Providing Elder Law Services For More Than 30 Years
Roberta will work with you and your family before a medical crisis, finding the resources to enable you to continue living in your home, and planning to protect your home and your life savings from future nursing home costs. When decisions must be made quickly in cases of medical crises, you can count on our firm to jump in and help.
To enable you to continue living in your home, she will assist you in applying for a reverse mortgage if your income is not sufficient to pay your living expenses. If you need in-home care, she will assist you in obtaining these services and applying for benefits through your local elder services agency and the MassHealth and Veterans Aid and Attendance programs. These programs will provide funds to pay for home health aides and other in-home care services, as well as adult day care and respite care programs.
How We Can Help
Roberta works with a network of accountants, financial advisers, social workers, geriatric case managers, and administrators of elder care agencies, assisted living facilities and nursing homes, to help you and your family deal with the practical problems of growing older. When appropriate, she will provide the following legal services:
- Drafting wills, powers of attorney, health care proxies and living wills
- Deeding your home to your children with a reserved life estate
- Establishing and funding a revocable trust to avoid probate
- Establishing and funding an Irrevocable trust to protect your home and life savings
- Drafting a prenuptial agreement before a second or third marriage
- Assisting you in purchasing long-term care insurance
- Obtaining a reverse mortgage
- Finding and paying for In-home medical care and assisted living facilities
- Reviewing contracts for senior communities and assisted living facilities
- Assisting with nursing home admissions and grievances
- Applying for Medicaid (MassHealth) benefits
- Representing applicants in Medicaid appeals
You Need A Safety Net In Place
As seniors age, they made need help with their finances or someone may have to make medical decisions on their behalf. Planning in advance is the most critical part of elder law. First, you should have the documents in place that will give family members and friends the ability to care for you, either temporarily, during a medical emergency, or permanently, in the case of a condition such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. These documents include a Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy and Living Will Declaration. In these documents, you name the person who will be responsible for managing your finances and making health care decisions on your behalf in the future, if you are unable to do so. Your instructions can range from simple banking arrangements, to alternate living arrangements in the event of disability, and to the ultimate decision of dying with dignity. With these documents in place, family members or trusted friends will be able to care for you, according to your wishes, if you become incapacitated.
Procrastination Creates Added Complications
It is critical that you do this planning in advance, before a medical condition makes it impossible for you to sign legal documents. Don’t wait until a debilitating stroke or dementia makes it impossible for you to sign legal documents. At that point, your family’s only option is to start probate court proceedings for the appointment of a family member to serve as your legal guardian. Probate court proceedings are public, expensive, time-consuming and stressful for the family member or friend who must appear in probate court in order to be appointed as your legal guardian. With the right documents in place, the family members and friends chosen by you will be able to act immediately in a medical crisis, without having to go through the Probate Court.
What Estate Planning Documents Do Elders Need?
You should also have a Will in place, to ensure that your estate will be managed by those family members or friends chosen by you, and your property will be distributed in accordance with your wishes. Without a will, Massachusetts laws determine who will manage your estate and who will inherit your property. If you wish to avoid probate, establishing and funding a
Trust is appropriate. If you wish to retain complete control over the trust, a revocable trust is the best choice. For many seniors, passing on their home and life savings to their children or other family members is their primary goal. They know that a long nursing home stay can take their life savings and their home. Establishing and funding a revocable trust will not protect your assets from nursing home costs. If your primary goal is to protect your assets from future nursing home costs, establishing and funding an “income only irrevocable trust” is a better choice.
Estate Planning Is Essential In Remarriages
Seniors are living longer and as a result, are entering into second and third marriages in their later years. At this stage in their lives, both spouses usually have their own sources of income, their own homes and their own investments. If you are marrying late in life, you should understand the legal consequences of adding your new spouse’s name to the deed to your home or your bank and investment accounts. If your spouse outlives you, he or she will be free to do whatever he or she wishes with your home and your bank accounts and investments. He or she may honor your wishes and leave this property to your children by a prior marriage, but he or she may not. You can provide for your current spouse without disinheriting your children by a prior marriage by establishing a trust to hold your home and your bank and investment accounts. The trust funds may be used for your benefit and your spouse’s benefit while both of you are alive. After your death, some, or all, of the trust funds may be used to support your current spouse, and he or she may continue to live in your home. After his or her death, the remaining trust assets will be distributed to your children.
Another option is entering into a prenuptial agreement before you marry. A well-drafted agreement will avoid conflicts during the marriage about living arrangements, sharing expenses and bank accounts, and will ensure that children by prior marriages will not be disinherited. You can also decide how you will share living expenses, where you will live, what happens when one spouse sells his or her home, how you and your spouse will provide for each other in the event of divorce or death, and how you and your spouse will provide for your children. You can enter into a similar agreement, known as a postnuptial agreement, after you are already married. For more detailed information about planning after a second or third marriage, see the article titled “
Planning for the Modern Blended Family.”
Planning Ahead Could Save The Family Home And Inheritance
For most parents, it is very important to pass on their home and their life savings to their children and grandchildren. You have worked hard your entire life and you have gone without to save for the future, but two years in a nursing home can deplete your life savings. In Eastern Massachusetts, it is not unusual for a nursing home to charge $400 per day. At that rate, one year in a nursing home will cost $146,000. Three years will cost $438,000. No one wants to spend his or her life savings and sell the family home to pay for nursing home costs. This can be avoided if you plan ahead. There is one program that pays the cost of nursing home care. Medicaid is a joint federal/state program that is administered in Massachusetts as the MassHealth program. To qualify for benefits, you must meet strict financial eligibility rules. Under the current MassHealth rules, you can’t just gift your home and savings to your children and then apply for benefits. There is a five-year disqualification period for benefits after you make a gift to your children or other family members or transfer your home and savings to an irrevocable trust. That means you should take appropriate steps to protect your assets while you are still healthy and able to care for yourself. Planning options include long-term care policies, which are expensive and difficult to obtain, gifting to younger family members, deeding title to your home to your children, with a reserved life estate, and establishing an irrevocable trust to protect your assets.
Do You Lose Your Assets If You End Up In A Nursing Home Without A Plan?
Unfortunately, it is not always possible to plan in advance. In a medical crisis, family members must make difficult decisions under stressful conditions. It may be necessary for a family member to be appointed as the guardian of a spouse or parent through probate court proceedings. You may have to find a suitable nursing home or assisted living facility for a spouse, parent or sibling, within a few days after a hospital admission, and figure out how to pay for it. There are many misconceptions about what happens when a family member must be admitted to a nursing home. Contrary to popular opinion, the state does not “take” your house and your life savings. If the family member who is being admitted to the nursing home is married, there are many planning options that can save the couple’s home and life savings.
Under the MassHealth regulations, the “community spouse” may keep some, or all, of the couple’s income, the family home and $117,240 of the couple’s savings and investments. Although the institutionalized spouse must reduce his or her assets to $2,000 in order to qualify for MassHealth benefits to pay for his or her nursing home care, he or she can transfer assets to the community spouse. If the couple’s financial assets exceed $119,240, excess assets may be spent on prepaid burial contracts for both spouses, repairs to the family home, the purchase of new appliances, and other permissible “spend down” items under the MassHealth regulations. The community spouse may also use the excess funds to purchase an immediate irrevocable annuity that will provide monthly income to the community spouse, to supplement his or her other sources of income. The community spouse may keep all of his or her income, and some of the institutionalized spouse’s income, to ensure that he or she will have at least $1,925 of monthly income. Depending on his or her living expenses, he or she may keep up to $2,925/month of the couple’s combined income.
If the MassHealth applicant is single, widowed or divorced, he or she may transfer title to the family home to a sibling with an equity interest, an adult disabled child or a “resident caretaker child.” These planning options may be utilized at the last minute, but they must be done correctly in order to qualify for MassHealth benefits. See the Articles titled “Planning for Long-Term Care” and the “2014 MassHealth Resource Transfer Rules” for more detailed information about planning options and the financial eligibility requirements for the MassHealth program, which pays for long-term nursing home care.
Ask Us About Elder Law Services
Roberta has the experience to help you and your family plan in advance, as well as deal with the unexpected medical crisis. If you would like to schedule an appointment in our North Reading office for an initial consultation, please contact us.