“Elder Law” – what does that mean? It is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot and one that means different things to different people. In short, it is something that covers many different areas that affect an older or disabled person.
Our Elder Law Services can include:
• Estate planning (wills, trusts, medical directives, and general powers of attorney)
• Guardianship & Conservatorship
• Resources available to finance the cost of medical and personal care
• Income assistance benefits
• Working within the complex long-term care structures, such as home health care, nursing home care, respite and hospice care.
A key component of Elder Law is a well-drafted, foundational estate plan. Such an estate plan can provide direction and options when planning for the other potential issues. You can discover more about estate planning here.
To many, “Elder Law” means “Medicaid”.
As you can see from the list above, Elder Law goes well beyond just Medicaid planning and qualification. Yet many times, Medicaid planning and qualification is what leads someone to an elder law attorney.
Below is just a brief overview of what Medicaid is (and what it is not). You will find many different approaches and planning philosophies out there when it comes to Medicaid and Medicaid planning. Our approach is one of making the most of what you have and meeting your goals to the greatest extent possible. Many times, this means that if you can afford to pay for your own care, you should want to (if for no other reason than you tend to have more choices when you do). But, it can also mean re-structuring your assets (what they are and how they are owned) and putting legal planning in place to make sure you can qualify for Medicaid without giving up everything you own.
Medicaid is a big umbrella, generally designed to make sure that essential healthcare services are available to people without the financial resources to get them. It is NOT Medicare, although many people confuse it with Medicare. Medicare is a government program providing certain healthcare coverage to all people over 65 years old (as well as certain younger people with disabilities). When most people think of Medicaid, they are thinking of what many refer to as skilled nursing Medicaid. This encompasses three main programs: Medicaid assistance to persons in Medicaid-certified nursing homes, MI Choice Waiver Program (Waiver), and the Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). The last two provide Medicaid assistance to people who need long-term care services and meet the nursing home level-of-care requirement, but who elect to receive that care in the community (e.g., not in a nursing home).
A common misconception about Medicaid is that you must put yourself into poverty to qualify – that you have to spend everything you own until almost nothing is left. It is very true that there are income and asset limits on qualifying for Medicaid. For 2018, the asset limit for a single individual is $2,000 in countable assets, and for a couple is $123,600 in countable assets. The numbers vary on the income side, depending on the program for which you are trying to qualify. The key thing to remember on asset limits is that the number is based on “countable” assets. Not all assets are “countable”. This is a key part of Medicaid planning.
So, what is a countable asset?
Quite simply, it is an asset that the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will count when adding up the value of your assets. Or, said another way, it is all assets of any kind that are not excluded assets (e.g., non-countable assets). Very generally speaking, the only non-countable assets are: your homestead, household and personal goods, a vehicle, a very small amount of life insurance (this one requires a very detailed review of the policy itself), and certain types of burial and funeral arrangements (not all such arrangements are excluded).