Matt Marcus is a partner with Colucci Colucci Marcus Flavin, P.C. in Milton. He concentrates on estate planning and elder law. Matt was on the board of directors of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys for 8 years and was co-chair of the Boston Bar Association’s Elder Law Committee. He’s currently a Hearing Officer for the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers. Matt also coordinates a monthly meeting of a self-advocacy group in Boston for adults with developmental disabilities. He’s a graduate of Boston University, Suffolk University Law School, and holds a L.L.M. in taxation from Boston University School of Law.
Why should senior citizens work with an attorney who specializes in elder care?
The most important reason is to be fully informed and aware of the issues. It doesn’t mean you have to take action or plan or pay anyone. For example, I don’t charge for consultations – sitting down with someone for 45 minutes to an hour going through the relevant factors involved in long term nursing and health care. You want to talk with an attorney to identify topics or issues you may not have thought about. We don’t want anyone to make any decisions at the first meeting. The focus is on education and getting information.
There are 4 topics an estate planning/elder law attorney should cover…
1. Basic documents – These include a Will, Health Care Proxy and Power of Attorney. We want people to have a general sense of these documents and why they’re important.
2. Avoiding probate – People might think because they have a Will or a Trust they won’t need to go through probate, but that’s not always true.
3. Nursing homes – Nobody ever wants to discuss it, but most of us will have to at some point. You want an attorney who will help you protect your assets against the cost of long-term care. The Commonwealth’s laws are draconian, and it’s important that people know what’s safe to do and what’s not. When people get that information, they can make informed decisions about what’s best for them.
4. Taxes – Estate taxes don’t affect many people. But you want to be sure to know if you’ll need to address them, and if so, how to do so.
What do people need to know about Medicaid they might not know?
I’m sure we’ve all seen ads or flyers for seminars to educate people about Medicaid. A lot of the time these seminars are hosted by financial planners who are trying to convince people to buy something.
There are two misconceptions:
First, a lot of people misunderstand and think they’ll have free nursing home care because they have insurance through Blue Cross, the Commonwealth’s Group Insurance Commission [GIC], or because they’re a veteran. Too many people find out too late that this is not the case at all. Nursing home care is not covered by the even the best insurance plan.
Second, people think if they have a Trust of some kind, it will protect their property if they end up in a nursing home. But there are only certain types of Trusts that offer nursing home protection.
What are the top 3 steps seniors and/or their families need to protect assets from the cost of long-term care?
1. Consult with an attorney – And look for someone who doesn’t charge $6,500. Some of the best elder law experts don’t charge anything for a consultation. Many attorneys including those at our firm are happy to visit people at their homes. Once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted we’ll begin making home consultations again, of course wearing masks and gloves and social distancing.
2. Do your nursing home planning in a timely way – The standard planning for a long-term nursing home needs to be done 5 years in advance of that person’s moving into the home. It’s a long look-back, or waiting, period, because the federal government doesn’t want people getting sick, removing their assets from their name, and a week later saying they don’t own anything and should live in a nursing home for free. The time to think about long-term nursing home care is when people reach their 70s or early 80s. We can do planning if someone is in their early 90s, but with the five-year waiting period it’s better to be proactive. Don’t wait for something to happen.
3. Don’t be intimated into overpaying for legal advice – Elder care planning doesn’t have to be super expensive. Lawyers who do nursing home planning either use an hourly billing process, or they charge a flat fee. But the legal costs vary wildly. Some attorneys will tell you it will cost you $10,000 but you can find an attorney just as competent who charges between $2,000 or $3,000. Meet with a couple of lawyers to size up what they offer. For example, we have a fee schedule that caps nursing home planning for a single person at $2,800. That can cover a basic Will, Health Care Proxy, and Power of Attorney. Almost every firm I know charges for additional updates or changes, or helping the family after someone dies. We don’t charge to make necessary changes, and we’re probably unusual in that. If planning is done right, it saves the family an additional expense.