The Do’s and Don’ts of Signing a Nursing Home Admission Agreement
as a Responsible Party
Henry C. Weatherby, Esq,, CLU, ChFC, CEBS
An ElderCare Matters Partner
When a person is admitted to a nursing home, it is often a family member who manages the details of the move. If you are managing a loved one’s transition into a nursing home, you will likely be asked to sign a nursing home admission agreement as your loved one’s “responsible party.” These agreements can be very thick, complicated, and confusing. To make matters worse, you are often asked to sign them as soon as the person is admitted, at a time when you would rather be focused on making sure your family member is comfortable. You are likely to be facing a great amount of stress. Don’t feel pressured to sign an admission agreement on the spot. Take the time to review the document and make sure you understand what you are signing. You do not want to accidentally accept financial responsibility for your loved one’s care or give up any of your loved one’s rights.
Federal law and CT state law prohibits nursing homes from requiring you to guarantee payment of nursing home bills. This means that they cannot require you to sign as responsible party upon your loved one’s admission. Importantly, the your loved one cannot be refused admission due to your refusal to sign. The simplest way to avoid the risk of signing as a responsible party is by having your loved one sign the nursing home admissions agreement him- or herself. If the person is unable to sign due to a severe cognitive impairment or a physical limitation, you may decide to sign on that person’s behalf. If this is the case, there are other things you can watch out for to avoid liability for the nursing home costs. No matter who signs the agreement, it is important to take the time to make sure that person understands what it means.
Even if you are not made personally responsible for a resident’s nursing home costs, an admission agreement may still require a responsible party to use the resident’s assets to pay the nursing home costs and to help the resident qualify for Medicaid. In Connecticut, nursing homes have successfully sued the responsible party under such a contract. The nursing homes argued that the responsible party breached the contract by failing to qualify the resident for Medicaid in a timely manner, unreasonably delaying the Medicaid application process, or improperly transferring the resident’s assets. Even if you are only signing the admission agreement on behalf of the resident under a Power of Attorney, a court may still find that you are a responsible party. If you are managing the financial affairs of a nursing home resident, you need to familiarize yourself with the requirements for Medicaid. You should consult an attorney with Medicaid experience so that you do not unintentionally jeopardize the resident’s Medicaid eligibility and create liability for yourself.
In addition to understanding the implications of signing as a responsible party, there are other provisions to look for when signing a nursing home admission agreement. Keep an eye out for a binding arbitration provision. This type of provision will state that all disputes regarding the resident’s care will be decided through arbitration. You should know that signing such a provision means you are giving up your right to go to court to resolve a future dispute with the nursing home. The nursing home cannot require you to sign such a provision. However, if you do sign a contract including an arbitration provision, it will generally be enforceable.
If you are helping a loved one’s move to a nursing home, getting informed is one of the best ways you can protect your loved one and yourself. If at all possible, consult an experienced Elder Law Attorney before signing any documents from the nursing home. You can find experienced Elder Law Attorneys near you on ElderCareMatters.com and on ElderLawAttorneys.us – two online elder care resources sponsored by the national ElderCare Matters Alliance – Elder Care / Senior Care Professionals who can help you plan for and deal with a wide range of elder care matters.
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