Aug 10, 2011

Medicaid Planning: Doing it Right

Short of Seal Team 6 and emergency room docs, most of us don't make our best decisions under extreme pressure. We're more likely to grab at whatever solution seems handy. This may explain the unfortunate situation Orlando resident Janet Lentz, 76, found herself in. As reported in the July 30 Orlando Sentinel, Lentz had to place her husband with Alzheimer's Disease in a nursing facility when he became increasingly violent. This trauma, plus her fear of losing all her retirement savings, led Lentz to turn to  "Medicaid Benefits Experts," a company operated by Linda Vasquez and her husband. 

That was a disastrous decision. "Medicaid Benefits Experts" convinced Lentz that Medicaid law required her to relinquish her credit cards and and place the bulk of her assets in a pooled trust.. Nor was she the only victim. Linda Balash, overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for her ill father and mother, also turned to Vasquez for help. She too was advised to put her parents' money in a pooled trust. What Vasquez did not tell her clients that when the Medicaid benefits recipient dies, any funds left in such a trust must be used to repay Medicaid.

There's more sordid detail to this story, and many more stories of this nature, but I don't have to elaborate. You see the point. You don't let just anyone do brain surgery on you, you don't buy a half-price parachute, and you shouldn't entrust anyone but an experienced Elder Law Attorney when you want to preserve assets and secure long-term care Medicaid benefits.

Medicaid is considered one of the most complex areas of the law. To further complicate things, each state has its own requirements. What works for your aunt in Wisconsin will probably not work in West Palm Beach.

So how do you find a qualified Elder Law Attorney who truly knows his/her stuff when it comes to Medicaid benefts? Here are several tips, some obvious, some not so much.

  1. Find out if the attorney is a member in good standing of your state's Bar. (Florida Bar: )
  2. Many states, including Florida, certify attorneys in the field of elder law. The attorney must have sufficient experience, pass written exams and keep up with developments in the field to secure and maintain certification.
  3. Check out the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, This organization confers national certification on Elder Law Attorneys who possess sufficient experience, pass national exams and keep up with continuing education.
  4. You get what you pay for! Helping someone to qualify for Medicaid benefits is labor-intensive. It's not just filling out an application. Your Elder Law Attorney will need to study the applicant's and spouse's finances and family situation in detail. A gifting program may be designed, or other legal strategies may be used that can help hasten eligibility. This is a time consuming, detailed process. If someone tells you they can do it on the cheap, they are probably not doing it right. If your case is mismanaged and benefits are denied, more than likely you'll lose more than you hired someone fully qualified from the start.
  5. Do not assume your family or general practice attorney is up to the task. Remember, Medicaid is extraodinarily complicated. Furthermore, as Florida and other states grapple with budget issues, the rules and eligibility standards are constantly revised. It's difficult even for someone in the field to keep up with it all. That's probably why a significant portion of my practice is actually correcting the messes that other people have made of their clients' Medicaid planning!
  6. Martindale Hubbell is the national attorney rating organization and allows you to research every attorney's rating at their site, The best rating is AV, signifying the highest level of professional expertise and ethical conduct.
  7. Lastly, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys suggests you ask these questions before you even make an appointment with an Elder Law Attorney:How long has the attorney been in practice?
  • Does his/her practice focus on a particular area of law?
  • How long has he/she focused on the particular area of law?
  • What percentage of his/her practice is devoted to Elder Law?
  • Is there a fee for the first consultation with the attorney, and if so, how much is it?
  • Given the nature of your case, what specific information/documentation should you bring to the initial consultation?
Good luck. And caveat emptor.

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