What does a Will cost?
That answer may vary, depending on the complexity of what is required. Generally, we charge a flat-fee of $250.00 for a couple seeking Wills (which includes Healthcare Powers of Attorney and Financial Powers of Attorney, which everyone should have).
This fee encompasses the time spent meeting with a client and family, a discussion of the issues facing the family, the time spent preparing the documents, and a conference to execute those documents. Typically, after the initial conference, our office prepares drafts of your documents for you to review (and make changes), and ask any questions. By charging a flat fee, we can ensure you are able to take the time to ask any questions related to your particular situation.
For more complex planning, such as the drafting of testamentary trusts (created by your Will), or for opinion letters regarding a particular course of action to protect your family's assets, we charge a simple hourly rate of $160.00 that is applied to all time spent working on your behalf. Our up-front approach to legal fees results in clients never being surprised by a bill that they receive when we are finished.
My parent just entered a nursing home--what should I do?
Not surprisingly, the answer is to contact an attorney knowledgeable in the area of elder law. In a spousal situation (where one spouse remains at home), timing is critical because Pennsylvania law allows for significant protections for assets between spouses. Generally, a couple should have to spend little or no assets on care when the first spouse enters a skilled nursing home. This planning is important because the spouse at home may require future care for which assets need to be preserved.
When a person enters a skilled nursing home and does not have a spouse, there is still significant asset protection that can and should be performed. Generally, such a person must “spend-down” his or her assets until qualification for Medicaid. This spend-down can be accomplished in ways that are more effective than others. Purchasing burial reserves, improving real estate, and making strategic gifts to children are just some of the ways they can qualify for Medicaid while still preserving assets for future generations.
Do I need a Trust? If so, what kind?
Before considering whether you need a Trust, it is important to know the distinctions between the types of Trusts available. Generally, Trusts can be created during life or through your Will. Also,Trusts can be revocable or irrevocable. There is a major industry of salesman who sell revocable living trusts to seniors, most of who do not benefit from such planning. Revocable Trusts do not save any inheritance taxes and generally do not help avoid probate fees (probate fees in Pennsylvania are very low, anyway). Irrevocable Trusts, on the other hand, can greatly help families avoid inheritance taxes and also are a significant planning tool for Medicaid qualification (if a person may one day require long-term care).
Many, if not most, Wills contain some sort of Trust clause. For example, in any Will where property could pass to a minor, a Minor's Trust should be included. These Trusts are relatively simple, and save surviving heirs the expense of petitioning the Court for a guardianship for funds given to a minor in certain cases.
Another important type of Trust—one that is vastly underutilized—is a Special Needs Trust, which is designed to preserve a beneficiary's right to receive government benefits, while still having those benefits supplemented by funds from the Trust. These Trusts can be built into a Will or set up as a standalone Trust during life, sometimes being used for Medicaid planning.
What are the differences between skilled nursing home care and assisted living care?
There are many differences between these two. The first is that Skilled Nursing Homes cost much more ($6,000 to $9,000) and Medicaid is available to help pay nursing home costs. Assisted Living Homes and Personal Care Homes generally cost less ($2,500 to $4,000) and Medicaid does not help pay these nursing home costs. However, certain Veterans' Benefits (including Aid & Attendance) may be available to assist in paying for Assisted Living Nursing Homes. Generally, Skilled Nursing Homes are designed to provide 24-hour skilled care, whereas the other nursing homes will provide a lower level of care to residents who require fewer services. Knowing the differences between these options is important, and it is worthwhile to discuss nursing home selection with an attorney prior to entering such a nursing home, if possible.