Category Archives: Guardianships

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.

Guardianship – The Last Resort

Installment 3 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”

Many people ask, “What is guardianship in the state of Illinois?” Simply put, guardianship is the process of applying to a court to be able to legally assist an individual over the age of 18, if the person has a disability. A disabled person, for purposes of guardianship laws, is someone who cannot make basic life decisions or manage their own property or money.

Due to the participation of the court system and the attorneys’ fees involved, this process is an expensive proposition and should be avoided at all costs, if possible. Guardianship is avoided by using other methods of surrogate decision making for disabled individuals such as powers of attorney, trusts, the Health Care Surrogate Act, and other related surrogate roles. Unfortunately, many people wait too long and do not have the authority to execute powers of attorney, trusts, etc. because they are incapacitated. In such cases, we are grateful that the guardianship court exists.

Guardianship is achieved to the following general steps:

  • Filing of a petition for appointment of a guardian to be determined at a court hearing
  • Issuance of service of summons;
  • Appointment of a guardian and guardian ad litem, an unrelated individual who will be the eyes and ears of the judge in understanding the circumstances;
  • Obtaining the necessary physician’s report establishing that the individual does not have decision-making authority, and;
  • Giving notice to all spouses, children, siblings and agents under power of attorney so that they can concur or object with the guardianship itself.

The benefits of guardianship are that the day-to-day management of financial affairs can be handled by the guardian of the estate, and the day-to-day management of health matters can be accomplished by the guardian of the person. Sometimes the same individual is the guardian of both the estate and the person and sometimes different persons are appointed to these roles because of their different skill sets.

Guardianship can consist of both:

  • Uncontested guardianships: when everybody agrees with the process of the person selected, or
  • Contested guardianships: when the Ward (the person that is the subject matter of the guardianship process) or someone known to the Ward may object to the guardianship, in which case the guardianship process becomes what is called a contested guardianship (which results in expensive litigation)

The guardianship process is a last resort when people have not taken time to do the appropriate estate planning. I recommend that people get powers of attorney for property and powers of attorney for healthcare in place at age 18, in order to avoid guardianship in the event they become incapacitated. Remember, at age 18, you are an emancipated adult and you can make decisions for yourself and nobody else can make decisions for you, unless you authorize them to do so. It is for this reason we recommend powers of attorney whenever we can.

Don’t allow your personal and health matters to fall into guardianship. We are grateful that guardianship exists for tragic situations where proper planning has not taken place. But, now that you know that you can avoid guardianship through proper estate planning, prudence would indicate that you take the steps to do such planning.

When to Contact a Physician

Installment 2 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 this part of our 10 installment series I would like to discuss when it is necessary to invoke the services of a physician in the estate planning, long-term care planning and eldercare journey.

Obviously if there are immediate health concerns a physician should be contacted straightaway, before legal counsel is sought.

However, there are circumstances where, in the process of delivering not only medical services, but also in the process of offering legal services, that we discover that the involvement of a physician is necessary. This generally arises in cases where clients come in to execute powers of attorney for property and powers of attorney for healthcare. In cases such as this, generally speaking,  most clients will be able to walk into my office, introduce themselves to me explain to me what they wish to request from our law firm regarding services and engage us for those services.

However there are instances in dealing with aging seniors and disabled adults where it becomes clear to me, as a lawyer, that I cannot be sure that the prospective client has full mental capacity. Sometimes, diminished capacity manifests itself by being unable to express your thoughts, comprehend thoughts that are presented, or formulate judgments based on facts that are presented.

As a lawyer, it is my duty to suggest that the client be evaluated to determine the level of their capacity when I suspect that a potential client may not have the ability to comprehend what I am recommending to them.

This is unfortunate, because sometimes the physician will give an opinion that indicates that the potential client no longer has the ability to make sound decisions or comprehend matters set before them. When that happens, I, as a lawyer, cannot present a document, such as powers of attorney, to such a client for signature, because I may be asking them to sign something they do not understand— which is prohibited under the professional rules of conduct for lawyers.

The client’s inability to sign these documents will often result in the failure to do further planning and may create the need to seek a guardianship through the court process so somebody can act as a surrogate decision-maker for this person who has now lost their cognitive capacity.

Thus, it is my recommendation that you seek counsel as early as you can in your life to obtain and put in place documents that will reflect your choice of surrogate decision-maker so that if you can no longer make decisions for yourself, your choice will prevail. Unfortunately, many of our clients do not come into our office and request powers of attorney and other advanced directives, so that later on they are left to request the court system to assist them in surrogate decision matters through a full-blown guardianship proceeding. This is very expensive, time-consuming and impersonal.

Conclusion

Don’t leave your decision-making authority to the court system unless it’s an absolute last resort, because this is a very expensive and impersonal process. You are better off putting in place powers of attorney for healthcare, powers of attorney for property and other advanced directives that will allow the person you choose to seamlessly proceed to make decisions for you pursuant to the guidelines you have set forth.

Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Coming up in our future blogs in this series:

  1. Revise Powers of Attorney – See Previous Article
  2. Contact a Physician – See Above
  3. Seek Guardianship
  4. Revise Old Wills and Trusts
  5. Create a Blueprint
  6. Inventory Assets
  7. Seek Placement in a Facility
  8. Select a Strategy
  9. Prepare and File the Medicaid Application
  10. Prepare for the Post Application Audit

Powers of Attorney – Your “Lifeblood” (Financially and Legally Speaking)

Installment 1 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”

Problem: We had six families of aging seniors come in to our office this week all of which had powers of attorney that amounted to nothing more than a simple document that would be much more appropriate for clients who are 25 years old. This is a devastating problem that I can correct if the aging Senior has the requisite mental capacity to execute new documents. If, however, the Senior has diminished capacity, then we are left with these almost worthless powers of attorney that do not permit any repositioning of assets in order to properly plan for long-term care, and a path to Medicaid to fund such long-term care.

Solution: Revise Any Powers of Attorney and Healthcare That You Currently Have, and While You Can.

Powers of Attorney for Property:  Most of the powers of attorney that we see in our office, while valid, are inadequate to allow the necessary repositioning and reclassification of assets to gain eligibility to Medicaid, VA, and other governmental benefits.

Your power of attorney for property must permit, at a minimum, the following powers:  the transfer of assets to family members and nonfamily members, with or without compensation being received in exchange; the transfer of the personal residence; the creation, funding, and revision of revocable and irrevocable trusts; the authority to apply for various governmental benefits, including Medicare, Medicaid, VA benefits and other benefits; and the ability to change beneficiary designations on various assets.

This is only a small list of must-haves in your power of attorney for property.  To give you an idea of the importance of this, we attach an additional five pages of these types of powers so that every client we have has a full toolbox of resources available to carry them through their maturing years and senior years. These tools are most often needed in the senior years when long-term care planning is a necessity so as to avoid having our seniors rendered penniless due to the devastating costs of long-term care.

Be careful about selecting an effective date for your power of attorney. Remember you can sign a power of attorney today that either (1) takes effect today, or (2) takes effect upon a future event, such as when your doctor determines you are unable to make financial decisions for yourself.  The approach you select will depend on your particular circumstances and your family composition. Remember, anyone can create a document, but correct elder law counseling about that document will help you achieve the best results. Contact your Chicago elder law attorney or Illinois elder law attorney today to discuss this.

Powers of Attorney for Healthcare:  In January 2015, the State of Illinois legislature enacted a new power of attorney for healthcare.  However, some bar associations have found this version of the power of attorney to be ineffective in five or six important areas. As of this moment, these defects are being cured through pending legislation in the Illinois General assembly. The healthcare power of attorney is your authority to express your wishes about your care and your end-of-life wishes. Please keep your eyes peeled to this blog for an update on the changes that are forthcoming to make this important document better in the future.

Summary:

I hope this gives you a simplistic view about the importance of powers of attorney in the state of Illinois.  These documents are critical to enable your agent to use Medicaid asset protection strategies to qualify you for Illinois Medicaid should you need institutionalized care.

Remember, most of our clients are trying to preserve some assets for a “rainy day fund” in their senior years, and they are entitled to do so as a matter of exercising their civil rights so long as they do this legally and ethically.

This planning is not done by wealthy individuals, as those persons can pay their way through any costs associated with long-term care. Rather, this planning is best done by middle class individuals who have worked to accumulate some savings, only to find that the cost of long-term care will make their life’s work disappear in no time.

Our goal, as asset protection attorneys for the middle class, is to allow seniors to gain access to the Medicaid program, to use some of their own assets for their cost of long-term care, but also to enable them to preserve some of their assets, so that in their senior years, after a lifetime of work, they are entitled to some dignity and some resources to make a life in a nursing home more livable.

Coming up in our future blogs in this series:

  1. Revise Powers of Attorney – See Above
  2. Contact a Physician
  3. Seek Guardianship
  4. Revise Old Wills and Trusts
  5. Create a Blueprint
  6. Inventory Assets
  7. Seek Placement in a Facility
  8. Select a Strategy
  9. Prepare and File the Medicaid Application
  10. Prepare for the Post Application Audit

 

 

 

 

What is the difference between guardianship and power of attorney? | Chicago Elder Law Attorney Anthony B. Ferraro

Guardianship is a legal relationship where a court gives someone (the guardian) the power to make personal decisions for another (the ward). The proceedings are started by a family member or friend who initiates a petition in the circuit court in the county where the individual resides. A licensed physician must conduct a medical examination in order to establish the individual’s condition. It is the court of law that then determines whether the individual is able to meet the essential requirements for his or her health and safety, or not. If the individual can’t, the court appoints a guardian to make personal decisions for that person. The guardian — unless limited by the court — has the same rights, powers and duties over his ward as parents do over their minor children. The guardian must report to the court annually.

A power of attorney is a legal document where one person (the principal) designates another person (the agent) to act on his or her behalf, either for financial or healthcare decisions.

A conservatorship is a legal relationship whereby a court gives a person (the conservator) the power to make financial decisions for another (the protectee). Court proceedings here are very similar to those of a guardianship, except the court of law determines whether an individual lacks the capacity to manage his or her financial affairs.

If this is the case, the court appoints a conservator to make financial decisions for the person. Often, the court will appoint the same person to act as guardian and conservator for the individual. Just as with the guardianship, the conservator must report to the court annually.

Powers of attorney for healthcare and property/financial decisions are relatively inexpensive and a private way to determine which family member or friend will have the legal authority to carry out your wishes if you can no longer speak or act for yourself. You must consider that if you do not have powers of attorney, or if the papers for one are not drafted properly, your loved ones may later face court proceedings and court supervised guardianship and/or conservatorship, if something happens to you.

A court proceeding is not only costly, but the person who ultimately is appointed as your guardian/conservator might not be someone whom you would have chosen for these sensitive decisions.

Do I need a lawyer to draft a durable power of attorney for property/financial decisions? | Chicago Long-Term Care Planning Attorney Anthony B. Ferraro

A durable general power of attorney for property/financial decisions allows a person to plan for care and control of property in the event he or she becomes incapacitated. It is a legal document where an individual (the principal) authorizes another (the agent) to act on the former’s behalf for financial decisions.

Powers of attorney are the single most important documents to put in place so a family member or trusted friend will have the legal authority to carry out your wishes if you can no longer speak or act for yourself. If something happens where you become unable to make decisions and you don’t have a power of attorney, your family might later get tied up with court proceedings and court supervised guardianship and/or conservatorship.

You don’t necessarily need a lawyer to draft the powers of attorney, but you have to be careful. Without the proper, precise wording, your agent might not be able to work with some of the issues important to you.

While some people buy a “form document” power of attorney from an office supply store or download one from the Internet, these documents might not address certain things. They can, however, legally authorize someone to act on another’s behalf. But, for example, the law states that your agent cannot handle certain matters unless specific working in the document empowers him or her to do so. Things that are covered in this manner include the power to make gifts on your behalf and the power to remove and/or add assets to a trust.  Laws vary from state to state, so check to see if a form document addresses key issues you want covered.

All of these powers can be vital in planning for and around Alzheimer’s care. That’s why it’s so important to complete documents for them now, while your loved one still has the mental capacity to do so. Otherwise, it could quickly become too late, as mental and cognitive abilities decline.