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Free Medicaid Planning: Doing What It Takes to Qualify for Medicaid.

The costs involved in healthcare, assisted living or a nursing home can be high enough to overwhelm even the best-planned retirement efforts, especially for low to moderate income families. There are volunteers that offer free Medicaid Planning assistance, including a government supported program known as SHIP. There are also low cost or free attorneys, non-profit financial planners or free credit counselors including at Agency on Aging centers, and other steps to take to get Medicaid.

The application process can be long and complicated, this is why many experts recommend getting assistance up front. There are even Free Medicaid Consultations available from a program known as SHIP - State Health Insurance Programs, and that is offered regardless of the household’s income. Or case managers or credit counselors that are associated with Agency on Aging offices near you can help.

Find how to get free consultations, advice, and assistance below. Find how to qualify for Medicaid and the financial steps as well as maneuvers to take before applying, as access to Medicaid plans for nursing home or long term care financial assistance can even be an option for middle as well as higher income American families.

Why plan for Medicaid?

Whether you need in-home care in old age, need surgery done or standard health care, or care at a nursing home, the medical bills can run to thousands each month. Much of what you've worked to save your entire life may get wiped out. It is never too early to plan for these future long term care needs, and Medicaid can help pay those costs and that is why it is never to early to plan.

Medicaid is the alternative, and it does come to your rescue. The only problem is this: to qualify, you have to have a very low monthly income and assets worth just a few thousand dollars, not counting your car or your home. (Note the exact amounts vary by state and number of household members, and find details on Medicaid eligibility). The application process is confusing, and get free advice from non-profits or even talk to a few based financial planner or elder law attorney. This includes all assets including retirement accounts, savings, investments, and more.

 

 

 

What do you do if you aren't “poor”?

If you have the money to acquire care for a period of time, you should still prefer that Medicaid picks up your healthcare tab; spending your own money would often mean ending up penniless before long. There is a way out. The answer is, you try your hand at Medicaid planning.

Medicaid Planning is a term commonly used to describe the financial contortions needed to get the government benefit to pay for nursing or home care or just to pay your medical bills. It involves many steps, including setting up Trusts or transferring assets to your children, that the elderly or retirees need to put themselves through to meet eligibility criteria for Medicaid. To do so would be to game the system, but it is entirely legal.

People defend their choice to take advantage of loopholes in the system in a variety of ways. Some, for instance, point out the system's weak design -- Medicaid doesn't consider a person qualified if they can spend on their healthcare for even a few months before they go broke. They would eventually need to get Medicaid, but the system makes them bankrupt themselves, spending for whatever period they can. The unfairness of the system gives Medicaid planners the ability to see their choice as fair.

Doing your Medicaid planning the right way – for free

The basic idea attempting Medicaid planning is to get under the bar by demonstrating a lack of assets as well as income. You need to do this a full five years ahead of when you need Medicaid (the "look-back" period). The process can be unforgiving and this is why professionals as well as volunteers, even from a federal government program known as SHIP or a senior center, can help.

 

 

 

 

It isn't easy, however, because there are convoluted rules to pay attention to; these rules keep changing, as well. If you make a mistake, your application gets rejected. A volunteer State Health Insurance Programs (SHIP) Counselor can help as can a lawyer, financial planners and others.

As noted, there are different ways to get affordable or free Medicaid Planning advice, and they each have different costs. The following may hold true.

  • Free Medicaid Planning services - State Health Insurance Programs Counselors (SHIP), government lawyers or case managers/financial counselors at senior assistance Agency on Aging centers near you.
     
  • Variable or sliding fee costsElder Law attorneys, fee or commission based financial planners, or insurance agents. The costs for Medicaid Planning vary based on many factors, but it can be anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000. Find free lawyers from Legal Services Corporation.
     
  • Counselors from State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIP) - These are highly trained volunteers that help the elderly, retirees, and senior citizens, and they offer free advice on Medicaid Planning. More on free SHIP counselors.

Getting Medicaid planning right requires free or low cost professional assistance

There are ways to get low cost or free help with Medicaid Planning, each with pros and cons and they also cost different amounts, but some of the advice can be free. Hiring a lawyer or using a professional who specializes in elder care is a great idea; the application rules can get that complex.

It can help to look at an example. In many cases, applicants place their assets in non-accessible trusts to shield them from Medicaid's spend-down rules on the assets that they are allowed to hold. It's essential, however, to draw up these trusts in tightly worded language.

Often, however, the language used is careless, and inadvertently leaves open a loophole of some kind; funds in the trust are accessible and not locked up. Professionals can help you understand the criteria. However unintentional such language may be, a Medicaid official can use it to deny coverage.

Professionals can help here. It's important to understand that you need an elder law attorney (not an attorney who does estate planning) or a financial counselor or free consultations from a SHIP volunteer. Or even use an insurance agent or Commission Based Medicaid Planner. These individuals can help you understand and account for the different areas of law.

 

 

 

 

Use a professional or elder care attorney even if it seems like it's too late: Sometimes, people will give up on their Medicaid planning goals merely because they feel that it's a lost cause -- they've already made mistakes, and their case is beyond help. For instance, some people will invest their retirement fund in an annuity that locks up their money for years, if not forever. They figure that they are eligible because it's money that's locked up.

They don't realize that money placed in an annuity can disqualify them from applying for Medicaid. A non-profit financial planner or elder care attorney, however, may be able to speak to the company or bank that holds the annuity and arrange for the money to be returned. SHIP counselors can also assist here as well as case workers at Agency on Aging centers.

Medicaid planning is possible even once you are in a nursing home: As a general rule, you're supposed to do your Medicaid planning years in advance -- you aren't supposed to do it once you get diagnosed with severe health conditions, or once you are already in a nursing home. If you do find yourself in this position, however, it's important to know that you don't have to give up hope.

It may be possible to transfer your assets to your spouse or another person and then have the funds placed in a trust. Then, it would be possible to apply for Medicaid. Once you qualify, you may even be able to go back, re-calculate previously incurred medical treatment costs at Medicaid's reduced rates, and have the difference reimbursed.

It's even possible to win after a rejection: If you've had your application for Medicaid eligibility denied, all still isn't lost. You can apply for what is known as a Fair Hearing, a chance to make your case before an administrative law judge. It is a procedure that works similarly to litigation at a trial court. Having an elder care attorney or using a free lawyer that is paid for by federal government grants represent you can help you receive the benefits that you hope for.

Use a professional even to fill out the Medicaid application

There are several mistakes that someone can make filling out a Medicaid application. You may believe that you can get a spouse with Alzheimer's to qualify because you have their signed power of attorney, for example, and all you need to do is place their assets in a trust. If you make the mistake of getting a regular power of attorney, however, instead of a durable power of attorney, it won't help you in exceptional circumstances where there is a loss of mental capacity.

These mistakes, or one of countless others, happen all the time when people try to do it themselves. This is why it is critical to turn to social workers, paralegals, free SHIP Medicaid Planning counselors and other semi-professionals inexperienced in the intricacies of Medicaid law.

While Medicaid planning is ethically justified activity, the application process and law does not make it easy. It is important to remember that such preparation requires intricate legal knowledge or at minimum the advice of a free non-profit organization or volunteer. If you would always seek specialized legal expertise for a lawsuit, you should do the same for the legal effort that secures you a lifetime of quality care.

 

 

 

 

Ideally you want free Medicaid Planning advice. But if that does not help, it may take some effort to get used to the idea that you need to pay for quality legal representation simply to find medical care; the natural instinct may be to settle for an inexpensive attorney. There some senior citizens or moderate income families may be able to get free government paid for lawyers for help.

If you find that you aren't truly convinced of the need for a professional counselor or lawyer, the best thing that you can do is to read books on the subject of Medicaid planning or find a way to speak to other people in your position. Getting in touch with people who have been through the Medicaid planning process, successfully or otherwise, can help you make up your mind.

Whatever the effort you put in for Medicaid planning, it is likely to be worth it. Even spending some money today on the process, such as an attorney, can save you tens of thousands of dollars in the long term as your long term care expenses will be much lower. Or look into free advice from non-profits, Agency on Aging centers, or SHIP counselors for free Medicaid Planning assistance.

By Jon McNamara

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