Who is the best person to sign as the "responsible party" for my mother's assisted living facility?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Our mother's assisted living facility demands that someone name themselves as the responsible party to act as her advocate as well be responsible for paying her bill should she not pay. Is my mom's appointed power of attorney the best person to sign? Does their POA title protect their personal finances in any way?

Expert Answer

Liza Hanks is the founder and owner of FamilyWorks Estate Planning, a law firm with offices in Campbell and Los Altos, California, and the author of The Busy Family's Guide to Estate Planning (Nolo, 2007).

Your mom's agent for property management is the person that she appointed to act on her behalf should she become incapacitated. That means that her agent is the person who is designated to act as her financial advocate. While these documents vary in scope, most agents would have the authority to pay bills and take care of other property-related matters.

The agent, however, is spending your mother's money. And an agent's personal resources are separate from any bills your mother might incur.

If the assisted living facility is asking for someone to be personally liable for any bills that your mother can't pay, which it has a legal right to do, that's a different matter entirely from acting as an agent under a power of attorney.

If the person designated in the power of attorney also signs on as "responsible party" with the facility, but agrees only to supervise the care rather than to be financially responsible, he or she should be sure to indicate that on the form. The facility might not accept that, however, and demand that someone sign who is willing to take personal responsibility for the bills. This is unlike the procedure for nursing homes, which are forbidden by law from requiring a responsible party.

Finally, you may want to get someone to sign on as an "advocate" with the assisted living facility, which entails different duties than financial responsibility.