July 01, 2008
Ask the legal expert
Attorney John Durso, Ungaretti & Harris LLP
A resident recently died, and we would like to be paid for lengthy caregiving services at our nursing facility. The surviving spouse said they were separated so she shouldn't have to pay anything. How do we resolve this problem?
There are a number of options to consider in pursuing payment for services. Begin by examining the residency agreement and admission documents to see if the spouse or anyone else agreed to be responsible for payment. If someone has agreed to be financially responsible, then pursue payment from that person.
Regarding the surviving spouse, generally a person is and remains responsible for his or her spouse's medical expenses. Your state's laws determine this. For example, in Illinois, a person shares responsibility for payment of his or her spouse's medical expenses, even if the couple is separated, and remains responsible after the spouse's death. Check your state's law to see if the surviving spouse's claim that he or she is not responsible for payment is correct. It is likely that it is not, and the facility should pursue the surviving spouse for payment.
At the same time, ascertain whether the resident had a will and whether an estate has been opened for the resident. If so, immediately file a claim with the estate for payment of the resident's account. There is usually a limited time in which a creditor may file a claim (often as short as three to six months), so the facility should file a claim without delay. The resident's estate might have sufficient assets to pay the claim.
If a resident is able but refuses to pay, however, it is a good idea for the facility to begin the involuntary discharge process for non-payment.
Many times, a resident will pay the balance after the facility notifies him or her of the pending discharge. Even if the resident does not pay, it is better to receive no payment for a modest balance than for a much larger balance down the line.