Dismal woman staring at piles of bills on kitchen table | iStock.com/Fertnig

Dear Senior Living Adviser,

I acted as my dad’s power of attorney. When he was alive, he went into a nursing home for rehabilitative care. I signed the papers, using the POA. Now they are coming after me for the money, and they took part of my paycheck without me knowing.

What can I do?

— Alice Aggrieved

iStock.com/Fertnig

Dear Alice,

The advice part is easy. Find an elder law attorney in your area and talk to him or her about what happened when your dad was admitted to the rehab center and how the case has progressed since then.

I shared your situation with Linda Anderson, a certified elder law attorney at Anderson Elder Law in Pennsylvania. She weighed in with some thoughts on what may have happened.

“The presented scenario is a bit confusing, but let’s make some assumptions to illustrate several important points,” she says. “Let’s assume that the adult child who is acting as agent under power of attorney executed admission documentation at a skilled nursing facility in her capacity as an agent under power of attorney.

Is the child liable?

“Does this mean that the adult child is personally liable for any unpaid bills that the parent may incur? The hoped for answer is no, but wait until you hear what is often playing out. Many admission agreements include provisions that the child who is executing the document may also be acting not only as a legal agent for the prospective resident but as a ‘responsible party’ who, separate from the prospective resident, makes certain promises in the contract, which can include making the parent’s financial resources available for the payment of care.

“Further, in some states such as Pennsylvania, there is filial responsibility legislation that may impose individual liability on an adult child for a parent’s medical and care expenses if the parent is indigent. Both the responsible party language and filial responsibility may be used as debt collection tools to personally hold an adult child personally liable for such expenses.”

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A lawyer should review the contract

She also said, “It is important that the adult child immediately consult with an experienced elder law attorney to review the contract, procedural history of the case so far, and most importantly to determine if the federal and state law protections should apply. One such protection is the federal law that prohibits facilities from requiring third-party guarantors to admission agreements.”

You’re not going to solve this on your own. Get the legal help you need to see if you can get out from under this financial responsibility.

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