A Close Look at the Assisted Living Facility Contract
Before moving in, most assisted living facilities will require you to sign an admission agreement, which is a contract. Don’t sign right away. You should carefully analyze the contract and get it reviewed by an elder-law attorney. “You want to be informed of all the terms because, after you sign, you may not have much recourse,” says Lori Smetanka, executive director of the advocacy group National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care.
A legal review can cost anything from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, depending on where you live, the specific facility, and whether or not a contract can be negotiated. According to Hyman Darling, president of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, “if the lawyer already knows the terminology of a facility’s contract, it may just take an hour or two to go through the details.”
Here are four important provisions to think about:
Make sure you understand the contract’s fees and how they are calculated. Some facilities may charge a flat rate for accommodation, board, and care, while others may have a tier of charges that increase as the degree of care increases. According to Deborah Fins, an aging-life-care expert in Worcester, Mass., you will almost certainly be charged a move-in fee. Because most contracts are just for a year, fees are likely to rise with each renewal.
Party in Charge
Don’t let yourself become financially liable unintentionally if you’re signing the contract on behalf of a family member who will pay the bills. Shirley Whitenack, an elder-law attorney in Florham Park, New Jersey, advises, “Make sure you are recognized as an agent, not the liable party.” You should have the power of attorney to act on behalf of your parent, and your signature should include the phrase “attorney in fact.”
The contract should specify the circumstances that could lead to an involuntary discharge, as well as them requiring a notice period, which is usually 30 days. This language is frequently left unclear. For example, it could say, “We can no longer meet your needs.” “If the language isn’t explicit, management can make decisions on the fly,” says Eric Carlson, the directing attorney for the advocacy group Justice in Aging. Request that the conditions of discharge be limited to specified reasons, such as nonpayment or care needs for which the facility is not licensed.
Arbitration as a Legal Requirement
Many lease agreements include an arbitration clause that requires problems to be resolved by a third party rather than in court. Arbitration clauses are occasionally optional, although they are frequently obligatory. Mandatory arbitration, according to Consumer Reports, is harmful to consumers and should be prohibited. If your contract contains a forced arbitration clause, scratch it out before signing or put “refused” in its place, says Martin Kardon, a Philadelphia trial attorney who specializes in elder law. If you try this, there’s a slim chance your loved one won’t get admitted. You can assess whether it’s worthwhile to agree to arbitration if management insists on it. You should also get a comprehensive copy of the signed contract, according to Kardon. There will be no doubt about your rights in this case.