Under Federal law and the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987, virtually all nursing facilities nationwide must meet specific requirements and adhere to certain standards. Most importantly, federal law prohibits these facilities from requiring financial guarantees from third party individuals. In other words, a facility cannot require a resident’s family member to sign or co-sign an agreement to take on financial liability incurred by the resident. Nonetheless, there is a long history of facilities using admission agreements that do just that.
As a condition of admission, family members and friends of prospective residents are often given admission agreements, and then instructed to sign those admission agreements. Sadly, a resident’s family members and friends often have no realistic opportunity to understand or to even read the admission agreements before signing them. Facilities have been known to then use those guarantees to pressure a family member or friend into paying bills for which the family member or friend should not be responsible.
Many facilities use forms that are confusing and deceptive, even to some attorneys. For example, many facilities will use express language disclaiming any notion that the agreement operates as a third-party guaranty, only to turn around and enforce the agreement as such. One of the most common strategies employed by nursing facilities today include the use of admission agreements that obligate a “responsible party” or “financial legal representative” to use the resident’s money to pay medical expenses. Then, if the resident incurs a large bill prior to death or if the resident’s bills remain unpaid, the facility will bring suit against the third-party representative in an attempt to hold them personally liable. Lawsuits such as these are not only questionable from a professional and ethical perspective, but also conflict with the general rule that duly appointed agents are not liable for the debts of a principal.
In sum, be aware of ambiguous language and terms within a nursing home contract. Does the contract serve to admit the resident into the facility and detail the care and services provided? Or, does it attempt to impose a legal duty on a family member unlawfully? Does it appear to do both? If it’s not obvious what the contract does, you should be hesitant to sign. A credible facility will be considerate of the family’s need to understand the operative language. Pertinent federal law includes but is not limited to: 42 C.F.R § 483.15(a)(3), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1395i-3 (c)(5)(A)(ii) and 1396 r(c)(5)(A)(2).
Here at McIntyre Elder Law, we regularly assist individuals and their family members with navigating placement of their loved ones in a long-term care situation. If you or your family have been the target of a lawsuit under similar circumstances, please do not hesitate to contact our professional team. Our mission is to help seniors maintain their assets and preserve their legacies.
Estate Planning & Elder Law Attorney