If you or your spouse anticipate the need for nursing home care in the future, and particularly if you’re concerned about how you’ll finance that care, you’ll likely want to meet with an elder law attorney sooner rather than later.
Given the strict rules that govern Medicaid qualification, the absolute best case scenario is to start planning to qualify for the program at least five years before you actually need apply for benefits. Medicaid imposes a five year “look back” period, which means when you submit an application, you’re required to report any transfers of money or property you’ve made in the 60 months leading up to your application. There’s a wide variety of transactions – like the transfer of assets to your children – that can cause a delay in benefits. Planning early helps because transfers made before this 60 month period are not counted against you when it comes to qualifying for benefits. So, the earlier you get good advice and develop a plan, the more options you’ll have available to you.
That’s not to say it’s too late to talk to an attorney if you or your spouse will need to submit a Medicaid application in less than five years. The Medicaid rules do allow some “wiggle room” within the 5-year look back period, but failure to follow the rules to the letter can result in problems with your application and, ultimately, delay your benefits. That’s why you’ll want to work with an attorney who is experienced in dealing with Medicaid planning – he or she will be familiar with all the intricacies, and can help you make sure you play by the rules while preserving as much of your property as possible.
Choosing the right advisor and planning as far ahead as possible can help navigate the Medicaid rules with confidence.