The VA Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit provides eligible veterans with tax-free income. This benefit also extends to surviving spouses of eligible veterans. A married veteran can receive up to $2,903 per month to help with the cost of long-term care while a surviving spouse can receive up to $1,176 per month. Aid and Attendance can be used to pay anyone, including the veteran’s child, for home care. It can also be used to pay for professional care in the home, assisted living, nursing home care, insurance premiums, prescription drugs, co-pays, and more. In essence, Aid and Attendance can help an eligible veteran or widowed spouse live at home for as long as possible while still receiving the care he or she needs and protecting hard-earned assets. Unfortunately, recent changes to the law have made it more difficult for eligible veterans and their widowed spouses to qualify for this valuable benefit.
The changes took effect on October 18th. They are extensive, comprising some 136 pages. Significant changes include:
• A three-year look back period
• A maximum disqualification period of five years for those who transfer assets below their fair market value during the three-year look back period. These transfers include the purchase of financial instruments that reduce net worth, such as annuities
• Transfers made before October 18th will not be subject to the new look back period
• Countable net worth will now include all countable assets plus annual gross revenue. This will impact veterans and spouses whose income exceeds their Unreimbursed Medical Expenses (UME).
• The maximum asset allowance has been increased to $123,600
• The primary residence remains exempt, but if the lot exceeds two acres, anything over two acres will be countable (but only if the land is marketable, as opposed to land that is inaccessible or restrictively zoned)
• The list of what is considered an Activity of Daily Living (ADL) will now include cognitive care
Obtaining Aid and Attendance was difficult enough before the new changes. Minor, seemingly insignificant errors on the application can lead to the denial of benefits. In fact, the majority of applications are initially denied, even in cases where the veteran or widowed spouse is indeed eligible.
Now that the pension is even harder to obtain, it is more important than ever to speak with an elder law attorney accredited by the Veterans Administration.
One final thought: On October 29, 1941, nearly two months after Britain and France declared war on Germany in response to the Nazi invasion of Poland, Winston Churchill delivered one of his most famous speeches. It included the line, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
The Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit can dramatically improve the lives of eligible veterans and their widowed spouses. If you believe you are eligible for the pension, we hope you take Churchill’s advice.
Written by Scott A. Makuakane, Esq., an experienced Estate Planning Attorney and the founder of Est8Planning Counsell LLLC in Honolulu, Hawaii. Scott has been practicing estate planning and trust law in Hawaii since 1983. He is past-chair of both the Probate & Estate Planning Section and the Estate & Gift Tax Committee of the Hawaii State Bar Association (HSBA). Scott has written various books and articles for lawyers, other estate planning professionals, and the general public, concerning estate planning. Attorney Makuakane is a Member of the National ElderCare Matters Alliance, and is Featured in ElderCareMatters.com – America’s National Directory of Elder Care / Senior Care Resources to help families plan for and deal with the issues of Aging.