Applying for MassHealth long-term care benefits can be an arduous process. In addition to meeting the restrictive asset and income limits, applicants must submit a long list of materials along with their application, including up to five years of bank and investment account statements for them and their spouse, proof of income and health insurance, tax statements, funeral or burial contracts, etc.
Nursing homes often have staff that will help fill out the MassHealth application and compile some of these documents. For applicants with little to no assets this can be a good option. However, MassHealth applicants should know that these staff persons have a duty to their employer—the nursing home—and not to the applicant. They are also not trained in asset protection strategies and have no duty of confidentiality to the applicant.
All this means that, while certainly good intentioned, these staff persons can inadvertently miss an opportunity to preserve assets of the applicant. If an asset is discovered during the application process, staff will typically counsel applicant to ‘spend down’ the asset by private paying for long-term care until it is reduced—essentially handing your money over to the nursing home.
If, however, you work with an elder law attorney familiar with the MassHealth application process and asset protection strategies, your options can be greatly enhanced. Although each scenario is different, people thinking of applying for MassHealth typically fall into two camps:
Preplanning for MassHealth
Planning ahead for MassHealth eligibility, like many things in life, offers the greatest flexibility in protecting your assets. Through a combination of gifting transactions, strategic spend downs and trust planning, virtually your entire estate can shielded from long-term care costs. To be most effective, however, preplanning must be done at least five (5) years prior to needing to apply for MassHealth.
Crisis Planning for MassHealth
Not everyone plans ahead and sometimes we simply don’t anticipate a crisis until it is too late. However, there are still effective asset protection strategies for MassHealth applicants who need immediate care or who are already in a care facility and are privately paying. Why spend all of your hard earned assets on nursing care when you may be able to protect some of them for your loved ones. It’s never too late to assess your options.
Hybrid MassHealth Planning for Spouses
Often one spouse will face a crisis, needing immediate care, while the other spouse is perfectly healthy. In this case a combination of crisis planning and preplanning may be appropriate so that the spouse in need of care can get immediate benefits without reducing their partner’s quality of life. The health spouse can then ensure that should he or she ever need care in the future, their family is fully protected.
Whatever scenario you are faced with, the Heritage Law Center can help walk you through the application process and the various protection strategies at your disposal. We will handle the paperwork, serve as your liaison with the nursing home and advocate with MassHealth, and also structure your estate for maximum protection. Call us for a free consultation before your options are limited.