Even Experts Need an Elder Law Attorney

Businesswoman talking on phone in office

Laura Katz Olson, 71, is an academic, who is quite knowledgeable about Medicare and Social Security. In fact, she taught health-care policy for decades at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.  She considers herself an elder-care expert. But things got challenging even for her when her own mother’s health began to fail and she needed to plan for long-term care.

Dorothy Katz, Laura’s mother, developed Parkinson’s disease, and later Parkinson’s-related dementia, and a gradual loss of vision. As a long-distance caregiver, Laura was traveling between Pennsylvania and Florida as her mother’s health was failing. After her mother fell and nearly died, Laura felt it was time to move her to a skilled-care facility near Laura’s home in PA.

This is when Laura figured out that her knowledge of elder care was not enough to navigate the complexities of Medicaid. According to Laura, “(a)s an academic, I looked for statistics and percentages on how Medicaid affects people. I had a lot of ideas on paper. They didn’t seem real until I experienced them myself.”

One thing that Laura realized is that if she wanted to keep her mother at home, “(y)ou can only get your parent 10 hours of in-home care a week under Medicaid” and that she would have to fill the caregiving “gap” herself.  Note that the 10 hours of in-home care a week is in PA and varies from state to state; some states offer no home care coverage; some offer many more hours. For example, Virginia Medicaid covers up to 56 hours/week.  Laura also stated that “In order to be eligible, you have to be nursing-home eligible, which means your elder relative’s assets have been depleted.” (Note: Your parents and other elder relatives DO NOT have to go broke to get Medicaid if you work with an experienced elder law attorney such as myself.)

Despite her academic expertise, and despite the fact that Laura realized she was ill-prepared to deal with the complicated, burdensome Medicaid process, Laura apparently never sought assistance from an experienced elder law attorney. Instead, she tried to navigate the harsh maze of Medicaid, Veterans Benefits and long-term care herself, and these were some of the harsh realities she faced:

  • Dealing with the VA was a nightmare [Dottie Katz’s husband was a veteran] Dorothy’s benefits almost got cut off because she was missing one piece of paper – a bank statement that Laura was sure she had already submitted. “They just wanted paperwork again and again, to reinvent the wheel at every agency,” she said.
  • Another office threatened to stop her mother’s Medicare.
  • She couldn’t believe how difficult the paperwork for Medicaid was.  According to Laura, “(y)ou have to prove everything – even if you’re 93, blind, and have Parkinson’s! The sting of it was unfathomable.”

Are you a DIY’er?

In this age of the Internet, we live in a do-it-yourself (DIY) society. Everybody thinks that you can find any information you need online and figure out how to do whatever it is you need to do without any professional help. These days, there is unprecedented access to instructions and information on how to do things you never thought you would be able to do on your own. Whatever else you may attempt to DIY, please know that Medicaid Planning (and Estate Planning) is not one of those things you should ever attempt on your own!

Websites such as Legal Zoom and so-called financial gurus such as Suze Orman dispense a never-ending stream of advice and tout the benefits of handling legal matters on your own. The truth is that planning for your Long-Term Care is like performing your own root canal.  When people try to prepare or alter their own legal documents, there is a great likelihood of making serious legal mistakes or oversights. In addition, Medicaid eligibility rules are the most complex and confusing rules in the American legal system, and impossible to understand without highly experienced legal assistance. And with regard to planning for Medicaid, you simply cannot afford to make any mistakes. When you work with Farr Law Firm, P.C., we take care of every single piece of paperwork so that the family does not have to and you don’t have to worry about mistakes being made!

The Complexity of Medicaid

DIY planning for things such as Medicaid or any form of Long-Term Care forces you to take a cookie-cutter approach that will never account for numerous aspects of your specific circumstances. Here are some reasons why it is foolish to attempt Medicaid planning on your own, even if you fancy yourself an expert:

No two cases are alike. This is especially true in crisis Medicaid planning situations where you or your loved one must begin private pay for nursing home care within the next month.

The laws change frequently. So even if your situation were exactly the same as that of your neighbor, the rules of the game may have changed in the months or years since your neighbor’s advice made sense.

There may be safe-harbors and exclusions that apply to your particular family situation that may not apply to someone else’s situation. For example, you may have a child who is “disabled” as defined by the Social Security Administration. This changes the way things are handled.

Most people don’t realize the major differences from state to state in many of the Medicaid rules. Although the basic framework for the entire Medicaid program is set by the federal government, with many of the rules required to be the same in every state, there are also many sections of the Medicaid law that allow each state to set its own rules, within certain limits.

Certain actions, such as giving gifts to family members or owning property, could affect your ability to receive this vital government healthcare assistance. You could be hurting eligibility for Medicaid by doing these things without the advice of an attorney experienced in Medicaid Asset Protection.

The “asset shifting technique” someone else used may have “worked” one time, with a particular caseworker. There is no guarantee that your parent will be so lucky with the same technique.

As you can see, Medicaid Planning is an area fraught with complications. The courts agree. This is what they say:

The United States Supreme Court has called the Medicaid laws “an aggravated assault on the English language, resistant to attempts to understand it.” Schweiker v. Gray Panthers, 453 U.S. 34, 43 (1981).

The United States Court of Appeals for our own Fourth Circuit (just below the U.S. Supreme Court), in a case arising out of Virginia, has called the Medicaid Act one of the “most completely impenetrable texts within human experience” and “dense reading of the most tortuous kind.” Rehab. Association of Virginia v. Kozlowski, 42 F.3d 1444, 1450 (4th Cir. 1994).

Don’t Attempt Medicaid Planning by Yourself! Hire an Experienced Elder Law Attorney for Medicaid Asset Protection

Do you have a loved one who is in a nursing home or nearing the need for nursing home care? Or are you simply looking to plan ahead in the event nursing home care is needed in the future? Do yourself and your family a favor and hire an experienced elder law attorney such as myself — someone who is thoroughly trained and knowledgeable about Medicaid and Long-Term Care planning.

Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection is the process of protecting your assets from having to be spent down in connection with entry into a nursing home, while also helping ensure that you or your loved one get the best possible care and maintain the highest possible quality of life, whether at home, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home. Call The Farr Law Firm to make an appointment for a no-cost introductory consultation:

Fairfax Medicaid Asset Protection Attorney: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Medicaid Asset Protection Attorney: 540-479-1435
Rockville Medicaid Asset Protection Attorney: 301-519-8041
DC Medicaid Asset Protection Attorney: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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