Why Didn’t the Nursing Facility Tell Us?

I recently met with a client whose husband was placed in the nursing facility about four years ago due to dementia. She did everything she could to keep him at home, but ultimately the behaviors (unfortunately in his case, including violence and aggression) became too much, and she was no longer able to care for him at home. Overall, she has been very pleased with the care that he has been receiving and had no complaints. I asked why she was coming into my office and what she was hoping that I could help her with, and her response was, “All I have left is a couple thousand dollars and a cabin that means the world to the family.” I was able to give her great news—we were able to preserve the couple thousand dollars and the cabin, and she did not lose anything. She was ecstatic and could not thank us enough for our advice and assistance.

As she was getting ready to leave my office, I could tell that she was thinking about something and that something was bothering her. Before I opened the door to the lobby, I asked her, “Is there anything else that you would like to discuss? Do you have more questions?” She said, “Yes, I have one—If I had come to you four years ago, would there have been anything else that you could have done to help me?” My response was, “Yes. I would have been able to protect 100% of the assets.” Her demeanor immediately changed and she looked me in the eye and asked, “Why didn’t the nursing facility tell me?” My response was, “Ma’am, the nursing facility is not your lawyer—they do not have a duty to you. Their job is to provide the best possible care that they can for your husband and get paid for their services. They did absolutely nothing wrong.”

I totally understood her frustration, but at the same time the nursing facility is in the business of caring for people, not the business of advising families on the nuances of asset protection laws. Facility employees provided advice and help with the Medicaid application process (instructing her to spend down the couple’s assets for monthly care costs), believing that what they were telling her was correct. They likely believed that their advice was the best, not only for them, but also for her. Unfortunately, most billing departments in nursing facilities don’t fully understand asset protection laws and how they can work. It is imperative that families seek professional help from an elder law attorney as soon as a loved one enters a nursing facility, so that you and yours are not left wondering, “Why didn’t someone tell me?”