There’s an old acting joke whereby actors look to directors to learn, “What’s my motivation for this scene?” I often help clients understand, as they are bombarded with advice from people on the issue of VA benefits and Medicaid, what the motivation of the people giving advice is.
There are two types of institutions who can help you file a benefits claim. The first type are individuals with substantive qualifications, such as:
1. A state or county official of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
2. A veterans service organization (VSOs) such as VFW, American Legion or Amvets.
3. An attorney licensed to practice law in your state, and accredited by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.
Many people don’t know that it’s illegal for an attorney to charge legal fees to help veterans file a claim for benefits. As such, there aren’t many lawyers with sufficient knowledge and expertise in this particular area of law. In addition, VSOs don’t have the resources to keep up with the demand of requests for assistance.
The second kind of institution that comes into play are salespeople from annuity companies looking sell their products in exchange for the “free” help they provide. The process usually involves offering to help file your claim for free and a free review of your overall situation. Almost always, there are recommendations that include purchasing their annuities as part of your overall “plan.” Now, to be fair, there are times when an annuity is a good idea. However, these individuals are being compensated by the annuity company – so you’re paying for their “free” services when you buy the annuity.
We recommend you seek independent advice (either from our firm or from another qualified elder law attorney) before you decide to purchase a one-size-fits-all annuity or transfer assets away. (We’ll talk about some of the pitfalls of transferring assets away in the next section.) You need an unbiased counselor who is being fairly compensated by you to represent your interests – not motivated by external forces to sell you one particular solution over another.
A quick word about attorneys who claim to practice in this area of law. One of the benefits of having a law degree is that you are licensed to practice in just about every area of law. That’s a benefit to the attorney, not the client. The truth is that many attorneys hold themselves out to be “elder law” attorneys, when their experience is only in wills and trusts. Estate planning documents are important for seniors, but it’s not enough. You need to make sure that whichever attorney you hire is well-versed in the complicated and ever-changing maze of laws that surround these specific elder law benefits. You need a lawyer who has not only traveled this path before, but who travels it on an ongoing basis.
Posted by Victor Medina, Medina Law Group, LLC