Category Archives: Chicago area

Seniors and Asset Protection Trusts for Long-Term Care

Do you have the right kind of trust?

Many of our clients come into our office with trusts. Most of the time these trusts are what are called revocable living trusts (RLTs). These types of trusts offer no asset protection even though seniors are often ready to conclude that they have protected their assets with such a trust.

Only certain types of irrevocable living trusts (IRTs) provide asset protection for long-term care. Irrevocable trusts, if drafted properly, may be considered a complete gift by the senior to the beneficiaries of the IRT, and thus out of the senior’s estate permanently. If, however, the senior has any access to principal in the IRT, then the IRT will not provide any asset protection from the costs of long-term care.

It is possible to allow seniors to maintain an income interest in the IRT, as opposed to an interest in the principal of the IRT, but this creates a more complicated audit process if and when the senior ever needs to look to the Medicaid program to pay for the costs of long-term care. About 66% of all US citizens will be looking to the Medicaid program if long-term care is needed.

Therefore, it is increasingly important to properly draft an IRT and also understand the time of the creation and funding of the IRT so that the creation of the trust will not interfere with a possible application for Medicaid to cover the costs of long-term care.

Seniors also have to keep in mind that there are significant issues in the drafting of an asset protection trust that deal with the following:

  • Income tax issues
  • Gift tax issues
  • Estate tax issues
  • Medicaid eligibility issues
  • Issues about the right beneficiaries, receiving the right assets, at the right time
  • Trustee issues
  • Using the IRT in a period of health for the senior versus a health crisis for the senior
  • Issues regarding selecting the right assets to place in the IRT

So you see, asset protection trusts are essential for many seniors, because they may be the only way assets can be protected, not only from the cost of long-term care but also the predators and creditors of their beneficiaries.

But the drafting of an IRT is much more complex than the drafting of an RLT and seniors need to make sure that they retain an elder law attorney to maximize the chances that their trust is the right trust for them at that point in their life.

The Risks of Using Non-Professional Home Caregivers

Many of our clients seek to stay home for as long as possible, without entering an assisted living facility. This is perfectly understandable, and we use our firm’s skills to allow them to accomplish this objective as long as they can remain safe in their home.

However, sometimes in order to remain at home seniors will look for in-home assistance. We see 3 circumstances in which this can be dangerous for the senior.

First, not enough care is being delivered. Occasionally, a senior may believe they only need someone to do a little shopping, cooking, and cleaning for them. However, this is not always accurate, and the senior may need a lot more care. The test we use to determine what level of care the senior really needs is to ask a question: “If the house is on fire at three in the morning, is the senior going to be able to get out?” An honest answer this question will determine whether or not the senior has enough help. Shopping and cleaning are one thing, but sometimes a senior needs 24/7 care but may be reluctant to pay for such a large amount of care.

The second problem we see is that oftentimes care is provided by third party caregiver but the caregiver is a fly-by-night – the caregiver does not come through an agency, is not insured for workers’ compensation or liability insurance, there is no training of the caregiver, there is no regulation of the caregiver, there is no written care agreement, and nobody withholds the caregivers taxes as is most often required by the IRS. For instance, if the caregiver injures themselves in your home while helping you, they can sue you, and quite often the caregiver is not trained to handle the appropriate lifting and moving that the senior requires. Moreover, Medicaid will doubt the authenticity of the expenditures to the fly-by-night caregiver because there is no written contract or agency, and without a withholding of taxes the tax liability for the un-withheld taxes can be shifted back by the IRS to the employer, who is the senior. It is for this reason we recommend all seniors hire their help through a qualified private duty care agency.

Finally, seniors will rely on their children to give them assistance. Sometimes, they will go so far as to have the child move in with them to deliver more care. Often the child will quit their job or reduce the amount of hours they work just to help the senior. Because of this negative financial impact on the child, the parent wants to pay the child for their time. There is nothing wrong with this but the problem that we see is that payments made to a child are viewed by Medicaid as gifts rather than compensation because there is no written contract between the parent and child. If Medicaid assumes these payments are a gift it creates an eligibility problem, or a penalty period. Another problem is that the child and the parent will co-mingle their expenses, so there are no clear records as to what expenditures by the parent were for the parent and what expenditures for the child were for the child. Again, the co-mingling of funds can make it look to Medicaid as if the parent was making gifts to the child rather than reimbursing the child for advances and costs the child has made on behalf of the parent.

In conclusion, you may stay home as long as you can, but you need to have the appropriate private duty home care agency with a written care contract in place. If you are relying on your children for this help you must keep meticulous records and withhold taxes when you retain someone to assist you, even if it is your child. Again the reason is that there is a fair assumption that the senior who is receiving care at home may ultimately need care in a facility somewhere down the road. Medicaid eligibility for long-term care in a nursing home is essential. Don’t disqualify yourself for Medicaid eligibility by being sloppy with home care giving. Remember Medicaid eligibility for long-term care nursing home can be worth the equivalent of $8,000.00 to $10,000.00 a month Chicagoland area. Preserve your qualification for these benefits.

General Medicaid Eligibility Requirements for Long-Term Care – Don’t Go Broke in the Nursing Home!

Applying for Medicaid for long-term care in a nursing home is a complicated matter. This article will limit itself to describing the basic eligibility requirements.

The eligibility requirements break down into four categories:

  1. Medical Eligibility

This requires a demonstration of meeting the determination of need score, also known as the DON score, which is applied to decide whether or not someone is ‘needy’ enough, from a care standpoint, to be eligible to qualify for long-term care in a nursing home. This assessment may be administered by Catholic charities, nursing homes, and many other organizations.

  1. Income Eligibility

The income eligibility requirement is to ensure that the amount of income that a person has does not exceed the private cost of care. For example, if the private cost of care in a nursing home is $8,000.00 a month and your income is also $8,000.00 a month, you have no need for Medicaid because your income will pay the monthly nursing home costs. Alas, for most middle-class Americans, there is not enough monthly income to meet an $8,000.00 a month nursing home bill, and therefore Medicaid eligibility is a necessity. Please note, income eligibility varies depending on whether or not someone is single or married.

  1. Resource Eligibility

Resource eligibility requires an examination of all of the assets that you have had over the last five years, but focuses on what there is at the time of the application. At that point, Medicaid will break assets down between exempt assets and countable assets. Exempt assets are those that applicants are allowed to keep, such as the $30.00 a month resource allowance, personal belongings, life insurance that has no cash surrender value, life insurance that has a face value of no more than $1,500.00, automobile, etc. On the other hand, countable assets are everything else that is considered to be nonexempt. However there is a limitation on the amount of countable assets one is allowed to have—that limit is $2,000.00 a month for a single individual, and $109,564.00 for a married couple, where one spouse is in a nursing home and the other spouse can continue to remain in the community. Please note, there are many exceptions to this general rule and it’s important that you find a law firm, like ours, that is well-versed in these exceptions in order to preserve as many assets as you can.

  1. Penalty Eligibility

Penalty ineligibility arises from what are called ‘uncompensated transfers’ by the Medicaid applicant. Uncompensated transfers are those where the individual made a transfer but did not receive a transfer of equal value in return. Gifts are the simplest example of an uncompensated transfer – the applicant gave something away but did not get something back in return. Also, there are penalties associated with uncompensated transfers, and the penalties are not imposed, or do not begin, until the applicant is in a nursing home or at least five years have passed since the uncompensated transfer. Medicaid audits all transactions during the prior five year period, thus there is a five-year audit that is quite substantial.

If all of this seems confusing, it’s because it is. Qualifying for Medicaid for long-term care in order to cover nursing home costs is very complex and requires the expertise of an elder law attorney who focusing focuses on Medicaid asset protection planning and eligibility.

Preparing and Filing the Medicaid Application

Installment 9 of 10

In Our Series:

“Long Term Care Costs for the Middle Class: 10 Steps to Asset Protection through Medicaid in Illinois, for Middle Class Seniors and Boomers”

 

Generally the Medicaid application process involves many steps generally described as follows:

  1. Projecting Medicaid eligibility by categorical reference,
  2. Establishing eligibility based on resources consisting of both countable assets and exempt assets,
  3. Determining income eligibility,
  4. Establishing the treatment of transfers and penalty periods that are result of the Medicaid applicant’s history, and
  5. Anticipating whatever estate recovery and lien rules there may be and then applying.

There are a myriad of steps that have to be taken to file a Medicaid application. Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) and Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) websites have a list of documentation that applicants are to gather in order to file a proper Medicaid application. For example, 60 months of statements for all accounts, copies of the applicant’s birth certificate, Social Security Card, Medicare Insurance Supplement Card, etc.

The gathering of documents is a long process, and even after the collection, Medicaid eligibility is not definite.

What can help ensure your Medicaid eligibility is making sure that the application is prepared by the right person at the right time.

Who should file the Medicaid application?

You can prepare your own Medicaid application. However, this is not advisable because there are many planning opportunities that you would overlook, and there are many items of information that you may incorrectly provide.

You can also have a nursing home prepare the Medicaid application for you, and some even do this for free. This is not advisable either, unless the family is unable to afford professional help. Although the nursing home employees will try to file the application to the best of their abilities, they will not be well versed in the Medicaid rules the way professionals in our firm are. Rather, a nursing home will fill out a Medicaid application by filling in biographical data, factual information, and attach financial statements and hope for the best. But, they will not do any asset protection planning for the Medicaid applicant because they are prohibited from doing so by law. Only lawyers can do asset protection planning for Medicaid.

Finally, that leaves utilizing the services of a firm that specializes in Medicaid asset protection for seniors who are going into long-term care. Utilization of a firm well versed in Medicaid will likely result in more savings for seniors in the future.

When to file the Medicaid application?

You can prepare a Medicaid application too soon, too late, or right on time.

Preparing a Medicaid application too soon will mean that you will be forced to spend down assets that could otherwise have been saved. It may also mean that you may be filing prior to an expiration of the prior penalty period that will penalize you in your eligibility status.

You can also file for Medicaid too late, which means that you will have lost Medicaid eligibility, you may be out of money, and the facility that you’re looking to either go into, or are already in, will be extremely perturbed that there is no source of payment for them, while they are delivering their worthwhile services.

That leaves the right time to apply for Medicaid application. When is that time? It depends on the facts of the case. If a client is out of money you need to file immediately, however if a client still has money you need to start planning for the Medicaid application filing once the protection of assets is accomplished, or during the asset protection process. This will vary from case to case.

As I indicated above, it is very easy to take the list of items that are required to be included in the Medicaid application, slap them together, and send the application in. If, however, you’re looking for Medicaid eligibility, and you are trying to protect assets at the same time, the process is much more complicated and merits the retention of a law firm that engages in Medicaid asset protection planning for seniors who are going into long-term care.

Please remember that these Medicaid applications are thoroughly audited by DHS, and sometimes the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for DHS, and they have high standards as to what must be included into the Medicaid application and how the information is submitted.

Seek professional help in order to file your Medicaid application.

The Post Application Medicaid Audit – Seeking Nursing Home Cost Savings

Installment 10 of 10

In Our Series:

“Long Term Care Costs for the Middle Class: 10 Steps to Asset Protection through Medicaid in Illinois, for Middle Class Seniors and Boomers”

In the previous section of our 10 part series, we talked about preparing and filing the Medicaid application. Once that application is filed, a new challenge will present itself.

One or two months after the submission of the application to the Department of Human Services (DHS), the approved representative for the Medicaid applicant will receive a call from either the DHS caseworker or the caseworker for the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), depending on where the application is being audited. The approved representative will then be asked to submit additional documentation that the caseworker feels needs to be expanded upon or completed.

Oftentimes the data requested is in the initial submissions in the application, but quite often the caseworker will ask for something new in the way of an explanation regarding something related to receipts, expenditures, asset liquidation, or other unexplained transactions.

It is extremely important that you comply with the requests made by the caseworker. The caseworker is allowed to give extensions of time of a limited amount in order to allow the approved representative to satisfy the request for additional documentation.

If you do not submit the requested documentation in the appropriate time allowed by the caseworker, it is very likely that the caseworker will deny the application, and then your only alternative is to appeal the application and try to win on appeal. Appeal is very costly and unnecessary when all the documentation is readily available to be submitted.

If the requested documentation is unavailable and is in the possession of a third-party, there is an administrative law that indicates that the state has the ability to request the information from the third-party, if the Medicaid applicant or their approved representative is unsuccessful in requesting this information from the third party. Nevertheless, with the substantial caseloads that the caseworkers have, it is not very often that they will make the request of the third party, rather they will continue to rely on the Medicaid applicant or their approved representative to obtain that documentation.

Like every other step we discussed in this 10 part series, Medicaid applications for long-term care are the most important governmental benefit that many seniors will rely on. Notwithstanding the importance of this benefit, the process of planning for the benefit and the preparation of the application itself requires a special skill that some Elder Law attorneys have. To think that individuals themselves, or representatives of hospitals, or nursing facilities can handle complex Medicaid applications is a misjudgment.

Start preparing for your long-term care at about age 55. Hopefully no application will be necessary at that time, but at least you can start the process of planning for the day when you may need to rely on the Medicaid benefit for long-term care services. The earlier you start, the more you are prepared and the more successful you will be in obtaining this very valuable benefit that saves many families the monthly nursing home cost of $7,000 to 10,000 per month.

Picking a Strategy – In Order to Protect Against the Costs of Long-Term Care

Installment 8 of 10

In Our Series:

“Long Term Care Costs for the Middle Class: 10 Steps to Asset Protection through Medicaid in Illinois, for Middle Class Seniors and Boomers”

Picking a strategy is not something one can easily do on their own. Selecting strategies in order to minimize the cost of long-term care requires an understanding of both the requirements of sophisticated estate planning and access to governmental benefits.

However in order to provide an overview of how strategies are selected, you must understand that strategies will vary depending on whether or not the senior is in one of the following phases:

  1. Preplanning Mode
  2. Wait-and-See Mode
  3. Crisis Mode

Preplanning can be done when there is no threat of a long-term care stay that is imminent.  Wait-and-see mode exists when there is a diagnosis but the senior will not be leaving home in the near term, and crisis mode is when the senior is in a nursing home or soon to be in a nursing home.

In preplanning, because time is on our side, we can engage in such strategies as looking for long-term care insurance to cover all, or part of, the cost of long-term care. Perhaps a long-term irrevocable trust that will put assets outside of the estate may be useful. Sometimes purchasing certain types of assets that are exempt non-countable is advisable.

In wait-and-see mode, because there is often a diagnosis, good powers of attorney for health and property and the preparation of wills and trusts that bypass the ill senior are essential. Also, changing the beneficiary designations on various assets so that they do not pass automatically on the death of the healthy spouse to the ill spouse is another consideration. It may be even possible, at this point, for the healthy spouse to obtain long-term care insurance.

In a crisis mode, it is essential that the ill senior be made eligible for Medicaid in order to cut the costs of long-term care. The only way a senior can be eligible is to be an asset level of no more than $2000, exempting non-countable assets like prepaid burial arrangements, personal effects, very small life insurance policies, and limited other resources. All other assets must be converted to a non-countable status. This is not always possible, so quite often it is necessary in crisis mode to transfer assets from the senior. You must understand that this will result in a period of ineligibility for the senior. However, with the assistance of competent elder law counsel who specializes in Medicaid asset protection planning, it is possible to transfer assets while at the same time retaining enough assets in a form that will allow the penalty period to be paid down and the transferred assets to be protected.

Selecting a strategy for asset protection planning in long-term care is not an easy matter, but with the proper planning our office does it all the time. It is essential that Medicaid rules be followed strictly. This sounds like a heavy task, and it is, but the alternative of not selecting a strategy to protect assets from long-term care costs results in the impoverishment of seniors at a time in their life when they should not be destitute for such simple quality of life items, like hearing aids, eyeglasses, podiatry care, medications and certain therapies not covered by Medicaid.

Plan ahead, it’s your quality of life that is at stake in your senior years.

Creating a Blueprint – For Asset Protection from Long Term Care

Installment 5 of 10

In Our Series:

“Long Term Care Costs for the Middle Class: 10 Steps to Asset Protection through Medicaid in Illinois, for Middle Class Seniors and Boomers”

 Why create a Blueprint (Medicaid asset protection letter) for your asset protection planning?

Just like in building a home, you don’t hire a contractor to start slapping bricks together until you have decided on the number of rooms, type of rooms, location of the rooms, etc.

Likewise, many are quick to suggest creating a will, trust, powers of attorney, perhaps an irrevocable trust, or an annuity, etc.

This can be very costly and foolish. How can you create a plan consisting of various documents that are supposed to protect you without a design in mind? Mindlessly putting together layers of documents accomplishes nothing except large bills.

Before our clients create any legal documents we suggest to them that they do a blueprint, which is in effect a Medicaid asset protection letter. In that letter we outline the following:

  1. Planning strategies that can be done in preplanning mode, or crisis mode, depending on where you are in the long term care journey.
  2. Planning strategies available for single individuals, or the community spouse when an ill spouse is going into a nursing home.
  3. An outline of the current status of the law as it relates to Medicaid eligibility.
  4. Finally, planning recommendations that are broken down into things that you must do immediately and things that you may be able to defer until later.

Below are some examples of our final recommendations in our Blueprint:

Immediate Action

  • Creation of powers of attorney for healthcare and powers of attorney for property. However, our powers of attorney have many more powers and are more substantial than the average power of attorney that most people have.
  • Creating wills and trusts that have special needs trusts built into them for a surviving spouse or a minor or adult disabled child. This takes advantage of certain relief that Congress intentionally placed into the Medicaid laws.

Deferred Actions

  • The purchase of a Medicaid compliant annuity or a Medicaid compliant promissory note.
  • Our office files a Medicaid application.

Conclusion

As you can see from the above, there are strategies that we rely on that result in the savings of a lot of assets for middle class seniors and boomers who are going into long-term care. However, because these measures are complicated, it makes sense to have a blueprint laid out describing them in detail using your asset and income numbers before actually engaging in these actions.

We want our clients to go into strategies and solutions with eyes wide open. The only way that can be accomplished in most cases is to create blueprint that lays out all of the Medicaid asset protection planning strategies in the form of a letter that the client can study, and ask questions about. We usually resolve all of the questions the client may have at our subsequent “Design Meeting.”

Make sure you look before you leap.

Connecting with your loved one – use tools from the past!

How can I find out what hobbies and interests my loved one with Alzheimer’s had in the past, especially in his growing-up years?

Relatives are always a great source of information though not necessarily the information anyone wants them to reveal. If you have yearbooks or picture albums they will often indicate some of their interests. Old papers will also reveal interests, resumes used to list hobbies and interests. Look at wall plaques and awards and then Google the organizations to see if they reveal any history that would indicate interest. I am assuming that the reason you want the history is to find things that make it easier and more useful to interact when visiting. It is so commendable that you are interested and it shows great compassion and concern for your loved one. If you don’t feel you are able to acquire enough information then that too can be alright. Often, people especially in the early and milder stages are very reluctant to do the things they once did quite well. It is assumed that they are fearful that they will not be able to do it well and they would just rather not do anything. However, this too passes and then they will become quite willing to try things they never would have tried, it is one of the few advantages of illness progression. In the meantime, while you are researching you do already know the things your loved one and you enjoy together and the focus should be on enjoying and together. Perhaps one of you has a favorite food or a favorite place or a favorite book or even a favorite subject that you can go over again and again. Variety may seem important to you but “the same old thing” is very comforting to them. Even the ability to complain about “the same old thing” often offers them reassurance that they “know what is going on.” I often ask people if they ever complain about their work or their families and everyone tends to smile at the question. The important part is to show how much you care, increase the hugs and touch and even if you never hugged or touched, try it, you will be amazed at how much better it makes you both feel. I hope in some way this will assist you in finding the information you need, you sound like a wonderful person to have as a “loved one.”