When readers contact Bamboozled, it’s usually because they’re trying to get their money back.
But every once in a while, someone contacts us because they want to pay money.
That’s all Camille Gutmore wants: a final bill from the nursing home where her mother died. She needs to pay the bill before she can close out her mom’s estate.
Gutmore said her mom, Anne Deo, had a very full life.
Deo was one of eight children from a large Italian-American family, growing up in the Ironbound section of Newark. Cooking was a favorite hobby that she shared with her sisters, and she later worked as a cook for the Newark Board of Education and raised three children.
“She was the last in her family to leave Newark and move to senior housing in Madison,” said Camille Gutmore, Deo’s daughter. “She was very social and in the middle of everything.”
But as the years went on, Deo needed more help. She moved into King James Care Center, a Chatham nursing home, in January 2014. She died about eight months later, on Oct. 21, 2014.
Gutmore stepped up to take care of her mom’s estate.
All final expenses would be paid from Deo’s remaining assets, and whatever was left over would be split between Gutmore and her two brothers.
Gutmore said from the start of her mom’s stay at King James, there were billing issues.
In the beginning, the daily cost under Medicare was $153 per day. In late March, Deo switched to private pay, costing $336 daily, she said.
“The institution said that billing would be each month in advance,” Gutmore said. “This never happened. I was only billed when I requested billing and then it was months behind.”
Gutmore said she didn’t receive her first bill until May 2014, and that was only after she asked repeatedly.
It was for nearly $22,000, and it was wrong, she said.
That’s because the nursing home apparently hadn’t contacted Deo’s secondary insurance company for payments.
Gutmore said after she asked, King James contacted the insurance company, and there were more delays.
In August 2014, Gutmore received a revised bill for $3,800, which covered dates through April 20, 2014. Gutmore said she paid immediately by check.
“From then on during visits to my mom, I would remind [the administrator] each month that no bill had been received,” Gutmore said. “He told me not to worry and would forward my concerns to the finance person.”
On the day her mother died, Gutmore said, she called and asked for an updated bill.
It came in a couple of days, listing more than $60,000 of charges.
She checked with the insurance company, which hadn’t paid anything for the charges. The insurance company said said it hadn’t received the claims from King James.
It recommended Gutmore wait to pay until after the nursing home submitted it to insurance, which would be paying at least part of the bill.
Time passed and Gutmore said she tried to be patient, but by February 2015, there wasn’t any word, so she called King James again.
That’s when the sale of King James to a new company, Chatham Hills, was effective.
Gutmore said the rep promised to contact the right people to get her copies of all billing for 2014.
Nothing happened right away, she said, so Gutmore called again on April 9.
She learned there was a new administrator, and she said she spent the next two weeks leaving messages that were not returned.
When she finally got through on April 17, she said, she was told they’d “get right on it.”
But there was still no bill by May 27, so she spoke to another rep who said they’d get a message to the right person.
But there was no response.
Gutmore says she’s trying to do the right thing and pay her mom’s bills, but the facility isn’t making to easy.
“After six months I stopped calling and have not heard from them since,” Gutmore said, wondering for how long the estate would be liable for the charges. “As my mom’s executor, I wanted to get this issue settled. As a result I cannot make a final distribution of her small estate.”
DEBT, DEATH AND THE LAW
Gutmore was smart to wait before distributing the rest of her mom’s assets.
As the executor, she has certain responsibilities.
But those who are owed money have responsibilities, too.
Creditors must present claims to the executor or administrator within nine months of the date of death, said Catherine Romania, an estate planning attorney with Witman Stadtmauer in Florham Park. Otherwise, the executor isn’t liable to the creditor to the extent assets were used to pay other claims or otherwise distributed.
“However, creditors are not barred from presenting claims after the nine month period from date of death has passed,” Romania said. “Moreover, a creditor may maintain an action against an heir who received the real or personal property of a decedent in order to recover the debt against the decedent.”
What’s worse, a contract creditor such as the nursing home can generally pursue a claim for six years from the date it arose, she said.
Certain claims have priority over others, Romania said. That means an executor of an estate with assets insufficient to pay all claims must pay claims in a particular order.
Romania said while most creditors are eager to be paid, you should be proactive with any who aren’t waiting in line for payment.
If a creditor isn’t responding to your requests to provide a final balance due, Romania recommends you send a more formal demand, such as a certified letter with a firm date by which you expect a response.
“Although an executor may always bring an action in court for instruction or direction, it does not appear economically beneficial to seek the court’s assistance in dealing with a reluctant creditor issue,” Romania said. “A more practical solution is to set aside a reasonable sum to pay the bill and meanwhile distribute the balance of the estate.”
GETTING THE BILL
We contacted Chatham Hills about the old King James bills.
It said the problem was twofold. First, it said, the nursing home has been getting conflicting responses from insurance company. And second, the employees working on the case no longer work for King James. They are now employed by Chatham Hills.
“King James is already sold,” said one employee who is working on the billing issue. “It’s not like we have free time to follow up. We’re working for Chatham Hills.”
The employee said King James was waiting to hear from the insurance company, and that it did follow up several times after receiving a request for more information on Deo’s final charges.
“We were in contact with them as soon as she passed away. We sent bills and it went back and forth and back and forth,” the employee said, frustrated because the insurance company kept giving different instructions.
Company reps said the insurance company has been giving them the runaround, telling them to send documents to four different post office box numbers and two different fax numbers. They’ve received denial letters due to “missing data” that was previously provided by the nursing home, and requests for new documents that were never before requested.
“Each time a follow up was made, different information was given, causing further delay,” the rep said.
The rep said the last submission to the insurance company was in May.
“I know we followed up in either June or July, but that wasn’t documented,” the rep said. “We didn’t do it in August or September.”
After Bamboozled contacted the facility on Oct. 28, reps called the insurance company again.
It asked them to send more documents to yet another post office box.
“I can bill her after I get something back from the insurance and they said the turnaround time is 30 days,” the rep said.
The rep also said the facility would call Gutmore, but days later, Gutmore said she never got a call.
“It’s very upsetting for me to go through this time after time with no result. That’s why I stopped calling them,” Gutmore said. “It’s been a year since mom’s passing. Surely they have the responsibility to resolve this matter for her family.”
Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.