It is playing out across the country—people are being sued by nursing homes for thousands in bills owed by a friend or family member who is a resident…but for whom they bear no financial responsibility. How it happens: The defendant signed the loved one into the nursing home. Somewhere in the paperwork was a “responsible party” clause promising that the signer would see that all bills were paid from the resident’s assets. When wary signers question the clause, staff members reassure them that they won’t be liable for payment—the facility just needs a signature to admit the resident. Months or even years later, the resident owes a large bill, usually because Medicare or Medicaid didn’t cover his/her costs or he has run out of money. The signer receives a collections notice threatening legal action. Self-defense…

Have an attorney review admissions paperwork before signing anything. The facility likely will discourage this.

Have the resident sign his/her own forms, instead of doing it for them.

Never sign a responsible party clause, regardless of assurances from the nursing home. If the home refuses to accept your loved one because you won’t sign, file a complaint with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services…the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau…and/or your state’s attorney general.

If you’ve been served: Never ignore a collections notice from a nursing home—once it becomes a lawsuit, it’s harder to defeat. Immediately contact an attorney specializing in elder-care, consumer, Medicare or nursing home cases. Good resource: National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (  If money is tight, try a legal aid organization. Hiring an attorney will be cheaper than settling, and a good lawyer could resolve the issue with a phone call or by filing a single motion.

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