Planning for long-term care is challenging, because the need for such care is unpredictable, and if it is necessary, the expense can be significant. Our attorneys can review all the options with you and help you create a plan to meet your needs.
If you are considering long-term care insurance, you may wish to have Hazen Law Group review the policy for you. We are also available to review contracts offered by nursing homes, assisted living facilities and continuing care communities that you may be considering.
Foremost in the minds of most people planning for long-term care is how to pay for it. Families that can fund such care themselves or purchase insurance will still want to structure their finances in the most advantageous way. Many families will need to consider private as well as public funding sources. We can advise you of the best ways to make use of public benefits without having to spend down all of your own assets.
Many people who need care in a skilled nursing facility will require help from Medicaid. The program covers nearly half of all nursing home costs nationwide.
Because Medicaid is a means-tested program, people entering a nursing home generally must pay for care themselves, until they have “spent down” enough assets to qualify for Medicaid. The high cost of nursing home care means that a family’s resources can be drained quickly. In this position, it is natural to look for ways to preserve assets while still qualifying for public benefits. This is challenging, but achievable with careful planning.
One obstacle is Medicaid’s five-year “look-back” period. It is not possible to simply transfer assets to other family members and then apply for Medicaid. The program will look at a period of five years before the application, and penalize the applicant for gifts or transfers of property for less than fair market value. This means that advance planning is crucial for preservation of assets. The earlier you start preparing, the better, but we can help you with financial planning at any stage, even if your loved one is already a nursing home resident.
Creating an effective estate plan is a natural outgrowth of the financial planning you already engage in to protect your family’s future. Putting the right legal structures in place will ensure that your wishes are followed in the event that you become incapacitated, and that your assets are distributed as you intend after death.
Why do I need a will?
A will allows you to decide how your property should be divided after you die. A person who dies without a will is said to die “intestate,” and Pennsylvania state laws of intestacy will dictate how their assets are distributed to family members. In addition, to allowing you to make your own choices about dividing your resources, a will gives you the power to determine other matters, such as who will be the executor of your estate, and who should be the guardian of your minor children.
Proper estate planning can also help you minimize the tax burden for your family. Federal estate taxes only apply to estates over a certain amount ($5.49 million in 2017), but inheritance tax in Pennsylvania applies to any size estate. By consulting with an estate planning attorney, you can be sure you are taking advantage of every available exemption.
Trusts Are a Versatile Estate Planning Tool
When a person creating a trust – the trustor – wants to provide for a young adult family member, but worries that the young person may not handle a large sum responsibly, a trust can provide them with income while preserving the principal until they are older. Trusts are also an effective way to provide for heirs who are still minors. If a member of your family has a disability, a special needs trust can provide for their supplemental needs while preserving their eligibility for public benefits. Irrevocable trusts place assets outside the trustor’s reach, while still allowing one’s heirs to benefit. This can have numerous advantages, such as reducing inheritance or estate taxes, and allowing eligibility for benefits such as Medicaid, which may be needed to pay for long-term care.
Advance Health Care Directives and End-of-Life Care
Advance health care directives should also be put in place when you create your estate plan. These documents include a living will, which states your choices regarding end-of-life care, and a health care power of attorney, which designates an individual to make health care decisions for you in the event that you are incapacitated. These documents address medical issues that would arise if you were incapacitated without the possibility of recovering, such as whether you would want cardiopulmonary resuscitation, intravenous feeding or mechanical respiration. It is crucial to make these decisions while you are healthy so that your loved ones will know your wishes if such a situation comes about.
Hazen Law Group is experienced in handling estate and trust administrations and works hard to make the process as stress-free as possible for the family.
If a loved one has passed away and you have been named executor of their estate or trustee of a trust, you have critical legal responsibilities that must be attended to. The attorneys of Hazen Law Group can help you make sure that you carry out your duties in adherence to the law and in accordance with the wishes of the person who has entrusted you with this responsibility.
Our estate and trust administration attorneys will help you comply with court filing requirements, tax laws, Medicaid Estate Recovery rules, and the Uniform Trust Act. Executors and trustees often find our counsel invaluable in settling the estate or trust correctly and in a timely fashion, thus avoiding personal liability and family conflict.
Powers of attorney are essential documents to put in place while you are healthy to protect your interests in the event that you become incapacitated.
A health care power of attorney is typically signed along with a living will to document your medical choices. However, a power of attorney for financial matters may also be needed. Many people assume that if they were to become incapacitated, their spouse would automatically be able to handle their affairs, but that is not the case.
Without a power of attorney, changes to distributions from retirement accounts, transfers of real property, and other important matters cannot be handled by a family member, unless they file a petition for guardianship. Having a power of attorney in place ensures that crucial financial issues can be dealt with in a timely manner. Seniors will often want to put a power of attorney in place to allow their adult children to handle financial issues in case of incapacity due to Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.
If a loved one becomes unable to handle their own affairs, and there is no power of attorney in place, then guardianship may be necessary. In a guardianship proceeding, the court appoints an individual to act on behalf of the incapacitated person with regard to financial or medical matters. These types of guardianship are known as “guardian of the estate” and “guardian of the person.” The guardianship attorneys of Hazen Law Group can counsel you as to whether alternative approaches such as a power of attorney or a trust are appropriate in your situation. If guardianship is necessary, we can guide you through the process to make sure that you are promptly given the power to assist your loved one with their needs.