If your family needs to begin healthcare and financial planning for an older relative – or if it’s time to start planning for yourself – get started now, find out the facts, and discuss your circumstances with a Phoenix elder law attorney.

If your parents are aging, for example, and if they have not talked with you about their plans for long-term care, you need to sit down as a family and talk about it. What we provide here is a brief introduction to long-term care planning that will outline and explain what you should discuss.

Elder law attorneys assist aging adults and their loved ones with retirement planning, healthcare planning, financial planning, and more. An elder law attorney may also advise clients regarding Medicare and Medicaid, incapacity planning, and assisted living. Here in Arizona, we provide planning and assistance with applying for ALTCS, Arizona’s Medicaid program, as well.

If you’ll continue reading, you’ll learn how an elder law attorney can help you and your loved ones plan for the future, and you will also learn how to ensure that an elderly loved one will be cared for properly in the years ahead.

What Legal Matters are Handled by Elder Law Attorneys in Arizona?

Attorneys who focus on elder law act as legal advocates on behalf of their elderly clients. Specifically, a Phoenix elder law attorney will help with planning for and managing the legal and financial (with the assistance of your financial planner) side of growing older, which includes but isn’t restricted to:

  1. estate planning;
  2. trust management and administration;
  3. probate (though with proper planning, we can avoid probate entirely);
  4. asset preservation for long-term care;
  5. healthcare and financial powers of attorney and advance directives;
  6. Medicaid (ALTCS) planning and claims, along with limited assistance with Social Security and Medicare; and
    conservatorships and guardianships.

What Makes Elder Planning Distinct From Estate Planning?

The significant distinction between most estate planning lawyers and elder law attorneys is this: elder law attorneys work with the elderly and their families to preserve and protect assets and income for you while you’re here and alive. This includes planning for long-term care, and navigating the complexities of the Medicaid system.

In contrast, most estate planning lawyers work with clients to ensure that a client’s instructions are followed and a client’s wishes are honored when the time comes. Estate planning lawyers also ensure that your assets and properties are rightly divided and distributed at that time.

What Financial Threat Do Most Older Adults Face?

The out-of-control cost of healthcare is the leading threat to your financial security if you’re age 50 or older. Seventy percent of those who are 65 and over will require long-term care at some point in their lives, but without proper planning, many of them won’t be able to afford it.

For example, in Arizona, the average monthly cost for nursing home care is $9,338 per month (or $ 112,056 annually). The average cost of at-home care in this state in 2020 was approximately $25 per hour, and adult day care services averaged $97 per day.

Without the proper planning, healthcare costs when you’re older will swiftly erode your savings. In some cases, Medicaid can even file a lien against your house for the costs of the care provided to you. The best estate planning is comprehensive enough to protect your estate for your family when that time comes, while also making sure that as you get older, you’re not dealing with unexpected financial troubles.

How Will a Planning Attorney Help?

By taking advantage of the right financial and legal tools – and by carefully reviewing your financial status and circumstances – a planning attorney can probably help you protect and preserve your savings and assets for the long-term care you may eventually need.

An elder law attorney will be familiar with Medicaid under the ALTCS system in Arizona, and will help you or your loved one apply for the benefits. Elder law attorneys should also be able to provide information regarding veteran’s benefits and a number of other government programs and resources. They can even get you set up with an experienced benefits coordinator.

What Should You Know About Medicare and Medicaid?

Medicare is federal health insurance available to those who are 65 and above. It offers very limited, short-term coverage for some of the costs that long-term care entails. Medicare only covers the most basic long-term healthcare, and generally only when the care is related to a recent hospital stay.

Medicaid is a combined state and federal medical assistance program. There’s a means test, but if you qualify, Medicaid can cover nearly all of your nursing home costs. The Arizona Medicaid program is called the Arizona Long Term Care System or “ALTCS.”

This can’t be stressed strongly enough: do not try to qualify for ALTCS by spending all of your money or by giving away your property and assets. This approach almost always does more harm than good, and can result in penalties and delays in ALTCS coverage. An Arizona long-term planning attorney can show you some less risky and far more effective options.

In fact, the right attorney can help you set up a comprehensive Medicaid plan that involves restructuring the ownership of assets and strategically transferring those assets so that a substantial portion of your resources aren’t counted when you seek eligibility for Medicaid.

Are There Other Resources for Long-Term Care?

Many older people in Arizona will have additional options other than Medicare and Medicaid for long-term care. Long-term care insurance, for example, is a relatively new and popular option, but there may be limits on per day payments or total expenditures.

A reverse mortgage lets you draw on your home’s equity to pay for long-term care. This may work for some people, but you should avoid that option if you’re single or if you want your home to go to your beneficiaries when that time comes.

Discuss with your attorney long-term care insurance or obtaining a reverse mortgage before you make any final decision about either of these options.

Wartime veterans and their surviving spouses who are 65 and older may be entitled to a tax-free benefit called Aid and Attendance provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. This can cover at least part of your long-term care needs, but the qualifications and limitations are complicated, and you’ll need a lawyer’s advice to help you take full advantage of the benefit.

How Do You Choose the Right Attorney?

Not every lawyer who advertises “elder law” has the knowledge and experience required to advise elderly clients and their families properly. Look for an attorney who has previously served other clients who had your own specific concerns. Specifically, look for an attorney who understands the extremely complicated Medicaid system, and who can help you plan for possible long-term care needs.

You should feel at ease with your attorney and have the confidence that he or she will provide the services and insights you need. Get answers to these questions – the right answers – before you select an attorney to handle long-term planning for you or your aging loved one:

  1.  What is your experience practicing and concentrating on elder law?
  2.  How much of your legal practice is dedicated to elder law?
  3.  Do you focus on any particular area of elder law?
  4.  Do you handle Medicaid planning and applications?
  5.  What documents and other information should I bring to the first consultation?
  6.  What are the fees and how are those fees determined?

If you need to plan for yourself or for an elderly relative, let an Arizona long-term planning attorney provide you with reliable legal advice and cost-effective solutions. We can’t know what tomorrow will bring, so the time to plan for it – and to schedule a consultation with an elder law attorney – is today.