Okay, this is somewhat self-serving. As an elder law attorney, my firm and I advise clients on how they can plan to be eligible for MassHealth coverage of their long-term care. But many seniors and their families don't use lawyers, whether for long-term care planning or assistance with the MassHealth application, often because they're afraid of the cost. Some take steps based on what they've heard from others, some do nothing, and others enlist non-lawyers to assist with MassHealth applications, often referred by nursing homes.
Here's a few reasons to use an elder law attorney instead:
- No conflict of interest.
When nursing homes refer the families of residents to non-lawyers to assist in preparing the MassHealth application, the preparer has dual loyalties, both to the facility that provides the referrals and to the client applying for benefits. To the extent everyone wants the MassHealth application to be successful, there's no conflict of interest. But it's in the nursing home's interest that the resident pay privately for as long as possible before going on MassHealth, while it's in the nursing home resident's interest to shelter assets for her own care or for her spouse or family. An attorney hired to assist with the MassHealth planning and application has a duty of loyalty only to her client and will do her best to achieve the client's goals.
- Saving money.
With nursing homes costing as much as $15,000 a month in Massachusetts, it's unusual for legal fees to equal the cost of even one month in the facility. Frankly, saving the client this much money in long-term care and probate costs is not a high hurdle to get over. And most attorneys will consult with new clients at little or no cost to determine what might be achieved before the client pays a larger fee.
- Deep knowledge and experience.
Professionals who work in any field on a daily basis over many years develop both the depth and breadth of experience and expertise to advise clients on how they might achieve their goals, whether those are maintaining independence and dignity, preserving funds for children and grandchildren, or staying home rather than moving to assisted living or a nursing home. Less experienced advisers, however well-intentioned, can't know what they don't know.
- Malpractice insurance.
While we should expect that every professional we work with will provide outstanding service and representation, sometimes things don't work out. Fortunately, with attorneys there's a remedy if they make a mistake since almost all carry malpractice insurance. This is probably not the case with other advisers in the MassHealth arena.
- Peace of mind. While it's possible that when you consult with an elder law attorney, she'll advise that in your situation there is not much you can do to preserve assets or achieve MassHealth eligibility more quickly, the consultation will provide peace of mind that you have not missed an important opportunity. In addition, if obstacles arise during the process, the attorney will be there to work with you to find the optimal solution.
The MassHealth rules provide multiple opportunities for nursing home residents to preserve assets for themselves, their spouses and children and grandchildren, especially those with special needs. There are more opportunities for those who plan ahead, but even at the last minute, some steps are almost always still available to preserve some assets. It's always worth checking out whether these are steps you would like to take.