In past years many folks were used to dialing the numbers 4-1-1 on their telephone to get information. Here an operator, and in more recent years an automated system, would get you a person's telephone number.
When it comes to getting the "4-1-1" on paying for nursing home costs, things aren't quite as easy. There's a minefield of issues out there, and with these a real need to become as knowledgeable as possible about the ever-changing climate. Many a person has gone broke paying the ever rising costs of nursing home care. Don't become another victim!
Eldercare attorney Dennis Sullivan got together with healthcare advocate Chip Bruce to discuss and review some items people with nursing home payment issues and questions need to know.
CB: One thing that you've emphasized in our prior discussions is the need for people to become better informed about the high costs of nursing home care and the ways and means for folks to offset this expense while not going broke. And yet, I fear there are people out there who are facing this challenge today and throwing up their hands, correct?
DS: It's never too late to do something. Many times I see adult children who are seeking information on behalf of their parents that perhaps are in an emergency situation, or need some help at home or in the community. Then there are those adult children that are in their 50's or 60's themselves; it used to be they wouldn't need to worry about this type of planning until maybe into their later 60's. However now because of some of the changes that took place in 2006, and the increase here in the look-back period from 3-5 years, plus as other changes occurring such as the possibility of going to a 10 year look-back period, it's more important than ever to explore planning even for people in their 50's and certainly in their 60's so they have the options built in for them.
CB: I imagine there can be a great deal of worry and concern on the part of adult children regarding their parents future health and well-being?
DS: Many adult children are concerned for their folks having an accident, such as a slip and fall or an emergency that's pressing at this point. Some of the things that can be done, especially for a older married couple, would be looking at the different exemptions that are available. One of which works pretty well for a married couple, if there is an emergency, is where the home would be considered an exempt asset as long as the value is below $800,000 or so. Usually that's not a problem. In fact there are some emergency measures even if the five year period has not been factored in, which can be done that affect the home. Within these laws are exemptions in emergency planning that the spouse does not have to spend everything down to $117,000 or so. So indeed there's quite a bit that can be done, even in the case where the five years perhaps is not available. There's a lot that can be done to protect the life savings for the spouse at home. Usually it's very important because the spouse at home otherwise would be impoverished left with only a modest $117,000 or so which is not a lot these days to let the spouse at home live out the rest of his or her years comfortably.
CB: It sounds like, in just hearing you speak, a thought comes to mind that there's probably a lot of misinformation out there, or at least information that people are seeing, and hearing, or reading and they think they've got a pretty good handle on these things. However I get the impression that isn't necessarily the case, correct?
DS: Exactly, right. The most important thing is for people to be more in charge of their planning. It's important to provide people with quality information. And if they have an existing plan it's important to let them know they need to review them every so often. Sometimes people have plans that were done maybe 5, 10, 20 years ago but they really don't have a good handle on exactly what their plan does and doesn't do. It's very important to open up people's eyes to exactly what their plan does today. Does it reach their current goals and objectives? If it doesn't, it's important to find out where the problems may be in the existing planning, some of which we've already talked about, such as impoverishing a spouse or losing a home and what can be done to improve that. Normally there are many opportunities for improvement so it's critical that people see where these are in order for them to accomplish their goals and objectives to get the protection in place. Plus if it's an emergency situation where the child is concerned on behalf of their parent, they need to get help ASAP with long-term care planning options so they're able to obtain the help that they need.
CB: As you say, the key is to act sooner than later, whether it's to put an asset protection plan in place or to review an existing plan to make sure it's still viable then?
DS: It's an important, and as you mentioned earlier, there's a lot of other information that people may hear at family events or social circles which may or may not be on the mark. I've seen in the past many times when we go over things like transferring a home or a life savings to children it's when clients realize that, if that person gets divorced or if they're involved in a law suit then not only will they lose everything but there may be vast drastic cash consequences, loss. Even worse than misinformation out there is if people act or don't act in their best interest, when it comes to estate planning, then they could be making some big mistakes.
CB: To sum things up here, it sounds like it's critical that folks really stay on top of things to make sure they are not short changing themselves or their loved ones?
DS: Without a doubt. The last thing you want to discover is that what you thought was working well on your behalf, and looking out for your and your family's best interests, is sorely lacking at the exact time you need your plan to be at its best and most effective.
More on this and other key subjects in the important areas of estate planning and asset protection as they pertain to paying for nursing home care, in future articles with Dennis Sullivan.