Am I legally responsible for my brother's bill?

Windyhair asked...

My brother lives in a nursing home in MD. His long term fiance of 25 years had power of attorney for my brother's health care, legal and financial died 6 weeks ago. My family talked me into doing a health care advance care directive in case that my brother is incapacitated and cannot make his own medical decisions. The directive clearly states his health care agents (me, my mother and my son) are not financially responsible for any costs of his care.

Today I received a Statement of Account addressed to my name for my brother in the amount of $3108.00 with a note in bold letters at the bottom of statement reading: "YOUR ACCOUNT IS SERIOUSLY PAST DUE. WE NEED TO RECEIVE PAYMENT TO AVOID COLLECTION ACTIVITY WITH OUR ATTORNEY."

I have not spoken to anyone or signed anything taking any responsibility. The nursing home is another state. Am I legally responsible for my brother's bill?

Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

The fact that you were authorized to act for your brother in his advance directive does not make you personally responsible for his debts. About the only way you would be responsible is if you signed on as your brother's personal guarantor when he entered the nursing home. From what you’ve explained, that doesn’t sound as if it fits your situation, but you would still be wise to get a copy of the nursing home contract and check out whether you expressly took on this obligation.

The truth is that people and institutions owed money will often look to any possible pocket for payment. But the fact that they ask—and even make those veiled threats about your account being SERIOUSLY PAST DUE doesn’t mean you are legally responsible to pay them. If the nursing home appears to be hectoring you needlessly, there are a number of routes you can take to attempt to resolve the situation.

* Contact the facility administrator. Put your specific complaint in writing to the facility administrator and ask for a written response—giving him or her a fair chance to address your concerns.
* Contact an ombudsman. Every nursing facility is assigned an ombudsman—a person outside the facility and not associated with the company who is responsible for investigating complaints, reporting allegations of abuse, and helping residents and family members solve problems through mediation.
* Contact an advocacy organization. A number of local organizations can offer you a seasoned and impartial assessment of whether your particular complaint needs action, along with specific help on how to get it. Consult the National Citizens' Coalition for Nursing Home Reform for local contacts.
* Contact the state regulatory agency. If communicating with the nursing facility and the local Ombudsman Office does not resolve the problem, consider filing a complaint with state licensing authorities.