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Many families seek our advice when a senior family member is seeking admission to an assisted living facility or nursing home. This is often a time of crisis with many emotional issues that stem from the move of a senior from his or her long-time home to a care facility. It is rarely a move that the senior welcomes, and if the senior’s children are coordinating this move, those children are often asked by the care facility to sign the admission contracts. And whether the children know it or not, those contracts often contain provisions which would hold those children financially responsible to pay for their parents’ care.
These contracts generally ask that the children of the new resident of the care facility sign as “responsible parties”. This means that the children would become responsible to pay the parent’s care bills if the parent does not pay. The “responsible party” language is often accompanied by contract clauses which say that such “responsible party” is “jointly and severally liable” to pay all bills of their parent or loved one at the care facility. In my opinion, no one but the resident should be financially responsible for those expenses, but many families unwittingly take on that responsibility in a pressure-packed situation.
It is true that many seniors may lack the ability to sign the admission contracts. If so, I tell the family that the senior’s Power of Attorney should sign the contract as the resident’s Power of Attorney on the “resident” signature line. The Power of Attorney should not sign the contract on the responsible party signature line – that line should be crossed out or left blank. By signing as Power of Attorney, that person is merely promising to pay the senior’s bills from the senior’s assets, not from the Power of Attorney’s personal assets.
The care facility contracts often contain other provisions which should be crossed out or negotiated to best ensure the rights of the resident. Many contracts limit the liability of the care facility while limiting the rights of the resident. I encourage every family to see an elder law attorney before they sign contracts in order to protect their rights.