Does power of attorney make me responsible for medical bills?

6 answers | Last updated: Oct 03, 2014
Jeannie-1 asked...

My mother lives in a group home for mentally ill people. She shares a tiny half of a room with another woman for the sum of her SSI check. She manages her own funds. Her health is getting worse and she just turned 70 years old. If I get her to sign a medical power of attorney does it mean I will be responsible for her medical bills if she is moved to a nursing home? Since she won't leave there, can I take a power of attorney form to her and have it notarized later? Do I have the right after the medical power of attorney to find a better placement for her?

Expert Answers

Having your mother execute a power of attorney for health care allows you to make decisions for her about her medical care, but doesn't make you financially responsible for her medical or long-term care. To lawfully execute the document, your mother must be mentally competent and her signature should be notarized. To do that, she has to go to a notary, or you have to arrange for a notary to go to her – you can't have your mother's signature notarized later.

Getting a medical power of attorney doesn't permit you to make decisions about where your mother lives, except to have her transferred somewhere – a hospital, rehabilitation center, or nursing facility -- for a short time to receive medical care. If your mother also executes a power of attorney for finances, that could permit you to help her make arrangements for a move to a different long-term care residence facility, and to transfer her SSI check to the new place.

Both a power of attorney for health care and a power of attorney for finances should specifically state that it's "durable." This means that your authority to make medical and financial decisions will continue if and when your mother becomes incompetent to make decisions for herself. If the documents your mother executes don't give you enough legal authority to move her after she becomes incompetent, you may have to go to court to establish a conservatorship or adult guardianship.

Community Answers

Clc answered...

Let me just amend the author's statement about SSI transactions. I was informed by both the Social Security Administration, as well as the Office of Personnel Management and the VA, individually, that they do not recognize POAs for financial/asset matters. Instead, the person handling finances must go to the SSA office and fill out a "Responsible Party" form. (In their convoluted logic, they believe that anyone can get a signature, witnesses and notary for a POA to defraud the recipient. Note that the recipient does not have to be there to affirm the Responsible Party designation; the SSA sends a letter a couple of weeks later to the recipient confirming that John Doe just signed the forms, is that okay?. Go Figure...if you control their mail as well they never get the confirm.)

In any event, the Responsible Party must maintain a log of all expenses paid for the recipient out of their SSI benefit (or pension if in re: a govenrment employee) and submit annually. The assumption of funds use in general is food, medical, living expenses first, savings (that's a laugh) with whatever is left over. Have no idea what the level of enforcement is, but I'm sure there is some bean counter/auditor sampling these.

So botton line is you need the POA, but for government related SSI, annuities etc., you need the Responsible Party designation.

Tater answered...

This raises other questions--would a durable power of attorney for "financial decisions" make Jeannie liable for any medical bills, current or in the future that are unpaid? This dialogue/thread is very helpful--thank you for Mr Matthews and CLC and Jeanne for this education!

Greendeere40 answered...

No. I had power of attorney for my stepfather. I did not. I repeat I did not have to take responsibilty for his bills except make checks for care of him in the nursing home. This came out of his social security. All had to do was get am attorney and have the signature aurthorized by a Notary Public. I didn't even have to pay a fee for this service.

Tater answered...

To Greendeere40: Did you have durable power of attorney for "financial decisions" or "medical decisions" or both? Thank you--and that you for sharing your experience.

Moeflo answered...

I was my mom's Medical Power of Attorney, and the VA did not pay 3 months of her benefits (about 3000.00), the VA said it would be paid, but it's been almost 3 years now. My mom passed last year, and the nursing home keeps coming after me for that unpaid portion. Now they say they are going to take legal action for further collection efforts. Is there anything I can do to stop this? I was never her financial POA, and only made sure her bills were getting paid when she was in the nursing home, yet they only have MY name on the bill now. I don't want my credit ruined for something I am not even responsible for.