Question: My mother is 78 years old and has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. She and my father (who is 79 years old) live in a small town, have a paid off home, and both receive small pensions and Social Security. My question is how I, the daughter and an only child, should start getting information about the elder care benefits to which my parents may be entitled. For example, I’m not very knowledgeable about Medicaid, Medicare, VA Benefits, etc. With whom should I talk to get this type of elder care information BEFORE I actually need it?
Answer: You need to consult with an experienced and skilled elder law attorney. An elder law attorney can help you navigate the most complicated and overwhelming area of the law. Elder Law is a specialty developed to serve the needs of seniors and those that will become seniors one day. In other words it is for anyone who wants to be old one day. Elder Law is much more that Estate Planning. An attorney specializing in Elder Law will help with the tough questions like:
- Who will make my medical decisions when I am no longer able to make them?
- If I unable to care for myself, how can I achieve the greatest quality of care without bankrupting me or my family?
- Who will make my end of life decisions?
- What happens if I get sick and can’t stay in my home anymore?
- How am I going to pay for it?
Not many people look forward to giving up their independence and moving into a long term care facility, even if it is in their best interest. Fortunately, as our population has aged, care alternatives to the traditional nursing home have emerged, such as home care, assisted living, adult day care and senior apartments. These options can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 a year or more. Unfortunately, to pay for these services, many seniors will quickly go through their entire life savings and assets, when it is not necessary. There is a better way, that is to plan now!
For example many people believe in the old notion that to protect their assets, they need to give away assets to family at least five years before entering a nursing home. First this is usually not true and further, while this may be a good idea for some, it is not for everybody. First, there is no guarantee that the nursing home is the best option. In fact no one ever wants to go into a nursing home. There may be other strategies available that will allow one to remain in their home, assist with the cost of home care or the expense of assisted living.
Some of these options are exploring Veterans benefits for qualified Veterans and their spouses and using home based community care options. Second, if gifting is done improperly, it may cause you to lose Medicaid benefits you might otherwise be entitled to. Gifting your assets without the assistance of an experienced Elder Law attorney usually limits your choice and quality of care substantially.
Finally, there will be greater opportunities for better care at the least cost to those that become informed and seek the assistance of a experienced Elder Law attorney. For example, Who Can You Trust To Make Your Decisions When You Cannot Make Them Yourself? It is a common misunderstanding that your spouse or children can act for you during a disability. The truth is, if you cannot make your own medical and financial decisions, a court of law will. It is essential that everyone over 18 years of age creates a Durable Power of Attorney.
A Durable Power of Attorney is a legal document allowing you to delegate your personal, health care and financial responsibilities to an agent. You decide who that agent is and how much power to give the agent. If you become incapacitated without a Durable Power of Attorney, no one can legally act on your behalf until the Court appoints a Conservator and/or Guardian. Court proceedings take time and money. There are no guarantees the Court will select the same person you would have chosen. But not all Durable Power of Attorneys are the same. You need an Elder Law Durable Power of Attorney. If you have a Durable Power of Attorney which has not been prepared by an Elder Law attorney, your planning options could be drastically limited without court intervention.
Don L. Rosenberg, Attorney and Counselor
The Center for Elder Law
Troy, Michigan 48098