Many seniors and their families don't use a lawyer to plan for long-term care or Medicaid, often because they're afraid of the cost. However, an attorney can help you save money in the long run and make sure you're getting the best care for your loved one.
Instead of proceeding based on what you've heard from others, doing nothing, or enlisting a non-lawyer referred by a nursing home, you can hire an experienced elder law attorney. Here are a few reasons you should at least consider this option:
• No conflict of interest. When nursing homes refer families to non-lawyers to assist in preparing the Medicaid application, the preparer may have dual loyalties, to the facility that provides the referrals and to the client applying for benefits.
To the extent everyone wants the Medicaid application to be successful, there may be no conflict of interest. But it's in the nursing home's interest that the resident pay privately for as long as possible before going on Medicaid, while it's in the resident's interest to protect assets for care or for the resident's spouse or family.
An attorney hired to assist with Medicaid planning and the application has a duty of loyalty only to the client and will do his or her best to achieve the client's goals.
• Saving money. Nursing homes can cost as much as $15,000 a month in some areas, so it is unusual for legal fees to equal the cost of even one month in the facility. It's not difficult to save this much in long-term care and probate costs.
• Knowledge and experience. Professionals who work in any field on a daily basis over many years develop the experience and expertise to advise clients on how to achieve their goals, whether those are maintaining independence and dignity, preserving funds for children and grandchildren, or staying home rather than moving to assisted living or a nursing home. Less experienced advisers, however well intentioned, can't know what they don't know.
• Peace of mind. It's possible that an elder law attorney you consult with will advise you that there's not much you can do to preserve assets or achieve Medicaid eligibility more quickly, but the consultation will provide peace of mind that you haven't missed an opportunity.
Medicaid rules provide multiple opportunities for nursing home residents to preserve assets for themselves and their spouses, children and grandchildren, especially those with special needs. There are more opportunities for those who plan ahead, but even at the last minute there may be steps available to preserve some assets.
Talk to an attorney in your area to find out your options.