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what is the best practice when looking to shelter the elderly's finances prior to them entering senior care. it seems that medicare and medicaid only kick in when everything else has been completely drained... allowing them to keep very little for gifting, etc... to their families which is what they saved all their lives to do. How do I help them achieve both... good care and legacy gifting?

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You can create a "living trust" that can do some of the things you mentioned above. It does not take the place of a will.
However, you need to plan ahead. Medicaid has a 5 yr. "look back" period. Any assets transferred before the 5 yr. limit they are subject to scrutiny by Medicaid. Medicaid was created for the financially destitute. If you are asking for Medicaid services, in essence, you are telling the government that you have no assets for your care. The expectation is that what little you do have needs to be handed over for your care and to sustain the system.
Please see an elder financial advisor now. The rules are so complicated.
good luck
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