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ContractAs the population ages, the use of assisted living facilities to provide long term care for aging parents increases.  Often, adult children are asked to sign the admission contract on behalf of a parent who will reside in the assisted living facility.  These contracts are usually presented in a flurry of activity with neither the elder or the adult children paying much attention to it or the legal consequences.  Some assisted living facilities may do a quick review with the family, but this should never replace reading it thoroughly before signing it.  The most common question adult children ask is: Can I sign the contract on behalf of my parent?

Do I have the authority to sign the contract?

The answer to whether an adult child can sign an assisted living facility contract on behalf of a parent is most often yes.  If an adult child has been appointed as the guardian for an elderly parent, that child has the authority to sign on behalf of the aging parent, although in some states, like Florida, the guardian will need additional court authority to do so.  The child who is acting as an agent under a Durable Power of Attorney usually has the authority to sign it on behalf of an parent.  In some states, like Florida, an adult child who is acting as a health care decision maker may also sign the admission contract for an assisted living facility.    However, if a parent is mentally capable of signing, the parent should sign it themselves.

Whether an adult child has the authority to sign the assisted living facility contract on behalf of a parent is not the most important question.  The more important question is:  What are my legal obligations if I sign?  The consequences for signing that contract can be significant for the adult child.

What are my legal obligations?

Even if an aging parent is capable of signing an assisted living facility contract, some facilities may require an adult child to sign the contract in addition to the parent.  Is important when signing to understand the legal obligations you might be creating and rights you may be waving on behalf of yourself or your elderly parent.

One of the most significant provisions to watch for in assisted living contracts is the “Responsible Party Clause.”  Most assisted living facilities ask an adult child or other relative to sign the contract on behalf of the resident as a “Responsible Party.”  The individual signing as the Responsible Party agrees to be responsible for the bills in the event they are unpaid.  The Responsible Party is financially responsible for the costs of the parent’s assisted living facility care in the event it is unpaid, any late fees, attorneys’ fees incurred by the facility in attempting to collect any outstanding balance, or, the costs of any damages, if the parent damages the room or other parts of the facility.

The Responsible Party may be obligated to respond to requests or demands by the facility regarding an aging parent’s behavior within a certain period of time.  The Responsible Party may also be the only one to whom the facility will release the aging parents belonging when the aging parent dies.

If you are signing an assisted living facility contract on behalf of you aging parent, be sure you read the contract, understand what you may be responsible for, and know what the consequences can be to you personally.

If you have questions about a contract, contact an elder law attorney.