With the American population aging at a rapid rate, elder care is becoming an increasingly important issue for society at large. Even so, much of the political conversation on elder law continues to focus on issues related to Social Security and Medicare solvency, rather than the need to ensure that the nation’s vulnerable elderly population is adequately cared for. Many younger citizens simply assume that a combination of government programs and their parents’ own financial planning efforts will guarantee that their parents have everything they need in their sunset years. Sadly, that is simply not the case.
In many cases, parents never make enough during their lifetimes to secure their retirement or long-term care needs. In other instances, financial disruptions or disabilities later in life quickly sap whatever resources they had set aside. Sometimes, those elderly parents had properly prepared for retirement, but now find themselves unable to adequately manage their own affairs. In those latter cases especially, family members have legitimate questions about elder-related legal issues, and are concerned about protecting their parents’ interests. With that in mind, here are 10 things you most likely didn’t know about elder law.
- Elder law can be very complex for laypeople. Even seemingly simple situations can become complicated in rapid fashion, and complications often lead to unforeseen expense. To simplify things and ensure that you and your older loved ones are able to navigate the intricacies of this area of law, it is generally wise to consult with an attorney who practices elder law.
- State laws tend to change on a frequent basis, especially in the way in which they address issues surrounding health care. Medicaid, for example, is a federal program that is dealt with and managed by the states. That means that different states can have dramatically different rules governing eligibility and benefits. It takes a professional to keep up with these differences and the many changes that occur each year.
- Medicare and Medicaid are very different programs. While Medicare plays an important role in providing the elderly with health insurance – a benefit they paid for throughout their lives, it does not pay for ongoing custodial care that many seniors find themselves needing later in life. For that assistance, many turn to Medicaid – a needs-based supplemental program that does cover such needs.
- Older Americans who own companies or other assets may find that Medicaid might count those assets during their needs assessment process. An irrevocable trust could be useful in holding the assets and preventing Medicaid from counting them as wealth. For most individuals, this can be pretty complex territory, so an attorney’s advice is a virtual necessity.
- In cases where an older person has an agent who has been provided medical power of attorney, that proxy has no duty to anyone other than her charge. If you’re the child of a senior who’s made such legal arrangements, you have no legal power over that medical proxy’s decisions, which may limit your ability to care for your elderly parent or participate in decisions about his or her health.
- Medicaid can seek reimbursement from a loved one’s estate when they pass away. Depending on the state laws in effect in your area, that means that any assets in that estate could be subject to seizure to repay the program for medical expenses or other costs associated with caring for your loved one.
- If you have an aging parent in your home rather than in a nursing home, that parent will still be eligible for Medicaid as long as he or she has no more than $2,000 in countable assets. Any income or assets owned by others in the home are not counted for purposes of eligibility. That’s great news for children of elderly parents who might otherwise struggle to manage the costs associated with long-term care in a nursing home facility.
- Online power of attorney forms and similar documents are becoming increasingly popular these days, and many elderly people and their families are relying on them instead of seeking advice and assistance from competent attorneys. That is almost always a bad idea. Elder law is very complicated, and few forms can prove equal to the task of properly covering every issue related to any given case. It is always wise to consult with a lawyer and ensure that the right documents are created to fit your family’s unique needs.
- If you have a senior in a nursing home and Medicaid is still pending approval, be wary of any efforts by the care facility to seek payment from you. Sometimes, people make these payments on the assumption that Medicaid will repay them since the program often pays medical bills from the date of application rather than the date of approval. The problem is that the program will not pay bills that have already been paid by private parties. If the nursing home must be paid now, talk to them about structuring it as a loan rather than a payment.
- Elder abuse is a widespread problem across the nation. To protect your loved one, you should be aware of the law in your jurisdiction. The good news is that every state in the country has some form of elder protection laws on the books, so you always have recourse if you or your loved ones are being mistreated in a care facility or any other setting.
The fact is that estate planning is just part of the process necessary for ensuring that our seniors have everything they need for an enjoyable and well-managed retirement. There are a whole host of issues related to elder law that can burden seniors and their families with unexpected challenges and legal complications. The good news is that Robert Kulas Attorneys at Law can provide elderly people and their families with the assistance they need to ensure that elder laws work in their favor. Contact us today to find out how we can help you with your legal concerns.