Unexpected and dangerous threats in the form of professional and personal liability have emerged in the wake of the growing LTC funding crisis. Lawsuits and mandated claw-back actions have been brought against families in attempts to recover monies spent on long term care. Insurance and legal advisors have also been sued by clients in response to fiduciary responsibility issues about options to fund long term care, or how to derive the highest value from a life insurance policy.
Laws to recover LTC expenditures
These aggressive legal actions take root from state filial responsibility laws and federal estate recovery mandates that have existed for decades.
In 1993, the federal government passed a mandate in the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 (OBRA ‘93) that requires states to implement a Medicaid estate recovery program. Later, the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-171, DRA) contained a number of provisions designed to strengthen these rules. OBRA gives states the authority, and the obligation, to sue families via probate court to claw-back Medicaid dollars spent on a loved one’s long term care. In this law, states are required to sue the estates of Medicaid recipients, “to recover, at a minimum, all property and assetsthat pass from a deceased person to his or her heirs under state probate law, which governs both property conveyed by will and property of persons who die intestate.Such property includes assets that pass directly to a survivor, heir or assignee through joint tenancy, rights of survivorship, life estates, living trusts, annuity remainder payments, or life insurance payouts.”
The government has had the authority to take legal action against families to recover Medicaid dollars for over two decades. In fact, Medicaid recovers hundreds of millions from families every year, but as budget pressures increase, estate recovery actions are becoming even more aggressive. Ironically, a high profile legal action recently taken against a family to recover costs spent on long term care was not initiated by the government, but was instead successfully undertaken by a nursing home company. In 2012, John Pittas, a 47-year-old restaurant owner, was sued by a nursing home company for $93,000 in expenses incurred by his mother over a six month period after she was denied Medicaid eligibility. The Superior Court of Pennsylvania (Health Care & Retirement Corporation of America v. Pittas Pa. Super. Ct., No. 536 EDA 2011, May 7, 2012) found in favor of the nursing home based on “filial responsibility law” (which is on the books in 28 states), and the son was forced to re-pay the entire costs for his mother’s care. The court finding even granted discretion to the nursing home company to seek payment from any family members it wished to pursue.
See also: 5 Medicaid trends to watch in 2014
Legal risks and exposure
The legal exposure families face is only the beginning of the danger as the threat assessment level continues to rise. Insurance agents and elder law attorneys are also at great risk for not providing adequate advice (and at a minimum not documenting their recommendations) about long term care planning to clients. “Professional advisors need to realize that the world we are working in has changed and become more dangerous for them,” said Don Quante, President of America’s First Financial Corp in St. Louis, MO. “I was in Florida recently where I saw attorney billboards advertising for people with long term care needs to call them. I placed a call only to discover that they were not providing planning services; what they were really doing is recruiting seniors in financial distress to sue their past advisors for insufficiently preparing them to pay for long term care.”
There are a number of new funding options that are commonly used to help people pay for long term care, and it would be expected that any licensed agent or attorney would be current on these options and include these as part of any long term care planning discussion. For example, if an individual (or their spouse) is a wartime veteran, they could be entitled to Veteran’s Aid and Attendance Benefits. There are also state specific voucher and waiver programs, as well as senior care specific and/or home equity based loan programs available to consider. And, if a person owns a life insurance policy, they may be able to sell the policy into a tax-exempt long term care benefit plan.
Millions of seniors own life insurance policies and have no idea that they can be “converted” or sold through a life settlement into a long term care benefit plan. This has been a common practice for a number of years, and every senior care provider in the country accepts this form of payment. Once enrolled, the owner of a long term care benefit account can use the funds tax-free to pay for their choice of home care, assisted living, memory care, nursing home care, or hospice.
According to elder law attorney William G. Hammond of Overland Park, Kansas, “A perfect storm has arrived that is changing the way long term care will be delivered and financed in our country. Baby boomers are entering their retirement years at a time when the economy is struggling to regain its footing after the Great Recession of 2008. The conversion or sale of life insurance policies to help pay for the cost of long term care is one of the strategies which can be utilized to help pay for the cost of care. Smart attorneys and advisors will be well-served to recognize this innovation and to use it to help their clients remain at home or in the community longer.”
For families with the need to pay for long term care, who are unable or unwilling to keep their life insurance policy in-force by maintaining premium payments, converting it into a long term care benefit plan is a much better choice than abandoning a policy. At this point, advisors not discussing this option with clients that own life insurance are exposing themselves to the potential of serious legal liability issues.
Policy owners attack