I have been practicing elder law for twenty years. The benefit of concentrating my practice in one area of the law is that everything I do is focused on that one area. When a new legal case affecting an issue of elder law is decided, I know about it. I’m a big believer in the adage “Jack of all trades, master of none.” As an attorney, I rely on my clients providing me with their personal information. I don’t establish my client’s information for them.
In the past five years, a number of non-attorney Medicaid advisory companies have popped up. These companies assist their customers with applying for Medicaid benefits with the local county boards of social services. Some of these companies promise prospective customers that they will do everything needed to apply for Medicaid benefits, including gathering the client’s information for the client.
The Medicaid program is a complex series of laws. In order to qualify for Medicaid benefits, applicants frequently have to navigate these laws. After helping clients apply for Medicaid benefits for twenty years, I can say that there are few simple Medicaid applications.
If a person has heard anything about the Medicaid program, they have heard about the five-year lookback period. When a person files an application for Medicaid benefits, the county board of social services that processes the application requests five years’ worth of financial statements to review the applicant’s finances during that period of time. Primarily, the county is looking to see if the applicant made any uncompensated asset transfers during the lookback period.
The lookback period is a forensic accounting. It is aimed at denying the applicant Medicaid benefits. The county is reviewing the applicant’s finances with an eye towards finding uncompensated asset transfers. If this weren’t true, the county would simply ask applicants to sign an affidavit saying the applicant did not make any uncompensated asset transfers during the lookback period and accept that affidavit without reviewing the bank statements. In other words, if the county weren’t looking to find uncompensated transfers by reviewing five years’ worth of bank statements, the county would just ask for and accept the applicant’s promise that she didn’t make any uncompensated transfers.
But in all but the most simple of cases the county doesn’t ask for or accept such a representation. Instead, the most trying part of a Medicaid application is the review of the applicant’s finances during the lookback period.
Non-attorney Medicaid companies have told several people I know that they will obtain all of the customer’s information and submit it to the county. In other words, that the company will do everything for the customer, so the customer can sit back and do nothing. For instance, the company might say, “We will get all of the documents that are needed to apply for Medicaid for your mother.”
On the other hand, I rely on my client’s supplying their information to me (bank statements, birth certificates, marriage certificates, health insurance cards, etc.). I do not obtain my client’s personal information for my client. I rely on my client providing their personal information to me. Because my practice is governed by ethical rules that prohibit me from lying to my clients, I don’t promise my clients something that is untrue.
And here’s the catch: non-attorney Medicaid companies cannot get all of the information needed to apply for Medicaid for you either. In fact, I have a copy of one of these company’s retainer agreements and it specifically states that the client must provide the company with the information the company requests of the customer. There are many reasons to hire an attorney to assist you with your Medicaid application, and honesty in dealing with you is one big reason.