By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – If you have to sign your parent into a nursing home, beware of the pitfalls of the admissions application!

When New Jersey resident Frances O’Neil arranged to put her mother into a convalescence home, she received a “Bill of Rights” from the home explaining that she didn’t have to guaranty her mother’s payments in order to have her mother admitted. After her mother passed away, the home sent her a bill for her mother’s balance and, when she didn’t pay, it filed a collections action against her. She counterclaimed – and LOST.

Federal law prohibits a nursing home from requiring a third party to guarantee payment as a condition of a resident’s admission. Therefore, a resident’s family member or friend cannot be required to guarantee the residents payments to a nursing home. That said, many nursing homes have admissions agreements that in some cases can be 40 pages long, and buried in the agreement are words that correctly say that you’re not required to guaranty payment – but then say that the party signing the contract is “voluntarily” agreeing to be responsible for the bill.

If it’s time for an elderly family member to enter a nursing home, it’s best to have the patient sign all documents. But, if she can’t, understand that you should not sign a document calling yourself the “Responsible Party”. Sign your name, and then be sure to write: As agent of the patient.

Watch & Listen LIVE