Dear Liz: I wanted to thank you for urging people not to be cheap when doing their estate planning. I am an estate planning and elder-law attorney in Los Angeles, and every do-it-yourself trust or will I’ve seen makes it compulsory to leave income and assets to the spouse. This is a huge mistake in many cases. That’s because such a transfer will disqualify the spouse from receiving government aid from Medicaid (which is called Medi-Cal in California). The result could literally mean hundreds of thousands of dollars are lost. This area of law is extremely complicated and only a knowledgeable elder-law and estate planning attorney should be advising people about it.
Answer: Medicaid planning is a controversial topic, since the federal program is designed to help the indigent, not those trying to preserve assets. That’s why the programs have look-back periods (typically five years, although it’s 30 months in California) to discourage people from transferring assets just to qualify.
But your point is well taken that estate planning and elder-law issues are too complicated for do-it-yourself solutions.