A lot of product releases and vendor promises float into Long-Term Living's office inboxes each day, almost all of them with labels of uniqueness. While these claims are viewed as being part of a harmless marketing tradition, sometimes a new service appears to live up to its one-of-a-kind guarantee. I made this discovery not too long ago when I was introduced to the probate court process and a relatively new service aimed at streamlining deceased debt collection for providers.
Angela Horn is the vice president of business development at Forte, developer of Probate Finder OnDemand, an automated Web-based workflow application designed to locate probated estates within more than 3,400 jurisdictions nationally. Horn says senior living operators are leaving “significant dollars” on the table by either committing in-house staff to deceased debt collection or by outsourcing the work to law firms or agencies. “They're simply missing a great deal of the estates out there,” she says.
According to estimates provided by Forte, 75% of healthcare providers have no knowledge or experience on how to pursue deceased debt collection. With 25% of estates going to probate, the opportunity to tap into this potential revenue stream is certainly there, but is being either missed or ignored because of the inherent complexities of the probate court process. “Because 100% of those who are searching for estates do it in some manual way, such as sending letters to the courts, they are being largely ineffective,” Horn says.
Each state has a probate code that describes the period within which any estate creditor (i.e., a provider of healthcare services) must present its claim to recover a portion of the debt owed from the deceased. Depending on the jurisdiction, this timeframe is typically as short as 90 to 120 days. “An estate can open and close before a creditor is even aware,” Horn says. Why is that such a problem? Creditors who don't submit their claims during this period lose their rights to payment. The Probate Finder OnDemand service, of which Horn says there are strangely no competitors, automates the process of locating probated estates. Senior living providers, already stretched thin with how many staff members they can devote to debt collection, have become a fast-growing segment of the company's customer base because of the service's automation.
Probate Finder OnDemand is a “pay-for-performance” tool, with “performance” referring to each estate match. The fee structure is transaction-based—providers only pay a fee if the service finds an estate, and fees are capped at a total of $140 per claim filed. Estate match rates can range from 10-30% of total accounts receivable, according to the company.
Kathy Pajor, president and administrator of Beechwood Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in New London, Connecticut, says the biggest issue for senior living providers is locating what probate court a claim needs to be filed in. “The court won't respond right away to say ‘yes, there is a claim’ or ‘yes, a probate filing has opened’ until maybe months later,” says Pajor, who uses Probate Finder OnDemand at her facility. “We had a situation where we were trying to find a deceased patient's estate and there was no filing in any of the probate courts in Connecticut. We later found out the patient had a second home in Florida where the filing was done.”
“For those patients who are in that pending status where part of the money has to get spent down and part of it goes to the nursing home, someone is paying privately,” Pajor continues. “Now they're deceased and we have to make sure we're one of the first claimants.”
In the nearly six years that Pajor has worked at Beechwood, six estates went by without any collection of debt, contributing to about $75,000 in lost funds. “That money translates into a nursing position or capital equipment that could have been bought,” she says. After using Probate Finder OnDemand for a few months, Beechwood was able to locate its first estate in time. Pajor praises the service's customer service representatives, who had educated her staff members dedicated to utilizing it, and is confident “we'd be able to find 100% of our estates” with it in place.
Taped webinar sessions explaining the service in greater detail are on the company's Web site (www.probatefinder.com/speakersbureau.aspx). A free trial of Probate Finder OnDemand is also available. LTL
Long-Term Living 2011 April;60(4):16