Am I liable for Mom's nursing home costs?

1 answer | Last updated: Feb 06, 2015
Daughter1 asked...

I am the power of attorney for health care for my mother, who is in the nursing home. I have a sibling who is power of attorney for her finances. The nursing home is asking me to sign documents concerning responsibility of cost for certain cares for my mother. Shouldn't my sibling, who has power of attorney for her finances, be signing these papers?

Expert Answers

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.

Neither you nor your sibling is required to sign to become financially responsible for your mother’s care—and it may even be illegal for the nursing home to require it. It’s time to slow down and carefully read the document before picking up a pen.

First find out whether the nursing home participates in either Medicare or Medicaid; most do. A quick look at the home’s website or a question to one of the administrator should tell you the answer. And if it does, the federal Nursing Home Reform Law prohibits it from requiring guaranteed payment from anyone other than the resident -- your mother. This is true even if she is not now covered by either Medicare or Medicaid.

A nursing home does this because it gets higher fees from residents who pay privately than it gets from Medicaid, which is the program that pays if and when a resident runs out of funds.

Note, however, that the nursing home can ask an adult child who has power of attorney over the parent's finances—in your family, your sibling, to sign to signify that he or she will use the parent's funds to pay the nursing home bills. Signing that agreement, however, does not make the adult child personally responsible for the bills.

A nursing home that doesn't participate in either Medicare or Medicaid may legally require someone to agree to be financially responsible for a resident’s bills, however.

And if a nursing home initially rejects a person as a resident because he or she has insufficient funds to pay for care, and an adult child or other family member then offers to become financially responsible for the bills, that is legally permitted. But the one who is on the hook for paying should know the potential costs and liabilities before signing--and must agree to pay voluntarily.