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Why is it necessary to correct your estate plan on the eldercare journey?
Because most people’s estate plans plan for death. Most attorneys will draft these plans well and accomplish the goals of asset transferring upon death. However when you’re on the eldercare journey, and death is not imminent but you face long-term care and the costs of $5,000 to $15,000 a month (in a facility located in Chicago and the surrounding Chicago suburbs and Chicago metropolitan area in general), estate planning documents that serve you well at death may not serve you so well when the healthy spouse may unexpectedly may die before an ill spouse who is residing in an Illinois nursing facility.
So the question remains how do we correct your estate planning documents when you begin the eldercare journey?
First we make sure that upon death assets do not go directly from the predeceasing spouse to the surviving spouse. Rather, upon death, assets are transferred from the predeceasing spouse to supplemental needs trust (SNT) for the benefit of the surviving spouse. Please note that the supplemental needs trusts for spouses must be found in the will of the predeceasing spouse. So instead of doing pour- over wills where assets controlled by the will pour -over to the trust, we do the reverse: assets controlled in the trust pour – back to the will, where the supplemental needs trust are found for the benefit of the surviving spouse.
Why is it advisable to do this as couples age?
Because if at the time of the death of the predeceasing spouse, the surviving spouse finds themselves either in a long-term care facility or soon to enter a long-term care facility, we are not enriching the surviving spouse directly and causing more potential costly spenddown. Rather, we are leaving assets in a supplemental needs trust for the surviving spouse so the surviving spouse can apply for governmental benefits to cover the devastating cost of long-term care ( $5000 to $15,000 per month in Chicago and the Chicagoland metropolitan area and in other parts of Illinois as well), while at the same time having the benefit of the assets and the inheritance left by the predeceasing spouse to be found in supplemental needs trusts left for their benefit.
Don’t fall into two traps of erroneous thinking!
First, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if one spouse becomes ill, the couple can leave assets directly to the children. This is a formula for disaster because it may create immediate ineligibility for any governmental benefits related to long-term care under the Medicaid rules. Medicaid will not permit you to do this.
Second, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if one spouse becomes ill, we must completely disinherit that spouse or watch a complete spend-down without any assets being left for the surviving spouse. That is not true either. The reason is spouses are allowed to leave assets for each other in supplemental needs trusts (SNTs) as described above. Thus, there is no need to completely disinherit your loved one, you can leave them assets (in an SNT) that will improve the quality of their life if they need institutional care but at the same time allow them to remain eligible and qualify financially for governmental benefits because the assets that you left for them are not left directly in their ownership, but rather in a special needs trusts that I described above, which is perfectly permissible under the Medicaid rules.
It is not complicated. It’s just different than what you have most likely done with your “traditional” estate planning in the past. As we start approaching our senior years at around age 60-65, in addition to looking into Social Security and Medicare and other related topics for seniors, couples that are concerned about the devastating cost of long-term care you should consider correcting their estate documents so that assets are not left directly from one spouse to the other, but rather, transferred to supplemental needs trusts as described above. This type of planning can save assets by properly relying on rules left for the benefit of aging spouses by Congress in its legislation of the current Medicaid laws that have provisions intended specifically to help avoid this type of spousal impoverishment.
Take advantage of these generous Medicaid provisions and correct your estate plan documents as you begin the eldercare journey around age 60 to 65. Note: If there is a diagnosis of illness prior to age 60 sometimes it is prudent to do this type of planning even earlier.
And once again, this is not the kind of drafting that one will try on their own, rather you need to seek elder law counsel to draft these documents because these documents will be closely scrutinized by governmental agencies.
Best to you and your loved ones,
Anthony B. Ferraro
PS: in the month of May 2019 we have presented at least six times to various audiences on the issues pertaining to Elder law and Elder care. Please contact our offices if you would like to become aware of future speaking engagements that you may wish to attend.
Also please be aware that it is our practice that before clients retain us that we offer them a free 15 minute telephone consultation before they even have to come into our office. If this will help you or one of your loved ones please feel free to take advantage of it by calling our offices.