Restoration of Capacity?

Restoration of Capacity

If an individual is determined unable to make her own decisions, a judgment of incapacitation and awarding guardianship may issue.

Sometimes, the conditions which led to a judgment of incapacitation are not permanent. In this case, the subject of the guardianship order may seek an order restoring her to legal capacity, which would allow her to resume making decisions for herself.

In the Matter of the Guardianship and Conservatorship of Lois Crist, No. 118-973 (Ct. App. Kansas, February 1, 2019)(per curiam), an 82 year old widow residing in a rural home requested an order restoring her to capacity.   At the time of the original impairment order, the ward’s home was uninhabitable due to mold and clutter, and she was dirty and unkempt, and suffering from a gait dysfunction, a vitamin B-12 deficiency, and a urinary tract infection.  She was removed from her home, adjudicated impaired, hospitalized, discharged to a nursing home, and then to assisted living, where she thrived. The total value of her estate was over $1.4 million.

Nearly two years after the original hearing, the ward had a falling out with her family and filed a petition for restoration. She argued that her impairment was temporary and attributable to an altered mental state from a urinary tract infection. She was evaluated several times, with disparate results, but two tests determined that she was unable to drive or to manage her housekeeping independently.

The trial court declined to restore her legal capacity for decision-making in part because her answers to the court’s questions regarding how she would live independently in a rural setting were unrealistic.

While we will never know all the facts, it is quite possible that with effective representation and thorough preparation, the petitioner might have been better prepared to anticipate and effectively answer the court’s questions and she might have successfully obtained a restoration of capacity order.

Questions? Let Jane know.

Jane Fearn-Zimmer is a shareholder in the Elder and Disability LawTaxation, and Trusts and Estates Groups. She dedicates her practice to serving clients in the areas of elder and disability law, special needs planning, asset protection, tax and estate planning and estate administration. She also serves as Chair of the Elder & Disability Law section of the NJSBA.

Once A Caregiver Child, Always A Caregiver Child

caregiver child

In general, one cannot give away her assets and go on Medicaid within the next five years. If an individual who gives away assets (donor) applies for Medicaid within the sixty month period following the date of the last completed gift, the individual will usually be subject to a period of time during which Medicaid will not pay for their long-term care. The length of this period is related to the amount of the total gifts during the five year Medicaid look back period, and is referred to as a Medicaid penalty period.

An exception to the Medicaid penalty period and any Medicaid liens is the transfer of a home by an ill parent to a caregiver child.  If the child moves into the home of the parent, and provides such care to the parent for a continuous, two year period as will keep the parent from entering into a nursing home, then the parent may transfer the home to the child without any penalty period.  This authority for this exception comes from the federal Medicaid statute and is black letter federal law.

Since 2015, I have heard of several instances where a parent applying for Medicaid was awarded the caregiver child exemption while the parent was alive, and pursuant to the exemption, the home was transferred out of the parent’s name to the child.

After the parent’s death, the child is notified that the house is nevertheless subject to a Medicaid lien.

This should not be the case for several reasons. First, when the parent gives up any interest in the home by giving the home away to the caregiver child, the home is now beyond the parent’s future Medicaid estate and it cannot be subjected to a Medicaid lien.

In addition, any attempted claw back of the home into the deceased parent’s Medicaid estate, after the parent was previously determined eligible for Medicaid without any penalty imposed for the home transfer, denies the parent, the child and all subsequent third party bona fide purchasers of the home for value from the child, of due process without notice and an opportunity to be heard.  As a policy matter, these reports are very troubling because of the loss of evidence over the passage of years and because the new “policy,” which was not enacted with public rule-making, will seriously undermine the stability of real estate transactions statewide.

Options may include challenging the new notice in the Chancery Courts. For an assessment of your options, consult an experienced and knowledgeable elder law attorney.

Questions? Let Jane know.

Jane Fearn-Zimmer is a shareholder in the Elder and Disability LawTaxation, and Trusts and Estates Groups. She dedicates her practice to serving clients in the areas of elder and disability law, special needs planning, asset protection, tax and estate planning and estate administration. She also serves as Chair of the Elder & Disability Law section of the NJSBA.

Have Medical Bills, Game Plan Needed

Unpaid Medical BillsIt’s important to have a game plan for medical bills, and the game plan should probably not involve suing the hospital as a preemptive strike. That is precisely what occurred in Pitell v. King County Public Hospital, No. 767720-8-1 (Court of Appeals of Washington, Div., 1, August 13, 2018).

Steven Pittell had over $50,000 in his bank account but was uninsured and ineligible for Medicare and Medicaid, when he was admitted to the hospital.  He signed a consent form that stated in part:

I agree, whether I sign as a representative or as a patient, that in consideration of the service to be rendered to the patient, I agree to be personally responsible for the balance due after any applicable insurance payments. 

After Mr. Pittell was discharged, he was billed over $32,000 for the medical services provided to him. His application for charity care was denied due to his bank balances. The hospital did reduce the charge by 20% to approximately $25,800, because Pittell was uninsured. A majority of the five largest commercial insurers would have paid a higher rate on the patient’s bill.

Rather than paying the bill, Pittell sued the hospital on behalf of a class of similiarly situated patients, claiming that the consent form was unenforceable because the hospital failed to disclose its chargemaster (i.e., the hospital’s standard price list for hospital services) at the time of treatment.

The trial court rejected this argument, dismissing Pittell’s case and issuing a judgment requiring him to pay the amount of the discounted bill, plus attorney’s fees and costs.  The Court of Appeals of Washington affirmed.

Had Mr. Pittell purchased insurance on the exchange, he would have had coverage. Even if he did not, an attorney could advise him of important options, such as filing for bankruptcy, whether any federal benefits he was receiving (such as Social Security, the Veteran’s Improved pension) or a military or civil service pension or salary are protected against garnishment under federal law. The attorney could also have negotiated a reasonable payment plan.  If for some reason, the bill was already covered to some extent by Medicare, Medicaid or other health insurance, an attorney could help obtain evidence of other payments from the medical provider, review the bill, determine whether the amounts paid were accurate, and require the hospital to reduce the amount outstanding by the amount of any prior payments. If there is some insurance coverage, an attorney can also advise whether your state prohibit balance billing.

For more information about the circumstances under which federal benefits are protected, see my blog, When Are My Federal Benefits Protected?

Questions? Let Jane know.

Jane Fearn-Zimmer is a shareholder in the Elder and Disability LawTaxation, and Trusts and Estates Groups. She dedicates her practice to serving clients in the areas of elder and disability law, special needs planning, asset protection, tax and estate planning and estate administration. She also serves as Chair of the Elder & Disability Law section of the NJSBA.

Medicaid Planning In Incapacity: Brennan and Dale’s Excellent Adventures

Medicaid Planning In Incapacity

Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that provides funding for medical and long-term care to individuals with very low income and assets. Generally, a single individual cannot qualify for Medicaid unless her assets are less than $2,000 and she has gross monthly income below the sum of $2,313 (or if she does not, she uses a Miller Trust or a Qualified Income Trust correctly).  Where only one member of a married couple is applying for Medicaid, the healthy spouse may be able to retain up to the sum of $126,420 in 2019. Greater savings may be feasible with Medicaid planning.

Certain strategies can help you legally avoid unnecessary tax liability, avoid Medicaid liens and protect your assets, while facilitating eligibility for Medicaid and other means-tested public benefits.  Asset protection planning can preserve funds to pay for the “extras” that Medicaid cannot pay for, ensuring your loved one a measure of dignity and comfort. It can also protect the family home and even preserve a legacy for the children.

Planning strategies can include deeds, outright gifts, gifts in trust, and the purchase of Medicaid compliant annuities.  If the individual is able to enter into a legal and binding contract, execute a legal document and make decisions, public benefits planning can be done by the individual.  If this is no longer possible, the next option would be to plan through an existing general durable power of attorney.

But what if there is no power of attorney, or the existing power of attorney cannot be used?  Suppose step-brothers Brennan and Dale cannot get along but their parents, Nancy and Robert, named them as their decision-makers on their respective general durable powers of attorney, and the documents require Brennan and Dale to act jointly?  If Nancy and Robert are now incapacitated, using the power of attorney is not a viable option.  Nor will it be, if both Brennan and Dale refuse to serve and there is no other agent.  In this situation, Nancy and Robert could still benefit from Medicaid and tax planning through a guardianship.

The courts of New Jersey and many other states recognize that as incapacitated individuals, people like Nancy and Robert still have the right to restructure their finances through lawful tax and Medicaid planning as if they were able to act independently.  Once certain factors are established, a court is authorized to approve tax and Medicaid planning in the best interests of the incapacitated individual.  In these situations, asset protection planning may be accomplished through a guardianship.

An experienced and knowledgeable elder law attorney can help you determine whether your loved one needs tax or asset protection planning, and if so, when that planning can be authorized and carried out through a guardianship.

Questions? Let Jane know.

Jane Fearn-Zimmer is a shareholder in the Elder and Disability LawTaxation, and Trusts and Estates Groups. She dedicates her practice to serving clients in the areas of elder and disability law, special needs planning, asset protection, tax and estate planning and estate administration. She also serves as Chair of the Elder & Disability Law section of the NJSBA.

Medicaid Estate Recovery and the Home

Jane Fearn-Zimmer explains Medicaid Estate Recovery and the Home

MLTSS Medicaid pays for long term care for individuals with low income (below $2,313 gross monthly in 2019) and low assets.

Post-mortem (after death) Medicaid liens protect the fiscal integrity of the MLTSS Medicaid program by attaching to property held by a Medicaid enrollee at death. In most cases, such Medicaid liens are imposed upon property held by a former Medicaid enrollee to recoup the cost of care and services provided to the enrollee after reaching the age of 55. After the death of the Medicaid beneficiary, the Medicaid estate recovery program collects on the Medicaid liens, with the lien proceeds being paid to the government.

In most cases, Medicaid liens attach only to property in which the Medicaid enrollee held an interest at the moment immediately before death. If the Medicaid enrollee retained no interest just before death, there is nothing subject to a Medicaid lien.

An important planning strategy is to remove the name of the future MLTSS Medicaid recipient from the title to valuable property, such as a home. If the future Medicaid recipient is married, often this property can be transferred to the healthy spouse without any Medicaid penalty period, even during the five year Medicaid look back period.

If the future Medicaid enrollee’s name is not removed from the property at the correct time, a Medicaid lien on real property can cloud title, accelerate a mortgage, and potentially place the property in foreclosure.  Even if the mortgage is not accelerated, the Medicaid lien must be paid before the real property can be sold, given away or refinanced.  Consequently, that is one reason why you should only trust your Medicaid application to an experienced Medicaid attorney, who can determine the best strategy to avoid a Medicaid lien.

Every case is different.  Irrevocable trusts will be suitable for some clients; others may be able to transfer the home without incurring a Medicaid penalty period, where there is a blind or disabled child, a sibling with an equity interest in the home, or, less frequently, to a caregiver child.  There are also some limited exceptions to Medicaid estate recovery.

The good news is that an experienced and knowledgeable elder law attorney can explain how to protect your home and your life savings, even if your loved one is already in long-term care.

Questions? Let Jane know.

Jane Fearn-Zimmer is a shareholder in the Elder and Disability LawTaxation, and Trusts and Estates Groups. She dedicates her practice to serving clients in the areas of elder and disability law, special needs planning, asset protection, tax and estate planning and estate administration. She also serves as Chair of the Elder & Disability Law section of the NJSBA.

Can I Keep My Small Business and Still Go on Medicaid?

small business.jpg

Medicaid, the largest payment source for nursing home care in the United States, is a government health insurance program for low-income, low asset individuals. In New Jersey, a single individual generally cannot become financially eligible for Medicaid during any month in which her assets exceed the sum of $2,000 by even one cent on the first date of that month.  The $2,000 limited for Medicaid eligibility is referred to as the resource eligibility limit.

Certain assets are disregard in determining whether an individual is in excess of the Medicaid eligibility resource limit. The income producing property exemption may protect certain business property, including the land and buildings from which the small business is operated (and the machines, tools, trucks and equipment and even cash held in bank and investment accounts) where that business property is income producing property essential to self-support.  See 42 U.S.C. § 1382b(a)(3).

Suppose Kylie is age 65, has had a stroke, and now needs Medicaid to pay for her long-term care.  If Kylie owned and operated a profitable business selling her own line of cosmetics for several years before her entry into skilled care, the business, its inventory and the business’s operating accounts may be excluded from consideration in determining whether Kylie is eligible for Medicaid.

If you’re faced with a similar situation, it is important to seek counsel from a seasoned elder law attorney to ensure that you find the best care, and that you will qualify for Medicaid in order to pay for that care with public benefits. This can help you and your family protect the family home and your life savings, as well as ensure the best care is given to you or a loved on.

Questions? Let Jane know.

Jane Fearn-Zimmer is a shareholder in the Elder and Disability LawTaxation, and Trusts and Estates Groups. She dedicates her practice to serving clients in the areas of elder and disability law, special needs planning, asset protection, tax and estate planning and estate administration. She also serves as Chair of the Elder & Disability Law section of the NJSBA.

Is My Memory Loss Normal Aging or Something More?

Sad senior woman after quarrel

Garden variety memory lapses, like misplacing car keys, are normal, but where do you draw the line? A good rule of thumb is that if you notice that your loved one has repeated episodes of memory loss, and/or troubling personality changes or difficulty performing everyday tasks, like driving or financial management, it could be time for a crisis elder care plan. Here are some red flags to watch for:

  • Asking the same questions over and over again;
  • Repeating the same stories;
  • Difficulty paying bills, balancing the check book or reading a bank or credit card statement;
  • Difficulty adding and subtracting;
  • Late notices and missed payments, unopened mail accumulating;
  • Paying the same bill multiple times in the same month;
  • Difficulty performing everyday tasks (getting lost and being unable to find your way home, forgetting how to operate a home appliance);
  • Decline in personal hygiene (not bathing or brushing teeth, wearing the same clothing day after day);
  • Inappropriate attire, behavior, statements and/or language;
  • Confusion or word-finding difficulty (ex. asking where the “bread-thingy” is instead of where the toaster is;
  • Inability to retain new information; and/or
  • Irritability or foul language, behavior consistent with depression, apathy, anxiety, agitation, delusions and hallucinations, wandering, aggression

If you notice one or more of these signs, it may be a good idea to contact an elder lawyer without delay. An elder lawyer can help you find the best care and a way to pay for that care with public benefits, while protecting your life savings and the family home.

Questions? Let Jane know.

Jane Fearn-Zimmer is a shareholder in the Elder and Disability LawTaxation, and Trusts and Estates Groups. She dedicates her practice to serving clients in the areas of elder and disability law, special needs planning, asset protection, tax and estate planning and estate administration. She also serves as Chair of the Elder & Disability Law section of the NJSBA.