08/10/2011 04:43:00 PM EST
Medicaid Planning: Doing it Right
Short of Seal Team 6 and emergency
room docs, most of us don't make our best decisions under extreme
pressure. We're more likely to grab at whatever solution seems handy.
This may explain the unfortunate situation Orlando resident Janet Lentz,
76, found herself in. As reported in the July 30 Orlando Sentinel, Lentz had
to place her husband with Alzheimer's Disease in a nursing facility
when he became increasingly violent. This trauma, plus her fear of
losing all her retirement savings, led Lentz to turn to "Medicaid
Benefits Experts," a company operated by Linda Vasquez and her husband.
That was a disastrous
decision. "Medicaid Benefits Experts" convinced Lentz that Medicaid law
required her to relinquish her credit cards and and place the bulk of
her assets in a pooled trust.. Nor was she the only victim. Linda
Balash, overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for her ill father
and mother, also turned to Vasquez for help. She too was advised to put
her parents' money in a pooled trust. What Vasquez did not tell her
clients that when the Medicaid benefits recipient dies, any funds left
in such a trust must be used to repay Medicaid.
There's more sordid detail to
this story, and many more stories of this nature, but I don't have to
elaborate. You see the point. You don't let just anyone do brain surgery
on you, you don't buy a half-price parachute, and you shouldn't entrust
anyone but an experienced Elder Law Attorney when you want to preserve assets and secure long-term care Medicaid benefits.
Medicaid is considered one of the most complex areas of the law. To
further complicate things, each state has its own requirements. What
works for your aunt in Wisconsin will probably not work in West Palm
So how do you find a qualified
Elder Law Attorney who truly knows his/her stuff when it comes to
Medicaid benefts? Here are several tips, some obvious, some not so much.
- Find out if the attorney is a member in good standing of your state's Bar. (Florida Bar: http://www.flabar.org/ )
- Many states, including Florida,
certify attorneys in the field of elder law. The attorney must have
sufficient experience, pass written exams and keep up with developments
in the field to secure and maintain certification.
- Check out the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, http://www.naela.org/.
This organization confers national certification on Elder Law Attorneys
who possess sufficient experience, pass national exams and keep up with
- You get what you pay for! Helping
someone to qualify for Medicaid benefits is labor-intensive. It's not
just filling out an application. Your Elder Law Attorney will need to
study the applicant's and spouse's finances and family situation in
detail. A gifting program may be designed, or other legal strategies may
be used that can help hasten eligibility. This is a time consuming,
detailed process. If someone tells you they can do it on the cheap, they
are probably not doing it right. If your case is mismanaged and
benefits are denied, more than likely you'll lose more than you hired
someone fully qualified from the start.
- Do not assume your family or
general practice attorney is up to the task. Remember, Medicaid is
extraodinarily complicated. Furthermore, as Florida and other states
grapple with budget issues, the rules and eligibility standards
are constantly revised. It's difficult even for someone in the field to
keep up with it all. That's probably why a significant portion of my
practice is actually correcting the messes that other people have made
of their clients' Medicaid planning!
- Martindale Hubbell is the national
attorney rating organization and allows you to research every
attorney's rating at their site, http://www.martindale.com/. The best rating is AV, signifying the highest level of professional expertise and ethical conduct.
- Lastly, the National Academy of
Elder Law Attorneys suggests you ask these questions before you even
make an appointment with an Elder Law Attorney:
- How long has the attorney
been in practice?
- Does his/her practice focus on a particular area of law?
- How long has he/she focused on the particular area of law?
- What percentage of his/her practice is devoted to Elder Law?
- Is there a fee for the first consultation with the attorney, and if so, how much is it?
- Given the nature of your case, what specific information/documentation should you bring to the initial consultation?
Good luck. And caveat emptor.
Attorney Joseph S. Karp is a
Florida Bar Certified and Nationally Certified Elder Law Attorney focusing on
Elder Law, Probate, Estate Planning, Asset Protection, Special Needs Planning
and Estate Litigation. He is AV rated by Martindale Hubbell. Mr. Karp is the
founder of The Karp Law Firm, a South Florida law firm with offices in Palm
Beach Gardens, Boynton Beach and St. Lucie, Florida. Mr. Karp was named a
2011 SuperLawyer by SuperLawyer Magazine and a member of the 2011
Florida Legal Elite by Florida Trend Magazine. He is admitted to
practice law in New York as well as Florida. Visit Mr. Karp's Florida Elder Law and Estate Planning
. . . .
Explore the LEXIS.com Estates, Gifts & Trusts and Elder Law resources
Discover the features and benefits of LexisNexis® Tax Center
For more information about LexisNexis products and
solutions connect with us through our corporate