as rocky.

Remember, the main thing is not the money – it’s Mom! The primary goal is to find a facility that can best meet her needs. Admit her to a facility where she is getting great care and go to an Elder Law Attorney as soon as possible. With a properly executed plan, the money will take care of itself.

Click here to Download your Free Tip Sheet for Tips on Dealing with the Medicaid Admissions Process.