One recent evening, I was playing golf with my college-aged daughter, Allie. In watching her play, I had many memories of the little girl who was more interested in looking for frogs on the golf course than playing golf. Now Allie is a Division One college golfer, playing around the country and beating me regularly at golf.
That same evening, I realized that, in getting advice – in golf or in asset protection planning – we need to rely upon an expert. My family had been fortunate enough to have Allie learn from a golf professional, Gary Sassu, Head Pro at Chippanee Country Club, since she was four years old. I realized a long time ago that, while I am not a professional golfer, Gary is, and my daughter learned from one of the best.
The lesson learned here is: Be careful whom you listen to. So many people want to give you advice on golf tips. Often this will hurt and not help your golf game. The same is true about asset protection planning. People want to give you advice and it may end up costing you and your loved ones, thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of dollars that you don’t have to spend.
A perfect example of this is when a married couple has a health care crisis and the husband or wife needs nursing home care and they are told they must spend down their assets. In most cases this is just not true. You don’t have to lose your home and lifetime of savings if your loved one needs nursing home care. There are legal and ethical ways in which you can save more than what you are told.
Nursing home care is usually paid for by private funds, nursing home insurance (long-term care insurance) or Medicaid (Title 19). If you don’t have long-term care insurance, Medicaid may pay for your spouse’s care.
If you are married, you do not have to become impoverished if you have to place your spouse in a nursing home. You have the legal right to keep a reasonable amount (and in many cases all) of your marital income and savings for your ongoing support.
The state and federal governments recognize that for married couples, where one spouse is ill and one is well, a long term illness may impoverish both spouses. Medicaid law provides special protections for the spouses of Medicaid applicants to make sure the spouses have the minimum support needed to continue to live in the community while their husband or wife is receiving long-term care benefits, usually in a nursing home.
Here’s another example. Not a week goes by when I don’t have a family in my office where a loved one is going in the nursing and the family thinks they have protected themselves by having a living trust. The problem is that a living trust is usually a revocable trust. The state Department of Social Services treats revocable trusts as an available asset for Medicaid (Title 19) purposes. So, if you were sold a living trust as curing everything that ails your life, you may be in for a rude surprise if your loved one requires nursing home care.
I can’t stress enough the importance of seeking out the expert advice of an experienced elder law attorney who is able to show you ways to protect your assets should you ever need to go into a nursing home for long-term care. You don’t have to go it alone.
Attorney Daniel O. Tully is a partner in the law firm of Kilbourne & Tully, P.C., members of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys Inc., with offices at 120 Laurel St., Bristol (860) 583-1341.