Do I have to sign over all my assets when I enter a long-term care facility?
I get asked some version of this question fairly frequently. I generally reassure clients that most facilities simply require you to pay month-to-month, and you can leave at any time. Now I may have to change my response, as news broke this week that a New Jersey woman allegedly had all her assets stolen by the very entity she trusted to care for her.
The woman entered a facility for a short-term rehab stay with every intention of returning home. Apparently the facility thought otherwise, as they enlisted a financial company to “assist” the woman in liquidating her assets to pay for her facility care and spend down to apply for Medicaid. I and other elder lawyers, along with several consumer protection agencies in the state, have long warned consumers about nonlawyer Medicaid advisors. These entities work closely with the nursing home industry, often having the same ownership and leadership. In this case, the POA is both an officer with the facility and the principal of the Medicaid advisor company that was hired to make the resident Medicaid eligible without her knowledge.
Some facilities require or coerce residents to hire these Medicaid advisors to prepare Medicaid applications for them. Unfortunately, they are not lawyers, and their allegiance is clearly to the facilities and not the residents or their families. Therefore, they fail to advise residents of opportunities to protect assets or income. Even worse, in many cases they failed to complete or submit the application or did so in a negligent manner, resulting in the application being denied. But unlike when an attorney messes up, there is no recourse for families, as these entities do not carry malpractice insurance. Sometimes the Medicaid advisor will simply close up shop and disappear – only to resurface later with a different organization.
There have been prior reports of facilities and the Medicaid advisors they work with requiring residents to sign POAs and even accessing resident accounts through questionable means. These latest allegations, however, bring this situation to a new level. It is alleged that the resident was forced to sign a POA when she did not have the capacity to do so due to medications she was prescribed. It was further alleged that Future Care Consultants liquidated the resident’s assets without her knowledge, and the funds were not returned when she left the facility. The family also alleges they were prevented from visiting or communicating with the resident.
The allegations are reminiscent of the movie I Care a Lot, which I have previously criticized as being completely unrealistic. However, in recent months, I have had clients report they were threatened by facilities if they used the services of an attorney. It is essential that consumers know their rights. You cannot be required to sign a POA. You cannot be forced to hire anyone to file your Medicaid application. And you cannot be prevented from using an attorney if you wish to do so. If you have any questions about this post or any other elder law matters, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Of course, there are continuing care facilities where you buy in in order to receive care as your needs increase over the rest of your life. That is a knowing decision that people make.