Elder Law Questions and Answers

Elder Law Questions and Answers

The purpose of this article is to provide answers to several common elder law questions. Many of these questions relate to nursing home planning, more specifically, costs involved with nursing homes and how to protect your assets while maintaining quality care.

What is elder law?

Elder law is a field of law that specializes in legal issues which affect senior citizens. Elder law planning covers quite a few topics; but, there are a few key areas which routinely fall under its jurisdiction, namely health care, financial needs, and relationship issues.

Attorneys who specialize in this field work closely with clients, along with their families, to get an all-encompassing view of their needs. This practice of working closely with clients is the best way for a lawyer to tailor excellent legal solutions and ensure a high quality of life. An attorney who practices elder law can be an excellent partner for you as you plan out the legal and financial aspects of the next stage of your life or the life of a loved one.

What is a living trust?

A living trust is a legal document that is set up by a knowledgeable attorney when a person is still alive. This type of trust determines how a person’s property is to be distributed and managed if he/she becomes incapacitated or dies. It also names a beneficiary who will inherit property and/or assets after one passes away. Since the assets are owned by the trust, this allows an easy transfer upon one’s death and avoids Probate Court. Keeping out of Probate Court saves families considerable time and money. For this reason, many folks establish a living trust with an attorney that specializes in elder law.

Does a living trust protect assets from Nursing Homes?

Planning for long term care and protecting hard earned assets needs to be addressed BEFORE it becomes necessary. That being said, paying for nursing home care remains expensive.  Generally speaking, MEDICARE may pay for up to 100 days in a skilled nursing facility if the patient requires skilled care AND was hospitalized for at least 3 days. After that time expires, the costs transfer to the patient. Due to the tremendous expense involved these matters should be handled by an experienced attorney. To sum up, a living trust may protect some assets; however, each case is unique and requires evaluation.

What happens to assets if you go into a nursing home?

Due to the high cost of nursing home care folks remain concerned about losing their life savings when a loved one requires skilled assistance. As stated above, MEDICARE may cover the first few months in a nursing home. After that time period expires, people need to know how to pay the exorbitant costs without going broke. Basically, there are three ways to pay for nursing home care:

  1. Self Pay– Simply put, it means paying the costs out of your own pocket. Depending on the length of stay and the funds in one’s bank account this method may not work for long.
  2. Long Term Care Insurance– Some people are fortunate enough to have this type of coverage, and it certainly helps pay the costs. However, most folks facing a nursing home stay lack this coverage.
  3. Medicaid– This is a federally-funded and state-administered program which pays nursing home costs. Qualifying for Medicaid is complicated and misunderstood by most people. As a result, consulting with an attorney that specializes in this area of law really helps folks navigate the rules and regulations. Also, seeking legal advice may save a family money in the long run by establishing a sound plan to protect assets.

How much money can you keep when going into a nursing home?

Today’s life expectancies are longer than previous generations. Sadly, long term care costs also continue to rise. With people living into their eighties and nineties, many may require nursing home care. It’s important to know the costs of this specialized care. Today’s median cost of a semiprivate room is approximately $249 per day. That’s over $90,000 per year! As a result, middle class families may see their savings wiped out in a matter of months.

Fortunately, the Medicaid Program covers nursing home costs after a person qualifies. This qualification process involves an evaluation of income and assets. Some assets are exempt; while other assets are “countable assets.” Since Medicaid rules are extremely complicated and confusing, legal advice becomes necessary when protecting elderly parents’ assets.

How do I know what nursing home to choose?

It’s important to research a specific nursing home prior to committing yourself or a loved one. In fact, we strongly encourage individuals and/or families to visit the place in person. By law, nursing homes must disclose certain information. In Michigan, for example, according to the State Government, (Public Act 368 of 1978)

“Section 21782 of the Michigan Public Health Code requires that nursing homes have specific information available for public inspection. That information includes:

  1.  A complete copy of each inspection report of the nursing home received from the department during the past 5 years.
  2. A copy of each notice of a hearing or order pertaining to the nursing home issued by the department or a court. The copy of the notice or order shall be retained for not less than 3 years after its date of issuance or not less than 3 years after the date of the resolution of the subject matter of the notice or order, whichever is later.
  3.  A description of the services provided by the nursing home and the rates charged for those services and items for which a patient may be separately charged.
  4.  A list of the name, address, principal occupation, and official position of each person who, as a stockholder or otherwise, has a proprietary interest in the nursing home, of each officer and director of a nursing home which is a corporation, and of each trustee or beneficiary of a nursing home which is a trust.
  5.  A list of licensed personnel employed or retained by the nursing home.” (Section 21782)

What do elder attorneys do?

Attorneys working with the elderly can create plans for retirement, and help them acquire the long-term care they need. They will also take the necessary steps to protect their clients’ businesses, and ensure the fair and equitable dispersal of valuables to the heirs and charities, according to the clients’ wishes. Elder law lawyers are also advocates for senior citizens and their needs. Attorneys specializing in elder law handle a wide range of legal matters that affect seniors such as issues related to long term care planning, guardianship, Medicare/Medicaid, social security, retirement, estate planning, and other crucial issues.

Elder attorneys are specialists in senior affairs due to their consciousness of older adults’ desires which are often different from those of younger adults. Seniors deal with daily issues that affect their actual care. Some examples include: residing in assisted living facilities and discrepancies in existing estate plans. In our golden years, we often look at our plans for retirement and aging with blinders on. When it actually hits though, we often realize that the way we mapped it out, may not really work as well as we thought it would.

Elder care legal professionals are legal professionals who’ve dedicated their practice to meeting the unique wishes of seniors and their families. Furthermore, elder attorneys assist adults that are aging and their families to develop legal protection and get their affairs in order to ensure a smooth transition into retirement and beyond. It is pertinent to develop a relationship with an attorney that specializes in estate planning and elder law to avoid the pitfalls that come with aging and the vulnerability that is often faced by seniors.

Another function of an elder lawyer is helping clients with issues related to health care, long term care planning, and elder law questions. Health care issues are a major concern for the elderly. Concerns exist due to rising costs of assisted living or nursing home care. Thus, proper planning needs to be in place to protect hard earned investments collected over a lifetime. Mismanagement in this area can often mean that the long-term care facility receives all of the person’s finances, rather than having it go to their loved ones.

Comprehensive elder law planning will put measures in place that protect the elderly should their health deteriorate to the point where they can no longer handle their finances. They can organize guardianships that go into effect once certain conditions are met, such as a doctor’s declaration about their mental health, or mental capacity.

Not every attorney can be an expert in every area so when choosing an attorney, ensure they have the expertise and experience to suit your situation. If not, most attorneys will be more than happy to refer you to one of their colleagues, if they are not in a position to meet your needs.

About The Writer

Young male attorney with dark hair and glasses in a brown suit and tie standing in front of a bookshelf

Sean Nichols is an elder law attorney in Michigan with years of experience. His law firm is dedicated to assisting families in obtaining affordable, quality nursing nursing home care for aging loved ones, as well as helping with other legal issues related to aging. If you, or a loved one require assistance with long term care planning, or other legal matters related to elder care, call the offices of Sean J Nichols today. (734) 386-0224

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