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Beware of Non-Lawyers Offering Medicaid Planning Advice

This week, we kick-off a month long discussion about Medicaid Benefits and Planning. Medicaid, also known as Medical Assistance or MA in Pennsylvania, is a federal program administered by the State to provide medical care for those who cannot afford the care. It is a vast, far reaching program. Medicaid is the largest payer to nursing homes across the state of Pennsylvania (and country), by far.

The Medicaid application process is a complicated maze with plenty of traps for those who are inexperienced in navigating the system. Additionally, the amount of misinformation that is proffered by supposedly “reliable” sources causes many individuals to make costly planning mistakes at an already stressful time in their lives. Consequently, it is essential that you seek out guidance from an experienced Elder Law Attorney at the outset of any Long Term Care planning.

In recent years, a number of non-lawyers have started businesses offering Medicaid planning services to seniors. Additionally, many social workers who assist individuals with the Medicaid application process are offering advice, even though they are unfamiliar with the complex planning options that may be available. While using one of these services or relying on “unpaid” advice may be much cheaper than hiring an attorney, the overall cost may end up being far greater.

If you use a non-lawyer to do Medicaid planning, the person offering services may not have any legal knowledge or training. Bad advice can lead seniors to purchase products or take actions that won’t help them qualify for Medicaid and may actually make it more difficult. The consequences of taking bad advice can include the denial of benefits, a Medicaid penalty period, or tax liability.

As a result of problems that have arisen from non-lawyers offering Medicaid planning services, a few states (Florida, Ohio, New Jersey, and Tennessee) have issued regulations or guidelines providing that Medicaid planning by non-lawyers will be considered the unauthorized practice of law. For example, in Florida, a non-lawyer may not render legal advice regarding qualifying for Medicaid benefits, draft a personal service contract, determine the need for or execute an income trust, or sell income trust kits. In Florida, the unlicensed practice of law is a felony that is punishable by up to five years in prison, while in Ohio, practicing law without a license is subject to civil injunction, civil contempt, and civil fine

Applying for Medicaid is a highly technical and complex process. Experienced lawyers who are familiar with Medicaid law in the applicant’s state are best able to help navigate this process. The attorneys at Zacharia Brown are knowledgeable in helping clients to plan and find significant financial savings and/or better care for themselves or their loved one. This detailed planning may involve the use of trusts, transfers of assets, purchase of annuities or increased income and resource allowances for the healthy spouse.

The attorneys at Zacharia Brown can advise you about Elder Law Issues, Estate Planning and Medicaid Benefits and ensure that you are properly informed when making important decisions.  Please contact us at 724.942.6200 or visit us at PittsburghElderLaw.com  to schedule an appointment today.

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