In every state in the U.S. it is possible to obtain the forms necessary to apply for Medicaid from the state Medicaid department. Indeed, it would be a good thing to go ahead and get a copy of the necessary forms, if only to see what kind of information they require in order to process your application. But the question remains: should you fill out the application form yourself or seek professional assistance?

Mediaid forms, gifting, eligibilty and penalty periods

First of all, you can certainly complete the forms yourself if you are able to understand the questions, but you may not understand the impact of the questions or what the state is really trying to find out. For example, the form will ask you if you have made any gifts or other transfers of assets within the last 60 months. What the state is trying to find out is if you are subject to a penalty for having made any such transfers. If so, the penalty would bar you from receiving Medicaid benefits for a certain number of months. This is calculated by dividing the total value of the transferred assets by the average nursing home cost in your state (which is published by your state each year).

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Penalty exceptions

But are you familiar with the various exceptions to the penalty, and will you be able to argue that such exceptions apply in your case, thereby avoiding any penalty? Also, if you have made transfers within the past 60 months, you may be better off not applying for Medicaid until after the 60-month period following your most recent transfer. Are you able to calculate that?

In addition, there are different ways to title joint bank accounts with children, some that are deemed immediate transfers to the child, some not. If you are married, there are completely different rules regarding treatment of joint assets, including the home. Should you transfer assets to the at-home spouse now or after applying for Medicaid?

Timing is everything

Finally, applying too early or too late can cost you and your family many thousands of dollars. Applying too early may result in a longer period of ineligibility than you would normally experience if you simply waited to apply once you are sure you're eligible. Filing an application too late means that you and your family would miss out on months of Medicaid coverage.

Should you hire an elder law attorney?

For all of the above reasons, unless you are absolutely sure your situation is cut-and-dried without any possible complications, you are well-advised to at least seek the input of an experienced attorney with Medicaid planning knowledge to evaluate your readiness to apply for Medicaid. The attorney will review a list of your assets, including how your house and any bank or investment accounts are titled, ask you about any transfers you may have made within the last 60 months, and then suggest a plan of action to get you qualified for Medicaid much sooner than if you simply spend down your money until it is gone.

Note that it is not illegal for someone other than an attorney to assist you with the application, as long as you request them to do so. That being said, even most attorneys are not competent to offer assistance in this very narrow area of specialization. If you decide that your situation warrants having an attorney help you, be sure to look for an elder law attorney with specific training and experience in the area of Medicaid planning for your state.