Elder Law & Special Needs Trusts

Award-winning and recognized nationally, regionally, and locally, the firm’s elder law attorneys specialize in representing the elderly, disabled and their families with compassion and caring while dealing with a wide range of legal issues such as health care, long-term care planning, guardianship, retirement, Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and other vital topics. Primary work includes estate planning and administering trusts and estates, but extends to disability and Medicaid planning, patients’ rights issues, cases involving elder abuse and exploitation, and guardianships of both minors and adults including emergency and contested proceedings.

Elder Law

Caring for the legal needs of aging and vulnerable clients and their families is a work of both heart and head for the firm’s elder law attorneys. Resolute in providing the best care for their clients, the firm’s attorneys handle a wide range of legal matters such as:

Our elder law attorneys frequently present on topics like guardianship, signs of elder abuse or exploitation, Medicaid planning, and special needs trusts. Heidi Isenhart, the chair of the elder law department, has also been recognized in a variety of publications such as U.S. World News Best Lawyers in America, Florida Trend’s Legal Elite, and Thomson Reuters Super Lawyers. 

Our team knows it’s challenging to think about who will take care of loved ones after you have passed and aim to discuss these topics from a place of compassion for each of our client’s unique situations.

Medicaid Planning

Medicaid planning is time-consuming and complicated, but it’s a vital aspect of elder law and long-term care planning to ensure that clients and their families are well-cared for. Long-term care, such as a stay in a nursing home or assisted living facility, is one of the most expensive health expenses for seniors, yet Medicare does not cover it. Most people can’t afford long-term care without assistance, with costs ranging from $3,000 to $4,000 per month for assisted living to $7,500 per month for nursing facility care. Long-term care is covered by the government’s Medicaid program, although unlike Medicare, Medicaid is a needs-based program. Medicaid is only available to persons who have a low income. The firm’s elder law team understands the complexity of Medicaid planning and the tools available to help plan before you require nursing care, one that organizes and labels your assets in a way that safeguards them while also protecting your capacity to get Medicaid benefits.

Special Needs Trusts

Those unable to work due to a physical or mental disability may need to rely on government help for housing, food, and other basic needs. Whether temporarily disabled for a short or long period of time, permanently incapacitated, or those with life-long developmental problems, this need for help may apply. Some needs can be met by government programs like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), but they are only available to low-income people. A special needs trust allows a person or others to contribute assets to supplement public assistance without losing their eligibility. Our elder law attorneys have extensive experience setting up special needs trusts, to protect federal income limits and Medicaid eligibility.

Guardian Advocacy

A Guardian Advocacy is a legal process in which a Guardian Advocate is appointed for a developmentally impaired person in the Circuit Courts of Florida. This procedure is typically initiated when a person with a developmental disability reaches the age of eighteen and no longer qualifies as a minor, but still requires assistance with daily decision-making activities. A Guardian Advocate may be appointed under Florida Statute 393.12 if a person lacks the decision-making ability to do part, but not all, of the decision-making activities necessary to care for his or her person or property. The Guardian Advocacy process can be complicated and daunting, particularly if you are a full-time caregiver for a developmentally impaired child. The firm’s elder law attorneys are well versed in Guardian Advocacy and would be happy to assist in navigating the process.

Preventing Elder Exploitation

Unfortunately, dishonest people and businesses may sometimes try to take advantage of vulnerable seniors. If you suspect that you or someone you care about has been abused in this way, you should contact an experienced attorney. Our attorneys are experienced in a wide spectrum of these situations including diminished capacity claims, nursing home exploitation, and financial scams. Because victims are embarrassed or doubtful that they have a legal right, financial elder abuse typically remains unreported. The best way to prevent elder financial abuse is with a well-drafted estate plan and proper Medicaid planning. Our elder law team is passionate about protecting seniors from elder exploitation. 

Asset Protection

Asset protection planning is critical for elders and their families who are facing the prospect of long-term care. The firm offers knowledgeable asset protection advice, including: 

Lady Bird Deeds

In Florida, the Lady Bird Deed lets you bypass probate court, keep your powers to yourself, keep your Medicaid eligibility, and qualify for the Florida Homestead exemption. The first important advantage of a lady bird deed is that it avoids probate court in Florida for the real estate being deeded. 

The lady bird deed’s second important advantage is that it permits you to keep your Florida homestead benefits. This implies you won’t lose your homestead exemption in your real estate for tax reasons, and your property taxes won’t go up as a result of the deed change. Furthermore, you will be able to keep your homestead protected against forced sale for your stake in the Homestead. 

Most importantly for our elder law clients, a Lady Bird Deed allows you to maintain Medicaid eligibility. In Florida, Medicaid takes your assets into account when determining your Medicaid eligibility. Your homestead, on the other hand, is usually not counted as an asset for Medicaid eligibility purposes to some extent. To the degree that it is your homestead, a Florida lady bird deed should not affect your Medicaid eligibility.

Finally, a lady bird deed is not considered a completed gift for tax purposes. Because you have the power to revert ownership and retain many of the rights in the actual property, it is not a fully completed gift.

The IRS Code Section 1014 allows for a step-up in basis after you die. A step-up in basis has the advantage of allowing your beneficiaries to sell the real estate without incurring any federal income tax penalty. Our attorneys can help you establish a Lady Bird Deed, protecting your assets and Medicaid eligibility. 

Elder Law & Special Needs Trusts Attorneys

 Heidi W. Isenhart
Heidi W. Isenhart Partner
 Alyse N. Verner
Alyse N. Verner Senior Associate Associate