My brother and I have started the process of getting Miss Cathy’s “Estate” in order. We also want to sure that when the time comes she’s able to take full advantage of Medicaid for long-term care in a nursing home.
The process is daunting; hiring a lawyer (good luck setting all of this up on your own), researching what to ask, what to expect, and the paper work and forms, Oye Vey! Part of me is frustrated (and panic’d) that we’ve dragged our feet for so long and another part of me wants to cut the two of us some slack and remind myself that “things happen when they’re suppose to, and if we didn’t do it before it wasn’t meant to be so if we’re doing it now, it’s the right time”, so, there’s that constant push/pull of reprimand and encouragement going on in my head (it’s getting awful noisy in there).
The first step was a lot of research (mostly online) finding out what to expect and the steps to take. The more I read and the more I learned it seemed like pretty dangerous water to navigate alone so it became glaringly clear was that we’d need a lawyer. Given the legal world we swim in it’s best navigated by sharks (i.e. lawyers) anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for lawyers, I just hate that I feel powerless in that arena, like I’m always having to depend on a lawyer to translate and interpret my options, the law and then advocate for me. And the whole process and outcome never seem to be as clear-cut as on TV. The way the system works you’re as good as “dead man walking” if you enter into a courtroom to represent yourself. The “legal-eeze” in the documents alone is enough to make you feel like a damsel in distress so that one of the lawyers on the TV commercials (from the firm of “Rip-off, fly by night and takes all your money up front with no guarantees of getting you want you asked for) appears to be your knight in shining armour.
So, it was with that skepticism that I started my quest back in April. First, I contacted the local chapter of Alzheimers.org and they gave me a referral list of lawyers in the area that specialized in elder-care (a growing market of lawyers that work with families on estate planning, wills, Power of attorney, etc). They even have an organization called “The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys” (website: http://www.naela.org) and can be researched state by state.
The list for my area wasn’t that long which surprised me given that we live just outside a major Metropolitan area (and judging from the assisted living, retirement communities and the huge amount of space given over to handicapped parking in the local shopping areas) I assumed it would be like shooting fish in a barrel to find a lawyer.
There may not have been a plethora of lawyers to choose from it was a start and in the end all I needed was just one good lawyer that we’d been comfortable working with.
I wrote down a short list of specific questions that I asked each lawyer during my initial phone call to save time and to help eliminate lawyers that I didn’t think would be a good fit for our situation. I didn’t want to waste my time or theirs so I made a point of being very specific and stressed what my ultimate goal was for my mother and asked them about there experience doing what I needed. These were my questions:
1) My goal is to help my mother qualify for long term care in a nursing home and have Medicaid pay for all of it-how do I achieve that and respect her wishes that her home not be used to pay for her care?
2) What is the Medicaid “look back“ that I’ve heard so much about and are there any ways around it?
3) Is her current will valid?
4) Does she need “estate planning” if she has little in the way of assets?
5) Do you charge for a consultation and if so/what?
6) What is your hourly rate?
7) Do you charge by the project or by the hour?
8 What has been your experience working with “elder care”?
9) How many estates have you set up?
If I was lucky enough to get the lawyer on the phone (and they were gracious enough) to indulge my questions I took notes so that I could compare and contrast later. Asking about the Medicaid “look back” was the most eye-opening question because the laws have changed recently and one lawyer cited old information and it made me realize that I shouldn’t assume that “any or all” lawyers I talked to had the most current information.
I left messages with secretaries for those not available and it took the better part of a week to talk to the seven lawyers on my list. After eliminating the lawyer with the outdated info (that was no-brainer) and the one who said that eldercare was really not the mainstay of his practice, I was left with five to choose from and they all said and offered pretty much the same thing (with a slight variation on their hourly rate which ranged from $275 to $400 an hour) except one.
Interestingly, only one lawyer, Cheryl Chapman Henderson asked me a question none of the others did. After my standard “Q and A” she asked me, “Do you know about the VA Pension Benefit?” and when I answered “no” she proceeded to tell how Miss Cathy might be able take advantage of this little known program offered to widows of a veterans who served during a time of war (any war). She had piqued my interest with that little factoid so that exchange put her on the top of my list-I liked that she brought something to the table that I would otherwise never have known about.
She also told me that they hosted a free estate-planning workshop at her firm so I signed up, thinking it would help me to gather some more information that would help me make a decision as to how to proceed.
Next week Paper Chase: Part ll