What are things I need to consider for Medicaid and elder law issues?

Medicaid planning is legal. Elder law attorneys work to protect clients’ assets within the bounds of the law. Congress allows citizens to qualify for Medicaid after meeting certain requirements, and those requirements could be changed if Congress felt they were being abused. Medicaid planning is not any more illegal than planning to avoid taxes.

Medicaid is a federal program that will pay for nursing home care. Medicaid is not to be confused with Medicare, which in most cases will not pay for extended nursing home care. Medicare is a program which people pay into during their working years, while Medicaid is a needs-based program intended to help impoverished Americans with medical expenses.

How long does it take to qualify for Medicaid? There’s no simple answer as to how long it might take an individual to qualifyfor Medicaid. There are many variables in every situation that must be taken into consideration and ultimately affect the eligibility timeline, including the state in which you live, whether your application is complete, your assets, income and expenses, any asset transfers you’ve made to individuals or trusts, and more. Before applying for Medicaid, you should consult an elder law attorney in your area. The attorney can help you understand both eligibility and the application process, and should be able to give you an estimate of the time frame you can expect.

Here are some of the ways to plan for Medicaid:

1) Long-term care insurance covers the risk you may at some point in your life be placed into a nursing home by covering some or all the expenses associated with nursing home care. It also frequently covers assisted living care or care in your home. Long-term care insurance can be a very valuable tool that can help you avoid depleting your estate in order to pay for  nursing home care. Nursing homes greatly vary in cost depending on the quality of the home and the geographic area of the country in which the home is located. At a minimum, you can expect to pay several thousand dollars a month for decent nursing home care, which can rapidly deplete an individual’s savings.

2) Currently, Medicaid has a “look back” period on transfers of assets of 60 months. This means any gifts or other transfers of assets you made in the 60 months before you applied for Medicaid will be assessed in order to determine your eligibility. If you did make transfers assets in the five year period before applying for Medicaid, you could be subjected to a penalty. Therefore, if you made a transfer of assets in the past five years, you should not apply for Medicaid without consulting an elder law attorney, because the penalties could be severe.

There are a variety of criteria to consider when selecting a nursing home.

First, how is the nursing home ranked by accreditation agencies or state regulators? Have there been violations or complaints against the nursing home? How does the nursing home rank when compared with other homes in the area?

Another important factor to consider is location. Is the nursing home located in an area that is convenient for family and friends to visit? Would family members be more likely to visit a nursing home located in another area?

Before choosing a nursing home, take a tour and ask for references of family members of current residents. If possible, take the tour at an unscheduled time, so that you know that what you are seeing isn’t staged for your benefit. During the tour, look carefully at the interactions between staff and patients. Does the staff seem caring and concerned? Do the residents seem content? What is the quality of the food served?

Choosing a nursing home can seem overwhelming at first, but often after visiting a few and evaluating their quality of care, the decision becomes easier.

If you anticipate needing Medicaid at any point in the foreseeable future, it’s prudent to seek the advice of a qualified elder law attorney. There are steps you can take to protect your assets which may not be available when you actually need Medicaid. Some of those steps may include transferring your assets or establishing trusts. An elder law attorney with expertise in Medicaid planning can evaluate your situation and advise you on the most prudent steps to take in order to preserve your rights and maximize benefits.

Edrie Pfeiffer
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Edrie Pfeiffer, Bankruptcy & Divorce Attorney