Arizona elder law is the general term for those legal issues that commonly affect the elderly population, including but not limited to: estate planning, medicaid, and guardianship. Although most elder law issues are the same throughout the United States, the controlling laws are state as opposed to federal and thus vary from one state to another. That said, however, the controlling laws applicable to Medicaid are largely federal in nature.
Medicaid is often the predominant issue associated with elder law.
What is Medicaid?
Medicaid is a needs-based, federally-funded, state-administered program that pays for long-term care.
Well, just what does that mean? In non-legalese, it means that it is a program to pay for the nursing-home care of certain, qualified individuals.
Many people assume that Medicare will pay for their nursing-home care, if necessary. While this may be true in the short-term, Medicare will generally only pay for the first 20 days of nursing-home care, in full, after which point there is a significant co-payment requirement. Further, Medicare will not pay for more than 100 days of nursing home care.
Qualifying for Medicaid
As previously mentioned, Medicaid is a needs-based program, which means that only those people who own less than a specific amount of countable assets and receive less than a specific amount of monthly income, qualify for Medicaid.
That said, there is a common belief that a person must be destitute in order to qualify for Medicaid. While this may be true in when a person applies for Medicaid without the expertise of a qualified social worker or attorney, it most often times doesn't need to be the case.
Moreover, there are ways to structure ownership of a person's assets to allow them to qualify for Medicaid while also allowing them to retain use and control of those assets, however, some strategies can actually cause a person to become ineligible for Medicaid indefinitely.
In Arizona, Medicaid law imposes a 60-month look-back period during which the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System ("AHCCCS") will look for gifts or transfers for less than fair market value. If ALTCS finds any such transfers, those transfers will cause a period of ineligibility during which the Medicaid applicant will not be eligible for Medicaid, often call a "penalty period".
If a person applying for Medicaid has transferred assets to another, for less than fair market value, during during the 60 months preceding the application date — not the transfer date — the applicant will not be eligible for Medicaid until the penalty period has expired. Moreover, there is no maximum length to the penalty period.
For example, if a person in Maricopa County, Arizona transfers $100,0000 of assets three (3) years before the person applies for Medicaid, and the Medicaid monthly divisor is $$6,726.48, that person will not be eligible for Medicaid for a period of 14 months from the date of the Medicaid application, not the date of the transfer.
Furthermore, if in the previous example, the person transfer $500,000 of assets rather than $100,000, that person will be ineligible for a period of 74 months, which is longer than the look-back period, itself!
This is only one of many reasons why it's extremely important to rely on an expert when it comes to planning for Medicaid.
This brief overview of some important considerations associated with Arizona elder law is by no means comprehensive. Always seek the advice of a competent professional when making important financial and legal decisions.
Steve Cook is a Mesa, Arizona elder law attorney at Cook & Cook. Although his office is located in Mesa, Arizona, he represents clients throughout the Phoenix, Arizona Metropolitan area including the following east valley cities: Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Tempe, Chandler, & Gilbert.