Justin, My father has lived in a nursing home for about a year and his funds are running low. The facility has talked to me about filing a Medicaid application, but if he isn’t approved for Medicaid, can I be forced to pay his nursing home bill? – John
John, As a general rule, one person cannot be forced to pay the debts of another. As with most rules, however, there are exceptions. In the context of your question, the most likely instance in which you could be forced to pay your father’s nursing home bill would be if you agreed to do so in writing.
You might think that sounds strange, but it happens all the time. Most nursing home admission packets include paperwork through which a “responsible party” agrees to be liable for the debts of the patient if the patient cannot pay and if government benefits aren’t obtained. It is illegal for nursing homes to condition admission to the facility on a family member signing a personal guarantee like that. But nothing prohibits facilities from inviting a family member to make a commitment by including that type of language in the admission agreement.
If you are helping a family member transition to a nursing home, be aware of what you sign and how you sign it. Having a thorough set of power of attorney documents can help.
Your question also prompts me to mention that you do not have to wait until a person is out of funds to begin planning for Medicaid. Taking some key steps at the right time can help a person qualify for Medicaid while still preserving a certain level of assets, but time is of the essence.
To learn more about the importance of power of attorney documents, check out You Need A Plan at YourPlanMatters.com. Part three of the book also contains some little-known information about asset protection while applying for Medicaid. And don’t hesitate to call for your no-charge strategy session.