With the expected Medicaid cuts and other changes on the local level, many of which are already effective under Cuomo’s state budget legislation, over 220 seniors attended a recent Senior Strategies Conference to clarify what they should know about the new laws and how they should plan in this economic environment.
Sponsored by the elder law and estate planning firm Cona Elder Law based in Melville, several of the attorneys advised seniors to do their estate and Medicaid planning now so they’re protected no matter what changes in the law occur. Cona Elder Law also recommended that seniors reevaluate their current documents before it’s too late to preserve assets, access home care services and limit Medicaid estate recovery. Consulting with a qualified elder law attorney is important as each person’s situation is different and requires a customized plan and approach.
Attendees Barbara and Joseph Belton, Lindenhurst, had an irrevocable trust prepared for them four years ago. They came to the conference to get educated about the budgetary changes and to see if they need to make any adjustments to their estate plan.
Jennifer Cona, managing partner, Cona Elder Law, emphasized that if trusts, life estates and other property interests are established before the effective date of the new state regulations, they may get grandfathered under the old rules pertaining to estate recovery.
Ms. Cona advised being pro-active in this climate and cautioned that now is not the time to “stick your head in the sand.”
“When the proposal to increase the look-back period to five years for home health care services was on the table, we acted quickly to submit the 30 or so home care applications to the Department of Social Services before the changes would have gone into effect,” explains Ms. Cona. “This, as well as elimination of spousal refusal, could well be on the chopping block again next year.”
According to Ms. Cona, if spousal refusal is revoked, community spouses run the risk of becoming impoverished, and it will cost the government even more money when both spouses need government benefits – one in the nursing home and one in the community. If a five-year look back period is imposed for home care benefits, there may be waiting lists to access Medicaid benefits or people may hire untrained, unlicensed aides to help them at home. Currently, there is no look back or penalty period for Medicaid home care benefits so families have relatively easy access to this government program.
At the conference, seniors had numerous questions regarding trusts, IRAs, tax implications and more. The attorneys emphasized that IRS tax rules and Medicaid rules are completely different and typically inapposite. Melissa Negrin-Wiener, Esq., a partner at Cona Elder Law, discussed how Medicaid is its own world and compared it to entering Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. “If you don’t know the differences in the rules, it can take you longer to qualify for Medicaid and there is a greater chance of losing more of your assets,” explained Ms. Negrin-Wiener.
When it comes to gifting assets for Medicaid qualifications, Paul Hyl, Esq., Cona Elder Law senior associate, recommends that it’s better to place the assets in a trust rather than transferring assets to your children. “A trust can be funded with any asset except for a retirement account,” says Mr. Hyl. “Gifting assets to your children is risky because there is no guarantee that the money will be used for your benefit and is subject to children’s creditors, divorces and other circumstances.”
Mr. Hyl also discussed the tax consequences of a Medicaid trust and the changes in the estate tax law. He explained that the value of an estate is based on everything you own that includes all of your assets, retirement accounts, life insurance, etc. For the next two years, until the end of 2012, the first $ 5 million of the estate is exempt from federal taxes but only $ 1 million is exempt on the state level. In 2013, the federal exemption amount will return to $ 1 million so planning needs to be undertaken with that in mind.
Colette Frey-Bitzas, certified financial planner with Professional Planning Services in Holbrook, attended Cona Elder Law’s conference to get updated information on the new estate tax laws and planning strategies. “This is probably just the beginning of more changes to come,” she said. “The Cona Elder Law attorneys helped to clarify these issues so I can better help my own clients with their financial planning.”
Cona Elder Law is recognized as a leading elder law and estate planning firm on Long Island. The firm provides creative advocacy and cutting edge planning strategies and has been featured in many publications including: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsday, L.I. Business News, Kiplinger’s, Reader's Digest and many others. Cona Elder Law attorneys are frequent contributors to Newsday’s Act II “Ask the Expert” column and have appeared as guests on WNBC-TV, CNN-fn, News 12, News 55, Channel 21 "Act II With Newsday" and many radio stations including WOR, WCBS AM and WFAN.