For a farm boy like me, there may not be a more exciting time of the year than right now. Spring planting begins an annual, sacred practice of creating and nurturing life.
However, before a farmer even starts his or her tractor in the spring, that farmer has already laid a lot of groundwork. Months earlier, soils were sampled and tested to determine its needs. Money was either borrowed from a lender or pulled from reserve accounts to purchase inputs. Seed to match the soil composition was ordered. The soil may have been cultivated or treated with herbicide. Fertilizer will have been ordered, paid for and applied. Only then, after the preliminary steps are undertaken, does the act of planting begin.
Without the preliminary steps, planting is not as effective as it can be. Similarly, planning for long-term care (ensuring access to healthcare while protecting family wealth) is most effective when planned for in advance.
There are important steps to undertake now to prepare for the potential eventuality of facing the need for long-term care, in either a nursing home, in assisted living or with homecare or hospice. This is where that preparation starts.
First, update powers of attorney for healthcare and finances. A proper financial power of attorney is especially crucial, because there is certain required language in financial powers of attorney that must be included if an agent (rather than the person affected) is to help the affected person apply for financial aid (such as Medicaid) for long-term care (such as a nursing home), if the affected person is not able to do that for himself or herself (i.e. due to accident or illness).
Second, make a basic list of all assets and liabilities. This information will inevitably change if/when long-term care is ever needed in the future, but having an earlier version of this information saves significant time when time is more precious (like when the long-term care is urgently needed).
Third, hire an attorney who has experience with Medicaid and long-term care planning. That attorney can and will explain and help implement asset titling and ownership structures that will make a later, eventual application for Medicaid assistance more likely to be successful, as soon as possible, when needed.
Fourth, investigate and study the tools explained by the attorney. Of course, the attorney can and should help in this education process. Basic familiarity with irrevocable trusts, restricted, retained life estates and gifting laws helps ensure that the recommended tools are being used properly. Thus, as with most things in life, Medicaid and nursing home/long-term care planning tools are only effective if and when they are used properly.
Fourth, act promptly, but do not despair if it seems much later than ideal to begin planning. A farmer who is late to the field to plant corn does not help the corn grow any better if/when that farmer feels bad about the tardy planting. Otherwise stated, move quickly but remember that, even when someone is already receiving long-term care, resources/help may still be available.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.