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My mom recently passed away in a nursing home, and she left an outstanding balance. Are we responsible for her debt to the nursing home?

Dear Advocate:

My mom recently passed away in a nursing home, and she left an outstanding balance. She didn’t own a home and only had about $2,000 in her bank account when she passed, nothing else. The financial director of the nursing home insists that we must pay the balance on her behalf because we are her family. Are we responsible for her debt to the nursing home?

Sincerely, Frustrated in Fresno

Dear Frustrated:

Only the resident is responsible for paying any nursing home bills, not their family or friends unless they are the resident’s court appointed conservator or someone who has who has legal access to a resident’s available income or resources, e.g., an agent under their power of attorney who is responsible for paying the share of cost out of the resident’s income. In that case, they are responsible for the share of cost payments if the resident has the funds.. Even if you signed the admissions agreement as her responsible party or representative, the Standard Admissions Agreement states that a “Resident’s Representative does not, in and of itself, make the Resident’s Representative liable for the Resident’s debts…” In addition, Federal and state laws prohibit a nursing home from requiring a third party to guarantee payment as a condition of a resident’s admission, expedited admission, or continued stay in the facility. (See also the article on illegal nursing home debt collection practices in this issue’s Long Term Care News.)