Estate planning

Confused about Medicaid for seniors? Senior Law Attorney debunks myths


This is part two of a series sharing what you need to know about Medicaid and seniors.

If you missed it column last week, Which included some common myths and facts about Medicaid basics for seniors from Direction Home, a nonprofit agency that helps seniors find programs to age in place at home or in long-term care facilities, go to

My expert this week is Jacqueline Palumbo, probate attorney and presiding judge Akron Bar AssociationDepartment of Estate Planning, Wills and Elderly Law. She is an attorney at Palumbo & Sweet LLC in Fairlawn.

The Akron Bar Association has an attorney referral service in or by phone at 330-253-5038.

Here are some common myths and facts about Medicaid, senior care, and estate planning.

Myth: Spending means all my money has to go to the nursing home before my spouse or loved one can get care.

fact: This is one of the biggest myths. Never attempt to do ‘spending’ on your own or on the advice of a nursing home or financial advisor. In many cases, elder law attorneys can provide half, if not all, of the assets to your spouse or loved ones.

Myth: My husband just went into a nursing home and now I know I’m going broke.

fact: There are so many protections for couples that you should not get discouraged. There are emergency Medicaid plans that top lawyers can implement to prevent financial ruin.

Myth: I gave my mom or dad money and now I know they won’t qualify for Medicaid, so I won’t even call an attorney for help.

fact: Just because gifting occurs does not mean that someone will not be eligible for Medicaid. However, it is certainly a good idea to reach out to find out the consequences of previous gifts, or if you are planning to gift now, seek the advice of an attorney.

Myth: Power of attorneys aren’t helpful anyway.

fact: Financial powers of attorney are very helpful. It may be one of the most important planning documents. They can even prevent the filing of guardianship against your loved one. Beware of doing it yourself on the Internet. There are many types of financial powers of attorney and you want to make sure you get the right one.

Myth: Financial agencies deny individual autonomy.

fact: Powers of attorney are a great tool for working alongside someone as their needs increase. It is more than a teamwork document.

Myth: If I sign my mom’s name first followed by “power of attorney” it protects my personal finances.

fact: bloomer. To properly sign as a proxy, (if your mother is Betty White and you are Susie), it would look like this: Betty White By Susie Thomas, Agent. “Betty White” will be in cursive, and the rest will be typed.

Myth: The nursing home said it would complete my loved one’s Medicaid application for free, so I wouldn’t bother with it.

fact: Please do not do this! Nursing homes may offer their business offices to do the application, but that does not mean it will be done correctly, and fixing a failed application is much more expensive than doing it right from the beginning.

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Myth: I don’t need a will because I don’t have much.

fact: Whether or not you need a will depends on many factors, and if you don’t want a will, you should still seek help from an estate planning attorney or senior attorney to obtain non-probate protection. Every situation is individual, and even if you think you don’t “have much,” not planning can cause terrible heartache and financial pain for a family.

Myth: The safe deposit box is the safest place to keep my documents.

fact: Safety deposit boxes may have been around for many years (and in some rare circumstances, they may have a purpose now), but we usually advise clients to keep their documents in a safe place like a safe or fireproof box at home. Then, tell your loved ones where your documents are so they can be easily accessed. Inaccessible safety deposit boxes can create a situation that needs to go through probate court, which is what you’re trying to prevent.

Myth: I have to wait until my loved ones are completely out of control.

fact: A power of attorney can help your loved one and manage his or her health and assets in the event of a complete mental decline. Seeing an attorney at the beginning of a condition like Alzheimer’s is always better than waiting a long time.

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Myth: My boyfriend just died. I will keep track of their bills and continue to pay them.

fact: In Ohio, creditors are prohibited from making claims against real estate after six months from the date of a loved one’s death. Stop paying the deceased person’s bills (unless you co-signed and are responsible for the debt) and ask for an attorney before paying anything else. Don’t notify creditors of your loved one’s death — this can complicate the situation. Just hang them up and talk to a lawyer. There are ways to pay these bills, including paying the minimum amount on the bill, or negotiating a lower amount. But don’t do it without the advice of a lawyer because all circumstances are different.

Myth: I can read contracts from a nursing home or assisted living facility myself. It doesn’t seem that difficult.

fact: There are many hidden pitfalls in nursing home contracts that can cause barbs in your personal finances. Never sign documents without an attorney reviewing them. If an elderly person falls and is hospitalized, Medicare usually covers the first 20 days of their stay, so you have time to seek legal advice.

Myth: I have to personally sign the documents for my wife, or they won’t let him in.

fact: this is not true. Do not personally sign your spouse’s documents. Your spouse will still receive medical treatment. People in the hospital may feel cold towards you if you don’t sign their documents and “make their lives harder,” but don’t sign anything.

Beacon Journal consumer columnist and medical reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or Follow @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or For her latest stories and columns, go to


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