Paying for assisted living is notoriously expensive. Most residents who remain relatively healthy for many years and only need some assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) run the risk of outliving their savings at some point. Unfortunately, most meager retirement benefits and income sources do not cover the average cost of $4,000 per month for room, board and care in assisted living. So, what happens when a senior runs out of money?

Each resident signs a contract when they move into an assisted living facility (ALF), and that contract explains how the facility handles nonpayment and evictions. If you receive a written notice that a loved one in an ALF is being involuntarily discharged, it is crucial to read their contract for the specifics of how this matter will be handled.

Before you start packing a loved one’s bags, be sure to speak with the staff. The executive director, a social worker or someone from the billing department is usually a good place to start. Some financial assistance programs, such as Medicaid and VA benefits, might be available to help cover the costs of assisted living. However, in most cases, unless there is some other source of payment (like liquidated assets or family contributions) that is in the process of being set up, nonpayment is grounds for requiring a resident to move out.

Whether or not a resident can be “kicked out” depends on several factors, including the laws that govern assisted living facilities in your loved one’s state and the terms of the contract they signed with the facility. Unlike nursing homes, which are governed by federal law and often report to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), ALFs are governed by state licensure standards.

Generally, an assisted living facility must give plenty of notice—usually a minimum of 30 days prior to the discharge date—and provide the following information to the resident and their family member or legal representative:

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  • A summary of the resident’s mental and physical health status.
  • Reason(s) for discharge.
  • A plan of care for the resident after discharge, which may include recommendations for where the senior might live.

Residents and their families/representatives have the right to appeal discharges, usually through an administrative hearing, but the process varies by state and the laws can be vague. It may be wise to hire an elder law attorney to assist you if you intend to file an appeal. In some states, a resident may challenge an eviction by filing a complaint with the state’s licensing agency. In even fewer states, residents may enjoy greater protections from eviction under landlord-tenant law. Again, you’ll need to consult an attorney to see what kind of recourse may be possible. A local ombudsman can also be a useful ally in this process.

If no further financial avenues are available, then a senior will likely need to vacate their room at the facility. Unless their needs are significant enough to qualify them for placement in a skilled nursing facility (a higher level of care for which there is much more financial assistance available), then they must find a new, more affordable place to live and receive the care they need.