How Does Elder Law Protect Seniors from Exploitative Guardians?
Elder Law Attorneys Help Keep Guardians in Check

How Does Elder Law Protect Seniors from Exploitative Guardians?

Orlando Sentinel’s recent article, “DeSantis, Florida lawmakers consider changes in troubled guardianship program,” reports that legislative leaders and officials of Governor Ron DeSantis’ administration met with judges, guardianship trade groups, state attorneys and people from the Elder Law section of the Florida Bar to talk about ways to protect seniors from exploitative or neglectful guardians.

“More must be done to enhance the structure of accountability for guardians to monitor compliance with established standards of practice and ensure that guardians are acting in the best interests of their wards,” Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom said. “The matter is complex, and the solution extends beyond the Department of Elder Affairs; families, local communities, and public officials must also work together to prevent all forms of exploitation to provide safety and security for all.” Elder law attorneys can be very helpful.

The recent news concerning guardian Rebecca Fierle, who investigators say was responsible for more than 400 wards and regularly signed “Do Not Resuscitate” orders for clients against their wishes, has rekindled interest among lawmakers for more control over Florida’s 550 registered guardians.

Senator Kathleen Passidomo and Representative Colleen Burton participated in the meeting and said some of the ideas being discussed include limiting the number of cases each guardian has and requiring a judge to approve a DNR order. Other ideas include increased standards for guardians and more thorough monitoring.

The lawmakers say there’s no need to increase the requirements to become a guardian. All that is required now is a 40-hour course and passing an exam. Passidomo said the issue isn’t a lack of competence, but the risk for abuse.

As a result, standards and monitoring of guardians must be increased. However, these ideas are merely being discussed, as lawmakers have yet to present a concrete plan.

Governor DeSantis will publish a budget request for the Department of Elder Affairs, which includes the Office of Public and Professional Guardians, which could include more funds for investigators to review complaints. The OPPG has only four employees. Prudom has taken control of the department since July, when he asked Carol Berkowitz, the agency’s executive director, to resign because of the Fierle case.

Learn how an elder law attorney can help with guardianships.

Reference: Orlando Sentinel (September 16, 2019) “DeSantis, Florida lawmakers consider changes in troubled guardianship program”

Must I Liquidate My IRA Before I Can Apply for Medicaid?
Medicaid Planning

Must I Liquidate My IRA Before I Can Apply for Medicaid?

Do the rules permit a nursing home to force a resident to liquidate an IRA and spend it down to pay for care, before they’re eligible for Medicaid? Likewise, can a nursing home make the spouse who’s not in a nursing home liquidate money in an IRA and spend it on care for the spouse?

The answer to these questions is based on the state in which you live, because Medicaid eligibility and spend-down rules vary by state. For example, in New Jersey, the answer to both of these questions is yes.

nj.com’s recent article “Can a nursing home make me spend down an IRA before applying to Medicaid?” says that there’s no protection in New Jersey for IRAs, when it comes to Medicaid. The same is true in Minnesota, Nevada, and Oregon. By contrast, in California and Florida, IRAs and other retirement plans are protected (non-countable).

While it’s not the nursing home that’s making this demand, it’s the Medicaid program itself that requires the spend-down. The nursing home is likely just doing what they’ve been told.

However, with the help of a Medicaid planning attorney, you can implement a strategy to preserve the spouse’s IRA up to a maximum of $126,420 for 2019. In addition, the nursing home resident’s IRA can, in some cases, be converted to a Medicaid annuity. Your Medicaid planning attorney will save you a significant amount of money, when compared to the legal fees. For the spouse remaining in the community, the attorney can make sure that she or he has sufficient money to live on.

While New Jersey is a very difficult state in which to qualify for Medicaid, there’s always the possibility that advance planning will shelter significant assets. Attorneys’ fees are typically paid from one of the assets that must be spent down to obtain Medicaid eligibility.

Whether Medicaid planning with an attorney is worth the expense, depends on how much could be saved or sheltered. If, for example, Medicaid planning will cost $10,000 but there is the opportunity to shelter $100,000 from long-term care expenses, it’s well worth doing for the $90,000 that would be protected. A $10,000 investment that returns $90,000 is a good investment, by anyone’s standards.

Talk to an estate planning or elder care attorney in your state, who can look at the specifics of your finances to see if you can benefit from their services.

Learn how an elder law attorney can help you plan for long-term care.

Reference: nj.com (September 18, 2019) “Can a nursing home make me spend down an IRA before applying to Medicaid?”

What Types of Long-Term Care is Available for Veterans?
VA Long-Term Care Benefits for Veterans

What Types of Long-Term Care is Available for Veterans?

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers some funding programs that can help offset the cost of some types of long-term care.

U.S. News & World Report’s recent article, “Veteran Benefits for Assisted Living,” explains that many senior living companies try to help many veterans maximize their long-term care benefits, which in some cases can significantly reduce the cost of senior living.

Note that the VA won’t pay for a veteran’s rent in an assisted living facility. However, VA benefits may pay for some of the extra services required, like nursing assistance, help with bathing and toileting, and possibly meals.

There are a variety of long-term benefits that may help, based on a vet’s specific service history and eligibility. The most commonly used benefits are the Aid & Attendance Pension. Another common benefit is the Survivor’s Pension for spouses of a deceased veteran with wartime service.

The VA’s Aid & Attendance and Housebound program is part of the pension benefits paid to veterans and survivors. The VA says these long-term care benefits are paid, in addition to monthly pension. A vet must satisfy one of the potential conditions, including:

  • Requiring the aid of another person to perform personal functions, like bathing, dressing, eating, toileting, or staying safe from hazards;
  • Being disabled and bedridden, above what would be thought of as recovery from a course of treatment, such as surgery;
  • Being a patient in a nursing home due to physical or mental incapacity; and
  • Having very poor eyesight (5/200 corrected visual acuity or less in both eyes) or a field of vision limited to five degrees or less.

Vets may qualify for these long-term care benefits, which are added to the standard monthly pension, when he or she is “substantially confined to your immediate premises because of permanent disability,” the VA says. Eligibility for the program is based on a case by case basis and involves a review by the VA.

It’s important to begin the application process early, rather than waiting for a crisis to occur. Ask an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney to help you and to discuss your long-term care options.

Learn more about VA pension planning.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (August 12, 2019) “Veteran Benefits for Assisted Living”