As an elder law practitioner, much of my work involves Medicaid and VA planning for long-term care (that is, care in nursing home, assisted facility, or care for seniors at home). These complex and highly technical areas of the law are difficult to learn, and require a solid understanding of federal law and regulations, state law and regulations, and local rules and practices.
For the unwary consumer, finding reliable information about long-term care planning is even more difficult. A google search of Medicaid or VA will result in millions of hits, but finding the answer to your particular questions, and the rules that apply to your situation and your locality, will be difficult to come by. In addition, the rules related to public benefits planning often change over time, as do practice methods. You might find a spot-on answer to your Medicaid question from a 2004 post, not realizing that the law changed drastically in 2005.
Other people get advice from friends, who may have had some dealings with these programs themselves. I have had clients make some bad moves based on advice from family and friends. There are also an increasing number of organizations unrelated to the practice of law giving VA and Medicaid planning advice. Not only are such organizations likely breaking the law by engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, I have seen first hand advice from such organizations that is either ill-advised or completely wrong.
Another increasing trend in VA planning are organizations that promise to do your planning for free – if you transfer the potential applicant’s funds to them for management. Whether these organizations manage that money properly or not, and whether their planning recommendations are well-advised, I do not know. But the planning is not free because they will earn money in fees gleaned from managing the applicant’s money.
If you are at all considering doing any VA or Medicaid planning, engage an elder law attorney proficient in these areas. The rules are highly technical and ever-changing. Competency is a must, as irreversible planning mistakes are commonplace. One way to find a competent elder law attorney is to search the database at NAELA.ORG, the website for the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. You might want to hire an attorney who is a “Certified Elder Law Attorney” or “CELA”, which means the attorney has practiced elder law for at least five years, passed a competency examination, and submitted references from other elder law attorneys. That being said, I know many excellent elder law attorneys in the metro Atlanta area who have not yet reached this milestone and are more than competent.
Finally, remember that elder law attorneys are not all the same. Among this group, you may find vast differences in planning approaches, the way fees are structured, and total fees for planning services. By all means, do your research and find the attorney that you are most comfortable with and who best fits your situation.
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