Protecting Your Family Legacy
Howard Atlas | August 27, 2015
When I inform people that I am an attorney, it is always followed by the, “oh, what kind of lawyer are you?” question. When I tell people that I am an Elder Law attorney, it is often followed by a tilting of the head, quizzical look and question, “what is that?”
It is usually at this juncture that I find myself explaining that my role as an Elder Law attorney involves asset protection planning or the movement of assets to enable a person to qualify for Medicaid. “Oh,” followed by that same quizzical look. I then continue to explain that Medicaid will pay for a person’s home health aide or Nursing home care, if needed. It is at this point that many people begin to get an idea of what I do.
Depending on the person’s interest, I continue to explain that Medicare only covers certain illnesses and does not cover assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs). If a person is either disabled or over the age of 65 and in need of assistance with ADLs, such as with toileting, bathing, cooking, etc., then that person might need an aide at home or require assistance at a nursing facility.
In-home aides can be expensive and many times, people cannot afford to pay their household expenses and the cost of an aide on their income alone, so their bank accounts slowly decrease as they dip into their savings in order to help pay for this assistance. This decrease in assets is more dramatic when privately paying for Nursing Home care—with its average cost in New York over $12,000/month. Unfortunately, it is usually at the point when a person’s savings accounts start to dwindle, that they come to see an Elder Law attorney to advise them on their options and understand that they might be able to qualify for Medicaid in order to pay for this care.
Medicaid is a means-based government program that, among other things, will cover a person’s long-term care. Means-based signifies that there are income and resource limits that a person must meet in order to qualify for the program. In New York, in 2015, a person can only have $14,850 total resources in his/her name in order to qualify for Medicaid. Many people have more than $14,850, so that is when an Elder Law attorney can help. We explain to people their asset protection options so that they may reduce their assets below the $14,850 threshold in order to qualify for Medicaid, and still have back door access to their resources, if needed. We also work with individuals who are looking ahead and want to create an asset protection plan in advance, just in case they might require long-term care in the future.
A lot of times people don’t plan ahead or they wait until they have run out of assets because “they don’t want handouts” or they “don’t want any government assistance.” This is common. But, if you are unable to afford long-term care insurance or no longer qualify, then you will see how quickly your medical costs add up and how your money disappears. And, depending on your goals, that might be perfectly fine with you. There are, however, other people who do not want to spend the entirety of their assets on their medical care, but instead want to know that the money that they worked their whole lives for will be passed onto their children or their other loved ones.
My father recently told me how he and my mom made sacrifices when we were young because they wanted my siblings and me to have a better life than they did. I think that sentiment resonates with many people. They want their money to pass onto their family—to help give them a better life.
So what do I do as an Elder Law attorney? I educate people to plan ahead and think about the possibility of long-term care and how it will be paid for. I work with people who are in need of long-term care, so that they can obtain that assistance and a reduced expense to them. I believe that I help people get the care that they need while maintaining their family legacy.