If you are a veteran or if you have one in your family, you may be shocked to know that a Government Accounting Office Report to Congress in August of 2013 revealed the following about some who make themselves out to be “advisors” to veterans seeking benefits:
- VA procedures do not ensure advisors have good character
- VA relies on self-reporting to determine criminal history
- Some advisors had bankruptcies or liens, criminal backgrounds, and lacked adequate knowledge about the benefits
An example of a Veterans benefit is a program called Aid & Attendance, which assists veterans who do not have the ability to:
- dress/undress or bathe oneself
- keep oneself presentable
- take medications or feed oneself
The benefit pays for things like assisted living, nursing home or even in-home care and right now, there is no penalty for transferring your assets as gifts, in order to qualify, in most cases. But that may change because the VA wants to place strict limits on gifting. That may include a penalty period, delaying the time you can re-apply if your application is rejected.
This means you must have an advisor who is well-versed in the Aid & Attendance program, and its changes, in order to avoid added expenses and undue stress on yourself and your family.
But veterans are not the only ones who have to use caution when selecting an advisor to take them through the benefits application process.
If you are applying for Medicaid, there are many out there who want to “help” you and there is a real danger of using someone who is simply unqualified. Some Medicaid “planners” are not versed in the legal aspects of the process, such as:
- Legal documents such as Powers of Attorney
- Legal strategy, such as Personal Service Contracts and Qualified Income Trusts
- Advice about property relating to state laws
- Protection of your health and financial information
- Tax consequences
These un-trained, non-attorney “advisors” may recommend unnecessary or inappropriate investments, such as annuities which can result in the rejection of your application which will cause a delay in the receipt of benefits, loss of control of assets needlessly, and cause you to incur unnecessary fees.
Fortunately, there are questions you can ask and things to look for to prevent finding yourself receiving bad advice:
- Are they in a field that is licensed and regulated?
- What are their qualifications?
- Have they been convicted of a crime?
- Do they have insurance?
- Are they being sued?
- Are they selling you a financial product you don’t need, such as an annuity?
- Do they make a commission on what they sell you?
- Have they told you about their commission or do you have to ask?
For government benefits, Estate Planning and VA Accredited Attorneys are extremely important to get the process right the first time, and to avoid legal entanglements. An attorney knows the legal aspects of the application processes and:
- Are ethically obligated to provide appropriate planning strategies
- Know how VA and Medicaid benefits fit into your overall estate planning needs
- Can address your long term care options, legal and tax consequences
Your Goal should be to age with dignity and access the best care possible. You must take control of who manages finances if you become incapacitated and leave the legacy you choose, instead of the state doing it for you.
A Final Challenge
What will your legacy be? By securing your rightful benefits, controlling the disposition of your assets and choosing your decision maker and caretaker if you are incapacitated, you and your family will be on your way to the peace of mind and security you have worked for. To get there, take a cue from the VA’s warning about choosing your advisor wisely.