Seniors need someone else to make decisions for them when their capacity begins to decline. Power of attorney is a solution that works for many families, and it keeps them from having to go through a guardianship proceeding.
However, some people may hesitate to take on this responsibility because they do not fully understand how a power of attorney works. Here, you are just a decision maker, and you do not take on legal responsibility for nursing home bills. To make this clear, we will explain exactly how a power of attorney works.
Power of Attorney Is a Part of an Estate Plan
At some point, your senior should have sat down with an estate planning attorney to draft things like a will and the necessary powers of attorney. Estate planning is about more than figuring out who gets property when you die.
Before a senior begins to decline, they would choose someone to act as power of attorney when they are no longer able to effectively make decisions for themselves. They would execute a legal document that designates someone as power of attorney when the time comes that it is necessary. Until that point, the person would continue to make decisions for themselves.
How Power of Attorney Works
A nursing home resident will usually have someone acting as their power of attorney for all their matters. The power of attorney will generally make decisions in two different areas for the senior.
They have the power to act on someone’s behalf when that person can no longer make decisions on their own. The decisions made by the attorney in fact are the same as if the senior made them on their own.
A Power of Attorney Does Not Have an Attorney Client Relationship
When you have a power of attorney, you are an attorney in fact. It does not mean that you are practicing law. It does mean that you have the legal power to make decisions on behalf of a principal. You do not provide legal counsel. Instead, you have legal authorization. You may do the following as the power of attorney:
- A general power to make decisions on behalf of the senior
- Specific authority to make healthcare decisions
- Authority to make financial decisions
- The ability to sign contracts pertaining to the senior
Relevant here, power of attorney gives the attorney in fact the ability to pay bills on behalf of the senior. This is exactly why we are asked is power of attorney responsible for nursing home bills.
There are no two ways about it. Long-term care is incredibly expensive, and it is getting more so by the year. Not only is inflation high in general, but the costs of medical care are increasing at a rate higher than regular inflation in the United States.
Nursing Home Bills Are Very Expensive
Nursing home bills can now top $100,000 each year. The bills may be even higher in an urban area like Chicago or for a facility that is high quality. The average stay in a nursing home last between 2-3 years. Even short-term stays can last up to one year.
When the family moves their loved one into a nursing home, they sign a legal document that assigns them as a responsible party for the payment. This does not necessarily mean that adult children are financially responsible for nursing home payments. What it does mean is that they are personally responsible to apply for Medicaid when their family member runs out of money to pay the bill.
Family Members Can Be Personally Liable Under Certain Circumstances
However, there are some circumstances where there may be personal liability for unpaid bills. Adult children may be personally liable when they do not take the necessary steps to apply for Medicaid when it is necessary. They must provide the state with all the necessary information to approve the application, or they may be sued for expenses incurred by the nursing home.
Adult children may also be held responsible if they misuse funds and do not pay the nursing home’s bills.
One New York case shows the circumstances under which an adult child with power of attorney may be liable for unpaid bills. In this case, the child signed the agreement for his mother’s admission to the nursing home, and she was the responsible party. However, he did (or did not do) the following:
- He failed to apply for Medicaid to cover the costs of nursing home care
- He fraudulently transferred his mother’s money to himself
The court held that the adult child was liable to the nursing home in a breach of contract lawsuit.
Nonetheless, these represent very limited circumstances when the adult child acted fraudulently. Unless there are similar circumstances, the usual rule that the senior uses their own money for their care would hold true.
Children would just need to make sure that they do everything that they can to apply for Medicaid when the money runs out, and they must also be careful with their parent’s money. This would help them avoid unwanted surprises.
Facilities Cannot Make Children Responsible for Nursing Home Costs
When children sign the admission agreement for their parents to move to a nursing home, the facility is not allowed to force them to be a responsible party for their parents’ nursing home bills. However, nursing homes can be very clever with what they stick into their contracts. Children need to look very closely before they sign any agreement with a nursing home because the devil can be in the details.
Most nursing homes are for-profit enterprises, and they will do anything that they can to get their money. Do not put it past them to either be sneaky or to illegally try to force the child to cover any unpaid bills. However, you should not let the fear of that get in the way of making necessary decisions for a nursing home resident.
Some states have laws on their books that force a child to provide for and cover expenses for an indigent parent, but these laws are rarely enforced.
How Nursing Home Residents Pay for Their Care
The nursing home expects that the resident will use their own assets to pay for their care. Of course, this is assuming that the elderly person has the assets to afford nursing home bills. Very few people actually have this amount of money available to them. The elderly person may use their Social Security check to pay for some of the costs, but it would only cover a small fraction of the nursing home bills.
Some families will need to pay for nursing home care on their own. When a senior lacks assets or an income, they may qualify for Medicaid benefits that will cover the cost of the nursing home facility.
With the help of an estate planning attorney, families may create a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust well in advance of when their loved one may need nursing home care. Spouses may also take out an annuity for their other spouse to receive a monthly income. Medicaid would be the named beneficiary of the annuity. These annuities have some complex rules, so you would need to work closely with an experienced estate planning attorney.
Family Members Fear Personal Financial Liability
Some family members may hesitate to accept a power of attorney because they are afraid that it means they will take on financial obligations. If you are in this position, you can rest assured that you will not have personal financial liability when you act on behalf of an elderly person.
This includes both their medical bills and other financial obligations. Just because you are an attorney in fact does not mean that you are the same legal entity as someone else (such as a husband and wife)
Nursing homes are allowed to discharge residents for the failure to pay their bills after reasonable attempts to collect. The resident must either pay the bill, or must make reasonable attempts to apply for Medicaid to cover the costs of their care.
The nursing home cannot evict the resident when they run out of their own money and must use Medicaid to pay the bills, unless they do not accept Medicaid at all.
Nursing Homes Cannot Throw the Resident on the Street for Failure to Pay Nursing Home Bills
However, an improper discharge is a form of nursing home abuse. In order to discharge a resident, the nursing home must make proper arrangements. Federal regulations prohibit nursing homes from simply throwing a resident into the street.
However, some nursing homes do exactly that, leaving the resident in a hotel or other unsafe place without the medications that they desperately need. It does not matter whether there are unpaid bills. If the nursing home engages in that type of abuse, it can be sued when your loved one is injured.
Families May Need Personal Injury Lawyers
There are times when a nursing home’s behavior can cross the line to nursing home abuse.
Nursing home abuse attorneys can work to ensure that the nursing home is held liable for the following things:
- Medical malpractice
- Wrongful death
Your family may be paid financial compensation if the nursing home’s actions have injured your loved one. First, you need to hire an experienced nursing home abuse and neglect attorney to hold the facility legally accountable.
Nursing homes need to be held accountable for both abuse and poor care that they provide to your loved one. Filing a nursing home lawsuit is one way to get justice and accountability. However, nursing homes often fight liability tooth and nail because they want to escape accountability for their actions.
Call a Nursing Home Abuse Attorney Today
The attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers practice law in a dilgent and compassionate way. Nursing homes are not above the laws, and we work to make them answer for what they did to your loved one. To schedule your free initial consultation, you can call us at (800) 424-5757 or contact us through our website. We may work to obtain a settlement for your family, or we will take your case to court. As always, you owe us nothing unless you win your case.