Frequently Asked Questions about Estate Planning in New Jersey

What is elder law?

Elder law is a legal discipline that addresses the issues commonly faced by older adults. This includes estate planning, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, long term care planning, health care decisiomaking, elder abuse and trust and estate administration. Some attorneys focus almost exclusively on Medicaid planning but a more comprehensive approach better serves clients.

Why should I see an elder lawyer as opposed to a general lawyer?

Most attorneys will draft Wills, powers of attorney and health documents. However, if they are not familiar with the complexities of the health and long term care systems, they cannot tailor these documents to their clients’ needs as they age. Medicaid and other public benefits programs have complex and ever changing rules, so attorneys who do not have deep expertise should not undertake long term care planning.

How do I pick an elder law attorney?

With the aging baby boomers and a slump in other specialties, more attorneys are looking to elder law as an area of practice. It is important for consumers to know whether an attorney has deep expertise in the area or if they are a newcomer to the field. Certification and involvement with the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys indicates genuine dedication to the area. You should also ask about an attorney’s fee structure and the areas of elder law they focus on. Our firm is at the forefront of an innovative interdisciplinary practice model called life care planning which helps clients address their legal, financial and care needs.

Do I have to sign my house over to the nursing home if I need care?

No, most facilities are paid on a month-to-month basis. Even facilities that require a large up front payment will not demand a home be signed over. Furthermore, Medicaid exempts the applicant’s home if a spouse is residing in it. However, proper planning is required to preserve the property for heirs.

What will happen to me if my spouse needs long-term care?

Medicaid considers assets of both spouses in determining eligibility. Without planning, this can mean loss of your hard-earned assets even if you had the funds before you married. We can help you protect yourself so a spouse’s illness does not result in your impoverishment.

Can I transfer my assets to my children and then go into an assisted living or nursing home?

Transfers within 5 years of applying for Medicaid result in a penalty period being assessed. Depending on your situation, there are policy exceptions and other ways to protect assets even if you will likely need care within five years. There are many pitfalls in Medicaid planning though and only the most experienced attorneys can guide you properly.

My parent is already in a facility. Is it too late to act?

Not necessarily. In most cases, we can still work with seniors to preserve assets even once they enter a facility. Moreover, there are many other ways that we can assist your parent with Medicare and insurance issues, protection of resident rights, prevention of inappropriate discharge and application for Medicaid or VA benefits.

Isn’t it expensive to work with an elder law attorney?

Our legal fees for asset protection are typically less than the cost of one month in a nursing home and can result in savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Do I really need a Will if I don’t have a lot of money?

Almost everyone needs a Will regardless of wealth. A Will ensures your assets pass to the individuals you wish but also appoints individuals to handle your estate, care for minor children and make funeral arrangements for you. Without a Will your loved one will likely have to get a bond and funds left to minors (i.e. grandchildren) will be held up in the surrogate’s office.

How will my child with special needs be cared for after I am gone?

Many older adults care for their child with disabilities and this is their biggest fear. Too often they fail to plan out of fear and denial. However, we can help put in place a plan to ensure that there are funds available for their loved one without endangering their public benefits. Our firm also helps with transition planning that addresses legal, financial, residential and care issues.

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