Do Nursing Homes Charge Past Death?

In a 2017 article in The Guardian, authorities in the United Kingdom discovered that some care homes continued to charge families after elderly relatives died. Care homes in the UK are called nursing homes in the US. The UK includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Each has its own publicly funded health care system.

Health Care Funding

Health care funding in the UK is provided by separate governments and parliaments, together with smaller private sector and voluntary provisions. Though most health care services are free, dementia patients are often required to pay for their home care services. If dementia patients are unable to pay for the services, their families may get the bills.

In the US, some families pay for nursing home services using long-term care insurance and other private financial resources. Others spend down their financial resources until they qualify for Medicaid and program benefits take over. Still, more hire an elder law attorney to provide legal strategies to evaluate their financial resources that can be used to pay for care while qualifying them for Medicaid benefits. This protects a home and savings from the Medicaid recovery program, allowing families to preserve them for a spouse or future generations. Nursing homes will attempt to bill family members for services, but an attorney can review wording hidden in nursing home contracts to prevent this from happening.

Extra Charges

Many care homes in the UK charge the deceased patient’s family for the week after the patient’s death so the family has time to collect their belongings. However, some families have been charged fees for more than that one week. In some cases, the fees have added up to thousands of pounds.

In the US, circumstances are similar. Outstanding debts are paid by the decedent’s estate for the week following a patient’s death in a nursing home. Medicaid will attempt to recover health care costs from the estate if benefits were used to pay for long-term care. Extra charges often result from nursing homes trying to collect payment beyond Medicaid’s allowance for services. Some outstanding costs may fall on family members in certain states. But most states will not hold family members responsible for a decedent’s debts. Due to state laws, nursing home bills after death can be confusing, so consulting an elder law attorney is recommended.

Investigating the Complaints

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), a government department in the UK responsible for monitoring, preventing, and reducing anti-competitive activities, is looking into unexplained or hidden charges, unexpected fee increases, and instances when relatives’ complaints have not been handled fairly.

The CMA has also received complaints about how difficult it can be to switch from one care home to another care home after a fee increase. There have also been complaints about self-paying residents being charged more than state-funded residents for the same services.

Again, the best defense in the US for unexplained or hidden nursing home charges is consulting an elder law attorney before signing any contracts during the admission process. If you don’t like the language in the contract at a particular facility, terms may be legally renegotiated, or you can choose another one.

Countering the Complaints

Some care homes defended their billing policies by claiming they aren’t receiving enough funds from local authorities for the cost of resident care. Other care homes said it was necessary to charge families when a room is unoccupied.

According to Care England, the trade organization for care homes in the UK, provisions pertaining to paying for rooms after the death of the residents are in the contracts. Its chief executive, Martin Green, was quoted as saying, “… the payments do not stop the moment you die, rather there are contractual arrangements which the person’s estate is responsible for.” This is true in the US as well. You must read the contract thoroughly and may need legal guidance to interpret your obligations.

How This Could Affect You

It’s important for those with relatives receiving care in UK and US nursing homes, or similar care facilities, to be aware of these issues. Carefully read any nursing home contract to determine how long the nursing home can continue to charge your family after your relative has died or has moved to another nursing home.

If you are concerned about unexpected or hidden fees, increased fees, or suspect that your loved one is not receiving adequate care, you can contact the Ombudsman Resource Center to find a representative in your area. You should also contact an elder law attorney to understand your rights.

Our law firm is dedicated to keeping you informed of issues that affect seniors who may be experiencing declining health. We help you and your loved ones prepare for potential long-term medical expenses and the need to transition to in-home care, assisted living, or nursing home care.

This article offers a summary of aspects of estate planning and elder law. It is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice, please contact our office today at (954) 315-1169 to schedule a consultation.

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