Families feel exploited by senior home charges

Posted at 10:50 PM, Jun 07, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-07 23:50:31-04

Exploiting the dead and their families, that's what some families the I-Team spoke to feel some senior care communities are doing.

It's perfectly legal as it's all in the contract. There's a little clause requiring notice at least a month before moving out of a senior care facility. Without notice, you could be on the hook for that month. The I-Team learned it's a common practice, but can someone really give notice of their death?

They're the inevitable last moments of life.

"As your mother is passing to listen to her and talk to Jesus and ask forgiveness, that's tough," explained Lucy Ansay, whose mother Doris Zyniecki passed away March 15.

"When somebody dies you're going through the trauma of the death and all the grieving part," said Ansay's sister Alice Zyniecki.

Just days after their mother died, the sisters were at her apartment.

"They told us they won't even show the apartment unless the apartment was vacant," Alice Zyniecki said.

"It would have been nice if we'd had more time to sit back, reflect, mourn," Ansay added.

The sisters said it got even worse when a bill arrived for $1,500 arrived from their mother's senior living community.

"It's just a statement. It's not even like sorry for your loss, here's what you still owe us," Zyniecki said.

Their mother signed the lease on her own for almost $4,000 a month in rent, which includes a requirement of 60 days notice to leave.

"Unfortunately she left the apartment 37 hours into that month of March," explained Zyniecki, "So she didn't really get any of the facilities, the food service, or the medication deliver, she lost all of that."

According to the bill they got, Doris Zyniecki's family also owed an extra 19 days of rent until the apartment was rented in April, including meals and medication. This is all because Doris Zyniecki didn't give notice of her own death.

"I am not the renter, I did not sign the contract," Alice Zyniecki challenged the bill. In response, the company proposed a peaceful resolution, waiving the bill and returning the security deposit.

Elder law attorney Carol Wessels says the Zyniecki family was never on the hook for that bill to begin with.

"To the extent that Doris' estate has any funds in it, the estate could be liable, but the children don't have to have to come up with the check out of their own checking accounts," Wessels explained.

Doris Zyniecki's family used everything she had left to pay for her funeral, so her family wasn't obligated to pay her last bill.

"We just said, mom's at peace, let it go," said Jon Johnson. Johnson found himself in a similar situation several years ago. He and his sister didn't question the bill they got and used the rest of their mother's money to pay her final bill.

"I think they could be a little bit more upfront about that," he said.

Johnson feels senior homes should be more clear about what he considers an exit fee.

"When you exit, this is going to be the cost," he explained.

The I-Team asked if he agrees with some others we've spoken with who consider the situation exploitation. 

"In the legal sense, no," he said. "In the emotional sense, and the human interaction, I would say yes," Johnson said.

Both he and Zyneicki said it's a heavy burden to bear on top of losing a parent.

"It's become the finality of everything- the last of the bills," Zyniecki said.

Johnson tells the I-Team he'll make sure his family is prepared for that finality whenever it comes.

"You need to have this money set aside so that you can pay whatever it costs when we leave," he said.

Zyniecki called her State Representative, Daniel Riemers. He tells us even though this appears to be legal, it may not be ethical. He's looking into changing the law.

Wessels tell the I-Team she has a couple red flags for people to look for when signing agreements: 

First, mandatory arbitration clauses requiring issues to go through a mediator instead of going to court to address issues.

And second, any agreement obligating a third party to pay for services. 

If you're looking into senior care options, you can find help from the Alzheimer's Association and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.