Words of Praise

“I had the opportunity to read your book and loved it. This is a book I would be happy to give my clients, as I believe it would assist them in understanding the process. This is a wonderful book!”

- Christina Stone, JD
Attorney, certified specialist estate planning, trust and probate law
La Habra, CA

About the Book

Excerpts


Prologue
Chapter 1: Great Uncle Pat

Chapter 2: Grandmother
Chapter 5: Scammers and Shysters alert
Chapter 8: Barbara, The Good Daughter
Chapter 11: Choosing a Medi-Cal Advisor

Chapter 11
CHOOSING A MEDI-CAL ADVISOR

Questions to ask prospective Medi-Cal advisors

First ask yourself: Am I typically penny-wise and pound-foolish? This is an important consideration when seeking a competent elder finance or elder law advisor.

If you answer ‘Yes’ to the above question, then you will likely be satisfied working with advisors who charge lower fees and deliver limited services. For example, former Medi-Cal eligibility workers advertise their services as Medi-Cal advisors. While these advisors understand Medi-Cal’s rules and regulations, they are often unschooled about financial planning, investing and legal matters. If you are content to pay for Medi-Cal-only guidance, such advisors may fulfill your needs. They typically charge less than professionally credentialed financial advisors and elder law attorneys.

Another avenue for penny-wise, pound-foolish consumers is to secure assistance from advisors who claim to charge nothing to assist you with your Medi-Cal application. This actually comes under the heading of TINSTAAFL: There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. When queried how they are paid for their services, these advisors answer with some variation on this theme: “The companies I work for pay me.” Translated into plain English, this means they receive commissions for re-routing your assets into different investments. Medi-Cal qualifying annuities are typically the investment vehicle of choice. Caveat emptor: Let the buyer beware.

If you prefer to use professionally-credentialed advisors who tell you upfront their services and fees and who know how financial planning, investing and legal matters integrate with Medi-Cal, then the following list of questions will prove helpful to finding and selecting a competent advisor. These questions are designed for consumers who know little or nothing about Medi-Cal or Medi-Cal advisors.

Q. How can a family increase the amount of assets a spouse at home can keep?
A. Best answer: The advisor will talk about increasing the Community Spouse Resource Allowance through a fair hearing or court petition. Whatever is said, go to the next question.
Unacceptable answer: “There is no way to increase the amount of assets a spouse can keep.”

Q. Can you provide names and contact numbers for two clients that you have represented at fair hearings?
A. Best answer: “Yes, I can. However, I must first check with them before I give you their phone numbers.”
Unattractive answer: “I’ve never had to go to a hearing. I make sure my cases are right before I submit them.” (Likely indicates an advisor with limited Medi-Cal experience.)
Unacceptable answer: “I don’t give out my clients’ names and numbers.”

If the advisor is unwilling to provide references, go to the next advisor on your list. If the advisor provides references, call them. You know the advisor will only provide names of satisfied clients, but call them anyway. Talking with the advisor’s clients will give you a feel for his/her manner of conducting business.

Q. How do clients pay for your services?
A. Best answer: “I charge hourly or flat fees for consultations and processing Medi-Cal applications from A to Z.”
Expensive answer: “I charge a fee based on a percentage of my client’s assets.”
Unacceptable answer: “I handle Medi-Cal cases for free.”

Q. For non-attorney advisors: What professional designations do you hold?
A. Best answers (any one or more): CFP-Certified Financial Planner, ChFC-Chartered Financial Consultant, CLU-Chartered Life Underwriter, CPA-Certified Public Accountant, EA-Enrolled Agent. May also encounter qualified advisors with medical or other designations, such as RN – Registered Nurse or Forensic Examiner – Consultant. Less attractive answers: Little-known designations containing words ‘senior’ or ‘elderly.’

Q. For financial advisors: How do you handle wills and trusts and power of attorneys?
A. Best answer: “I am very familiar with estate planning documents and know how they work with Medi-Cal, however, I do not draft such documents. I am not licensed to practice law. If you have a relationship with an established estate planning attorney, I will coordinate our efforts with your attorney. If you do not have an established relationship with an estate planning attorney, we will provide names of two to three established estate planning attorneys that we have worked with over the years.”
B. Highly unattractive answer: “I am not an attorney but I work with an attorney in _____” (names a faraway city) “who reviews all my work. I can help you draft your estate planning documents for much lower fees than those charged by local attorneys.”

You have worked all of your life to accumulate your resources. However large or small that amount is, you earned it and you want to direct its use. Trying to save a few dollars on estate planning fees is clearly penny-wise and pound-foolish. When you need estate planning help, get experienced help from an experienced estate planning attorney.

Q. For elder law attorneys: Do you handle our financial matters in connection with our application for Medi-Cal?
A. Best answer: “I understand how financial assets and income work with Medi-Cal but I am not a financial advisor. If you have a financial advisor who is willing to follow our directions explicitly, then we will coordinate our work with your advisor. If you don’t have an established relationship with a financial advisor, we will provide names of two or three advisors that we have worked with over the years.”
B. Unattractive answer: “Yes, we handle everything for you.”

You have worked all of your life to accumulate your resources. However large or small that amount is, you earned it and you want to direct its use. Having elder law/estate planning attorneys direct your investing makes no more sense than having financial advisors draft your legal documents. You want a team approach where each professional keeps your needs uppermost. You do not want individual egos to get in the way of your best interests.

Q. For all advisors: What percentage of your business comes from elder finance or elder law work?
A. Best answer: Twenty-five percent or more.
B. Unattractive answer: Ten percent or less.

Competent advisors usually charge a flat fee for an initial consultation, with fees typically ranging from $250 to $500. Given the high costs of nursing home care, paying for a second opinion may be a good investment.

When you go for an initial consultation, bring everything: bank statements, investment account statements, wills, trusts, powers of attorney, insurance polices and statements, burial arrangements, real estate trust deeds, notices from hospitals and nursing homes, papers for any earlier applications. If you or your relative is not organized, overcome your embarrassment and bring along the boxes and files full of miscellaneous stuff. Good advisors want to hear from you about Mom’s situation but they need to see current documents that verify her financial and legal condition.

If you pay for professional guidance, follow your advisor’s instructions explicitly. As explained previously, Medi-Cal and other affiliated aid programs follow regulations that often do not make sense to consumers. You hire an advisor because that person knows bureaucratese, which to inexperienced consumers is a foreign language. Do you and your loved ones a huge favor and don’t second-guess your advisor. If you are skeptical about your advisor’s directions, say so. If you really question your advisor’s directions, seek a second opinion.

 


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