Every stage of life comes with its own unique challenges and needs. For much of our lives, however, our legal needs tend to remain remarkably unchanged. As we approach the senior years, however, our lives change in ways that often require a new perspective on various aspects of the law. To help seniors with these new legal needs, elder law attorneys focus much of their practice on matters that directly impact seniors’ lives. Despite its rise in popularity, however, many people still find themselves asking questions about elder law and the lawyers who practice it. Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions we encounter on a regular basis.
What is Elder Law?
Elder law is an area of legal practice concerned with issues related to the various and unique challenges people encounter in their senior years. These include social and legal issues as well as important financial concerns that have grown in importance as the nation has gotten older in recent decades. Elder law attorneys can provide counsel and assistance in matters related to long-term care planning, estate planning, managing the many public laws that affect the senior community, and more.
How does that differ from estate planning?
Estate planning is primarily focused on organizing your affairs to provide for an orderly distribution of your estate when you die. It can also encompass things like tax planning, but primarily emphasizes strategies designed to protect your assets and provide a legacy for the surviving loved ones you’ll eventually leave behind. Elder law focuses its attention on preserving your assets and protecting them from the costs associated with long-term care, while dealing with other issues that primarily affect seniors.
Can’t I just give away my assets to qualify for Medicaid?
Well, that would make things simpler, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, Medicaid laws guard against such gifting through the use of the program’s five-year look-back period. Under that provision of the law, the program is authorized to review your financial transaction records for the five-year period directly preceding your application for Medicaid benefits. Gifts made within that five-year period could result in eligibility penalties that would cause your application to be denied for a period of several months or even years.
Do I have to be poor to qualify for Medicaid?
While you are only allowed to retain a small portion of your income while you are receiving Medicaid benefits – and can only have a total of a couple of thousand dollars in assets, that doesn’t mean that you have to become completely impoverished to gain access to benefits. An elder law attorney can help you to preserve a sizable portion of your wealth and keep it from being consumed by the high costs of long-term care.
If I’m going to a nursing home, does my spouse have to lose everything too?
No. In fact, there are protections in place to ensure that the so-called “well spouse” is not impoverished. If you are in need of nursing home care, your spouse will be entitled to keep your home and furnishings, car, and certain other assets without impacting your eligibility for the program’s benefits. The good news is that sensible planning can even enable your spouse to keep more of your family assets. Consult with a competent elder law attorney to gain a better understanding of your rights in this area of the law.
When should I begin planning for Medicaid?
It is almost never too early to begin planning for your senior years. Often times, many of us tend to wait until we are in the latter years of middle age before we start to think about retirement, nursing home care, and similar senior issues. The problem is that the longer we wait to begin our planning, the fewer options we have available to us. If you have assets that you want to preserve, you should begin your Medicaid planning at least five years prior to applying for Medicaid benefits. However, since few people know exactly when they might need nursing home care, you should begin as early as possible to avoid any unpleasant surprises.
My loved one is in a nursing home now. Is it too late to get help?
Not at all. While your options become more limited in the senior years, there are still ways to preserve assets and obtain the Medicaid benefits you need. Those strategies do involve complex matters of law, so be sure to consult with an experienced elder law attorney to find our which options work best for you.
What if I suspect my loved one is suffering abuse?
No senior should ever suffer abuse of any kind, and yet untold millions experienced neglect, physical or mental abuse, or emotional harm at some point during their twilight years. Elder abuse, fraud, and other mistreatment are crimes punishable by fine and imprisonment. If you suspect abuse of a loved one, contact the authorities or call an elder law attorney for advice about how to proceed.
How Can an Elder Law Attorney Help?
Many people are reluctant to retain attorneys for things like estate planning and elder law need. Often times, we assume that we can get by with free advice, downloadable forms and plans, or other low-cost alternatives to professional counsel. In reality, though, those alternatives usually cause more problems than they resolve.
An experienced attorney can help you create Medicaid planning strategies that can help you protect assets and secure the benefits you will need for long-term care. An elder law attorney can assist you with issues related to life insurance, estate and tax planning strategies, the proper use of annuities and gifting, and other strategies to help you meet your needs.
At Augulis Law Firm, our elder law and estate planning experts can provide you with the sound counsel and assistance you need to overcome the unique new challenges you’ll face in your senior years. If you have other questions related to elder law or simply want to learn more about how we can help you with your senior legal needs, contact us online or call us at (908) 222-8803.