Watch out for elective share issues in Medicaid planning

When a married person requires nursing home care, the spouse often seeks advice on how to preserve assets and minimize his/her exposure to the high cost of care. Often this will require consideration of how the Medicaid program (MLTSS or NJ FamilyCare) can help out. Assets may be transferred to the “community spouse,” and beneficiary designations may be changed. Some assets will be retained and others may be spent. There may be gifts, and there may be annuities that are purchased. Each plan is unique. The Will of the community spouse may be altered so as not to leave everything to the spouse who now requires nursing home care.

What happens if the community spouse dies first, and the institutionalized spouse is receiving MLTSS Medicaid benefits? The Executor of the Estate and the Agent under Power of Attorney for the surviving spouse will have some reckoning to do. This ‘reckoning” refers to calculating and satisfying the “elective share.”

The elective share is a statutory share of the deceased spouse’s estate. It is calculated by following the formula in N.J.S.A.3B:8-1 et seq. Basically it starts with the deceased person’s probate assets (essentially, the assets that have no beneficiaries or co-owners or that aren’t held in a living trust), minus expenses and debts, plus an array of other assets such as joint accounts, pay on death accounts, and assets that were given away within the prior 2 years. This whole combination of subtractions and additions produces what’s called the “augmented estate.” The elective share is one-third of the augmented estate. The share is “satisfied” first from assets owned by the surviving spouse or that he receives as a result of the death, and then from probate assets, and then from non-probate assets.

Sometimes it turns out that the surviving spouse gets a distribution of zero from the estate of his late spouse, but other times, the distribution is substantial, creating some havoc as the Executor tries to figure out how to make the payment — often, there is real property but insufficient cash, and the Will may leave the property to somebody specific.

Why does any of this matter? A person on Medicaid is required to seek all assets to which he is entitled, or he will face the risk under N.J.A.C. 10:71-4.10  of a transfer penalty. The Appellate Division has ruled in I.G. vs DMAHS that.  the failure to claim the elective share is a transfer of assets. If a transfer penalty is imposed, the State doesn’t pay for the nursing home for a period of time.

The Agent under Power of Attorney for a Medicaid applicant or recipient is obligated to report changes to the program. This would include notification that the person has been widowed. Typically, the County Board of Social Services then inquires about the estate of the deceased spouse and whether the Medicaid recipient has received his elective share. If the surviving spouse isn’t yet on Medicaid, then this issue will have to be addressed if the surviving spouse applies for Medicaid benefits during the ensuing five years, because at the time of the application, there is a 5-year look-back to see if any assets were given away/transferred.

What’s the risk? The risk is that Medicaid benefits were wrongfully received by the surviving spouse who failed to receive assets he was entitled to as an elective share. This further creates the risk that there was an overpayment, and the State has options under N.J.S.A. 30:4D-7.1, to pursue all culpable parties by initiating a lawsuit in Superior Court.

Careful planning can prevent a crisis. Senior care planning involves a whole array of activity, some now and some later as situations change. Call us for advice for now, and for later. … 732-382-6070

Keep a close eye on your loved one’s care in a nursing home

It almost goes without saying that if your loved one is admitted to a health care facility, somebody outside of the institution needs to immerse themselves in the treatment & care planning process, read the chart on an ongoing basis, know what’s being prescribed, speak with the care providers or treatment team frequently, and demand answers to reasonable questions about What is being planned, Why it’s being recommended, How it will affect the patient, Where the follow-up care will be, and Who needs to be available to implement a safe follow-up plan. If the family member who is known as the “first responder” is having trouble gaining access to this information, the patient or his/her agent under power of attorney can sign a HIPAA authorization.  Somebody has got to keep an eye on what’s going on: there can be a lag time between the time a request is made and when the physician or nurse can act on it; the addition of a new medication can create new symptoms and imbalance for the patient; if the resident exhibits dramatic changes in demeanor such as lethargy, falling, stupor, or increased confusion, the family needs to be able to address it right away. And of course, often, a decision by the family is being demanded in a big rush.

Another reason somebody has got to keep watch over the patient is that there are times when inappropriate or unnecessary treatment is being provided. CNN did a disturbing expose recently about the off-label over-prescribing of a medication called Nuedexta to nursing home residents who have Alzheimers’ disease and other dementias, but also have symptoms of depression. The article says:

The pill, called Nuedexta, is approved to treat a disorder marked by sudden and uncontrollable laughing or crying — known as pseudobulbar affect, or PBA. This condition afflicts less than 1% of all Americans, based on a calculation using the drugmaker’s own figures, and it is most commonly associated with people who have multiple sclerosis (MS) or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. … Since 2012, more than half of all Nuedexta pills have gone to long-term care facilities. The number of pills rose to roughly 14 million in 2016, a jump of nearly 400% in just four years, according to data obtained from QuintilesIMS, which tracks pharmaceutical sales. … Nuedexta is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat anyone with PBA, including those with a variety of neurological conditions such as dementia. But geriatric physicians, dementia researchers and other medical experts told CNN that PBA is extremely rare in dementia patients; several said it affects 5% or less.

The report goes on to discuss, among other things, severe adverse consequences experienced by many patients who are receiving the drugs inappropriately.

The main point is not that I’m expressing a position on the bona fides of any particular practitioner’s prescribing patterns. It is, rather, to emphasize the extreme importance for every patient and every nursing home resident to have an attentive advocate watching over what is happening.

Call us for advice about elder care, nursing home placement and long term planning .. 732-382-6070

 

NJ 2017-18 Budget Adds Funding for Medicaid Long-Term Care

After the Governor and the Assembly leader resolved their Fourth of July Weekend Budget Kerfuffle, some positivity came out of it for Medicaid long-term care providers and beneficiaries.

Nursing home reimbursements would be increased by $10.5 million, shifting funds from Managed Long-Term Services and Supports (MLTSS). This would be $5.25 million of state funds with an identical federal match. The funds would be distributed by a per diem adjustment based on the increase. Assisted living per diems would also see a moderate increase from $73.13 for assisted living facilities, $63.13 for comprehensive personal care homes and $53.13 for assisted living programs, to $75, $65 and $55 respectively.

The legislature’s budget would also increase the minimum monthly personal needs allowance (PNA) to $50, effective July 1st, 2017. It had been $35 for a very long time.  The PNA is the amount a resident can keep from his or her income to use for monthly personal needs.  This applies to persons residing in nursing homes, state or county psychiatric hospitals, and State Developmental Centers who are eligible for Medicaid or SSI benefits.  We are awaiting a MedComm (Medicaid policy memorandum issued by the NJ Division of Medical Assistance and Health Services) to provide guidance on implementation of this increase.

Trying to pay for nursing home care? Call us to find out the real options with Medicaid eligibility … 732-382-6070

More formality may be better with intergenerational households

As elder law attorneys, our clients have presented us with many difficult situations involving adult children or grandchildren who live in their houses. Sometimes a child has run into some hard times and sees the parent’s home as an economical option; the child may move into his parent’s house along with his spouse and children. Sometimes the child just never became self-sufficient and never made any plan to move out. The adult child may or may not be disabled. Sometimes the expenses are being shared to a degree, but often the parent pays for most of the expenses. The parent may be wrestling with a feeling of obligation, and the child may have a feeling of entitlement. The child may feel that they are “taking care of the parent,” yet the actual need for care or the work being done may be imprecise and doubted by others in the family.

The longer the arrangement lasts, the more difficult it can be for the parent to move on. The dynamic can really change when there are other children who are upset at the arrangement. The parent’s financial security may get on edge. Things can particularly blow up when the parent has to hire a caregiver or wants to sell the house in order to downsize or move to assisted living or nursing home.  How can all of these competing interests be managed? How will the house be sold, and where will the child go?

Aging parents who are still supporting their adult children may want to do some careful planning. They need to consider what will happen to them if they need their funds for care but their child is counting on all of that ongoing financial support. There are many issues to consider. Should they charge actual rent? Should there be a written lease that specifies that occupancy only continues of the occupancy fees are paid? Should they put restrictions on the child’s behavior so that the parent’s peaceful residence isn’t disturbed? A parent may want to put a provision in his or her Will that allocates some extra amount for the dependent child so that at the parent’s death, there are extra funds for relocation. By putting protective provisions into the estate plan, the parent may be able to provide better protections than counting on other family members to honor the parent’s verbal “wishes.” It may not work well to just assume that the whole family will be able to work out an agreement to support the dependent one after mom or dad passes on.

At some point, should the parent insist that the child move out, but agree to pay for the alternate housing for some period of time? What if the house is going to be sold. Does the parent want to give the child written, enforceable rights to remain in the house for a certain amount of time under certain terms & conditions if the parent dies or moves out? How will that impact the parent’s well-being, or the ability of their Executor to wrap up the estate after death? Will the child need a new guardian or life care planner?

Call us for legal advice on developing a family well being plan … 732-382-6070

County Medicaid Agency Backs Off – Small Business Saved

Recently, a senior client who had a very small business that he ran by himself came to see me in a panic.  He was just making ends meet. His spouse had been on Medicaid in a nursing home for several years, but the county board of social services was now questioning the nature of the business and whether it was a countable resource that should have been spent down.  They were going to  terminate the wife’s eligibility.  “How can I appeal this?” was one of his worries.

The client was distraught, but we helped him to keep a level head.  Our first step was to file for a Medicaid Fair Hearing and make sure that benefits were continued while that administrative appeal was going on. Next was getting more information about this business–did it have any other employees other than the spouse?  What equipment or real estate was owned by the business?  How were taxes handled–could we see the returns?  Did the applicant spouse have an ownership interest in the business?

Once we had this information, it looked like these business activities and the equipment associated with them would fall firmly in the category of excluded resources under the New Jersey Medicaid regulations (N.J.A.C. 10:71-4.4):

“Excludable resources (b) The following resources shall be classified as excludable:  5. Nonhome property that is used in a business or nonbusiness self-support activity that is essential to the means of self-support of an individual and/or spouse, is excluded from resources.   i. Tools, equipment or other items that are used for trade or business and required for employment, including, but not limited to, the machinery and livestock of a farmer, are assumed to be of a reasonable value and producing a reasonable rate of return and are, therefore, excluded from resources.”

Further, under the Social Security Administration interpretive publication (called the POMS), there is no value limit to property that is essential to a trade or business.  It would all be excludable as long as it is in current use. The income the business generates to a community spouse is exempt, regardless of how much.  This is true of all income of a community spouse.

Once we fully disclosed the nature of the business and how it was essential to the spouse’s self-support, the county backed off and reinstated benefits. We could then withdraw the fair hearing.  The client was relieved and thrilled.  He could get back to caring for his wife without this cloud hanging over his head!

The Medicaid regulations are a thorny thicket, but sometimes protection is available if you can just find where it is hidden in there.

If you or a spouse needs Medicaid, but you are unsure about how an active business affects this, give us a call…. 732-382-6070