By Lori Parker
When you think about “fun” activities, visiting an elder law attorney is probably not No.1 on your list. As a result, most people don’t meet an elder law practitioner until they’re confronted with a crisis: A family member’s death or a health emergency.
Elder law attorneys can offer help in crisis situations — but the facts of the individual case, as well as the applicable law, may limit the amount that can be preserved.
Going out for a nice dinner might be more fun than talking with a lawyer — so we’ll use a buffet table to illustrate the point that planning in advance is the key to maximum asset protection.
If you arrive at the buffet early, you’ll have the widest range of foods available to you. Everything will be fresh and visually appealing. You’ll be able to take as much as you want.
On the other hand, if you delay until almost closing time, other diners will probably have eaten the tastiest dishes — and what remains will have been picked over. There’s probably some mushy lima beans and near-dehydrated ziti left — so you won’t leave with a completely empty stomach.
The point is, as a latecomer, you have fewer and less desirable choices than were available to the early birds. The same thing is true for asset planning and preservation.
Many people know that there is a five-year “lookback” associated with Medicaid benefits to defray the cost of skilled nursing care. Here’s how it works: Let’s say that in May 2018, you and your lawyer set up an asset protection plan. Assets covered by the plan will be 100 percent protected by May 2023 — five years from the plan’s start date.
This illustrates why planning early is so important. If you get a plan started while you are healthy, you increase the chance that five years will pass without the need for long-term care. Once the five years has passed, the assets involved in your protection plan are 100 percent protected. No one can force you to use those assets to pay for nursing home care.
This has been a very brief and general discussion. To learn more about how to protect your assets, based on your individual situation, consult an elder law attorney. Remember: the earlier you take action, the more you can protect!
Lori Parker of Parker Law Office has been a practicing attorney in the Rochester area for more than 20 years. She actively participates in the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), the Greater Rochester Area Partnership for the Elderly (GRAPE), and the Greece Chamber of Commerce. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.