Do you suddenly need to qualify for Medicaid as a senior because you cannot afford the high cost of long-term care? If so, you are hardly alone. Over half of all seniors eventually turn to the Medicaid program for help paying for long-term care (LTC) expenses. If you included Medicaid planning in your comprehensive estate plan a long time ago you should be all set to qualify for Medicaid benefits without any risk to your assets; however, if you did not include Medicaid planning in your estate plan early on you are likely facing a bit of a crisis because the need to qualify for Medicaid may put your heard-earned assets at risk. Can North Dakota Medicaid Planning help at the last minute? Given the unique nature of Medicaid planning, only an experienced North Dakota estate planning attorney can review your circumstances and provide you with individualized advice and suggestions; however, it is certainly possible that Medicaid planning may be able to help, even at the last minute.
Why Might You Suddenly Need to Qualify for Medicaid?
As you age, the likelihood that you will eventually need long-term care increases exponentially. If you have recently reached that point, you have also likely realized how expensive LTC is. In the State of North Dakota, you can expect to pay, on average, about $130,000 a year for LTC with an average length of stay of 2.5 years. That means you are looking at an average LTC bill of well over $300,000. Unless you elected to purchase a separate LTC rider for your health insurance coverage you will not likely be covered by that policy. Don’t expect any help from Medicare either as that program only covers LTC under very limited circumstances, and even then only for a short period of time. That leaves the average person without coverage for LTC costs which is where Medicaid comes in to the picture. Medicaid does cover LTC costs; however, you must qualify for benefits first.
The Problem Qualifying for Medicaid Benefits
Medicaid is a federally funded (predominantly), but state administered, health care program for low income individuals, families, seniors, and the disabled. Consequently, each state sets its own eligibility guidelines and benefit schedules; however, all states impose income and asset limits. In most states, including North Dakota, the asset limit (or “countable resources” limit) is just $2,000 for an individual applicant. For the average senior who failed to include Medicaid planning in his/her estate plan early on, the countable resource limit can be a problem. If the value of your assets exceeds the limit Medicaid will impose a waiting period before benefits can begin during which you are expected to rely on those assets to cover your LTC costs. In essence, your nest egg could be gone overnight because of your LTC expenses. Finally, transferring assets out of your estate at the last minute in anticipation of the need to qualify for Medicaid won’t work because Medicaid uses a five-year “look-back” period that effectively discounts any asset transfers made during the previous five years.
Can Last Minute Medicaid Planning Help?
Because of the “look-back” period, Medicaid planning provides maximum benefits when started at least five years prior to the need to qualify for benefits. That does not mean, however, that last minute Medicaid planning can’t help you if you suddenly need to qualify for benefits. An experienced North Dakota estate planning attorney may be able to use last-minute strategies to protect some, even all, of your assets and still ensure that you qualify for Medicaid benefits. For example, certain asset transfers are exempt from the look-back penalty. In addition, it may be possible to convert a non-exempt asset into an exempt asset. The key to protecting your assets, and setting yourself up for Medicaid eligibility, is to consult with a North Dakota estate planning attorney immediately if you suddenly need to qualify for Medicaid because of the need for long-term care.
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions about Medicaid planning in the State of North Dakota contact the experienced estate planning attorneys at German Law by calling 701-738-0060 to schedule an appointment.