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Pittsburgh Elder Law FAQs

Get Answers to Your Estate Planning and Family Care Questions

When planning to leave assets behind for your family, having the help of an experienced Pittsburgh elder law attorney can be an immense advantage. The team at Marks Elder Law understands Pennsylvania statutes and rules to help you make better decisions regarding how you can provide for your family’s future. We offer free consultations, so feel free to call us with questions about elder and disability law, estate planning, probate and estates, and other matters. Below you can also find answers to questions many have regarding these and other concerns.

Call (412) 500-9488 now to speak with Marks Elder Law about your family’s future.

  • What is elder law?

    Elder Law (or elder and disability law) means fulfilling the typical legal needs of elderly and disabled clients. Elder law often refers more specifically to planning to meet or limit the cost of long-term care. In such cases, our firm strives to accomplish three principal goals, which are to

    • Secure needed high-quality health care services and benefits for elderly and disabled patients
    • Minimize costs to you and your family so that you keep as much of your money as possible
    • Take care of general estate planning needs such as Wills or Powers of Attorney, admission agreements or contracts, and other legal needs
  • Why do I need an elder law attorney?

    The long-term healthcare system isn’t interested in helping you save money. In fact, nursing homes and government agencies expect you to spend all of your own money first. With the help of an elder law attorney, you can get help to obtain the care you need while also saving money.

  • Who does an elder law attorney represent?

    Our firm represents patients in need of care and services - often the elderly parent(s) in a family, rather than the children – as well as their spouses. We do also work with their children on their behalf.

  • What is long-term care?

    Long-term care is care provided for persons with chronic illness or disability for a lengthy, indefinite, or permanent period of time. It includes custodial or residential care in a facility, institution, or private home.

  • How can I pay for nursing home care or long-term care?

    Ideally, you will pay with benefits from a government program such as Medicaid, or VA benefits. It’s also possible to pay with benefits from a long-term care insurance policy purchased in advance. The worst option is to use your own money to pay.

  • How does Medicare differ from Medicaid?

    Medicare is a Federal program that pays for doctors, hospitals, and prescription drugs. It does not cover long-term custodial care. Medicare functions more like regular health insurance, and only pays for short-term, temporary rehabilitation or recovery in a nursing home following an illness or injury.

    Medicaid is a combined State and Federal program to help people who cannot afford needed health care, including long-term care in a nursing home. Medicaid eligibility is determined by income and overall assets. While Medicaid will cover long-term nursing home care, it does not cover the lesser level of care of assisted living or personal care home care, in Pennsylvania. Recently, Medicaid more often pays for nursing level care in your home, too. We help our clients to become eligible for Medicaid so they can afford costly care.

  • Can I protect my savings and assets?

    Yes, however, it will require proper planning. Medicaid requires people to spend nearly all their own money before they are eligible for coverage. Marks Elder Law helps clients keep more of their savings and assets.

  • Will my kids have to pay for my care?

    No. With thorough estate planning, patients and spouses can obtain the care they need while protecting other family members from possibly having to fund their care later on.

  • What is long-term care insurance?

    Long-term care insurance is purchased from a private insurance company to fund long-term care or custodial care. These policies range in coverage quality and can pay for different levels of skilled nursing care, assisted living, or in-home care. The cost of a policy depends on its features and how old you are when you buy it.

  • If my spouse needs nursing home care, can I protect my savings and assets?

    Yes. Married couples can keep more of their money, with proper advice.. Medicaid rules specify amounts that couples can keep as well as how much a couple must spend for the care of the spouse who is ill. Without good planning, married couples must spend much of their available resources for the spouse needing care, leaving only a limited amount for the spouse at home. At Marks Elder Law, our goal is to help our clients maximize the amount of assets they can keep.

  • Will Medicaid take my money to pay for nursing home care?

    Medicaid doesn't take your money from you when you enter a nursing home. Medicaid says how much you get to keep and how much you must be, to qualify. However, under a program called Estate Recovery, Medicaid can claim reimbursement of the amount paid during a patient’s lifetime, but only from probate estate assets of the deceased Medicaid nursing home patient. Non-probate assets Of the deceased Medicaid patient and assets of a surviving spouse are not subject to the claim.

  • Will I be forced to go to a nursing home?

    No. In fact, the government has been increasing funding for home and community-based services to provide nursing and other care to patients who wish to remain in their own homes. This is a win-win situation—the patient gets to stay at home, and the care costs are lower for both the patient and the government benefits pay your.

  • What is estate administration?

    Following a death, estate administration involves inventory of assets, payment of debt and expenses, and distribution of the remaining estate. Often, some property may be subject to probate court proceedings and paperwork in order to be transferred to the heirs or beneficiaries. Some other assets may not be subject to probate procedures, and are distributed to the recipients with less legal paperwork.

  • What is an estate?

    An estate in the broad sense consists of the property, assets, liabilities and unresolved affairs of a deceased. Narrowly, an estate may refer to only what is defined as the legal probate estate.

  • What is a will?

    A will is a legal document that controls how your affairs will be handled after your death. This includes who will inherit some or all of your property, who will manage winding up your affairs, and who will serve as guardians or trustees for your minor children or others.

  • What is an executor/administrator?

    An executor is the person named and appointed to be in charge of the probate estate. In estates in which there is no will or where the named executors cannot serve, the individual appointed is called an administrator. There can be more than one Co-Executors or Co-Administrators.

  • What is probate?

    When a person dies and leaves assets behind without naming a pay-on-death beneficiary or joint owner with right of survivorship, those assets will go into probate. Probate is a legal process of estate supervision by the local authorities who supervise estate and the Judges of the probate court. It requires legal paperwork and filings and may require court proceedings and litigation. These proceedings basically seek to make sure that everything is done right – that debts are paid and that remaining assets will go to the right people, as well as resolve any arguments or disputes that arise.

  • What are non-probate assets?

    Non-probate assets are those for which the decedent made written arrangements during their lifetimes such as by naming a pay-on-death beneficiary, ”In Trust For” beneficiary or joint owner with right of survivorship, to go to a specific person, allowing them to pass outside the Will and Probate Estate. Such written designations made directly with a bank, insurance or investment company concerning a particular account, policy, etc., take precedence over a Will, and are not overruled by a Will. Some examples of common non-probate assets include joint bank accounts, life insurance policies or IRAs that name a living person as a pay-on-death beneficiary, or real estate owned jointly or as husband and wife.

  • Who inherits if there is no will?

    When there is no Will specifying the beneficiaries, the law of Pennsylvania will determine the heirs or “heirs-at-law.” The list of heirs starts with family members most closely related to the decedent—spouse and children, then parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, and other relatives more distantly related. Infrequently, if there are no qualifying heirs, the estate goes to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

  • What taxes are owed on an estate?

    There are up to three kinds of taxes that may apply to value of the estate left behind. Pennsylvania inheritance tax applies at fixed rates to net estates left to anyone other than a spouse or charity. Deferred income tax applies to assets that hold untaxed, taxable earned income such as IRAs and other retirement accounts, annuities or US Savings Bonds. Finally, Federal Estate tax only applies to multi-millionaires.

  • Who is responsible to pay bills and taxes?

    Debts owed by a decedent such as medical bills, credit card balances and funeral expenses are paid from probate estate assets. If a family member pays these debts, they may be entitled to reimbursement. If an estate is insolvent with more liabilities than assets, Pennsylvania law determines which bills have priority to be paid first from limited resources. Heirs and beneficiaries may owe PA Inheritance tax on their inheritance, and the individuals or the estate may owe income tax on taxable earned income received.

  • What is a trust?

    A trust is an arrangement in which the trust creator chooses and appoints someone capable – the Trustee - to be in charge of money or property for someone else – the trust beneficiary. Trusts can be used in a wide variety of ways to accomplish family, personal, business and tax related goals. The person who creates the trust is called the Settler or Grantor. Each trust is a three-way transaction between the creator, the trustee, and the beneficiaries.

  • Why use a trust?

    Trusts are used to say who will benefit from you in a specific situation, and how, when and why. You may wish to create a trust in order to provide for someone who needs help or assistance to receive or handle and inheritance, to specify who will handle your money or property, to save taxes, avoid probate, or provide for someone without making them ineligible for public benefits based on need.

  • What is a trustee?

    A trustee is a person, persons, or organization chosen to be in charge of a trust. Ideally this person is trustworthy and can receive and safeguard money or property in the trust. They must be able to follow instructions and use good judgment in following the instructions and in situations when there are none. The trustee should also have good people skills, as they will be dealing with individuals and other participants named in the trust arrangement.

  • What is a beneficiary?

    A beneficiary is someone who receives benefits from the trust such as money, property, services, etc. This could be your spouse, children, other family members, or a charity.

  • Can I be the trustee of my own trust?

    Yes. If a trust is created during your lifetime and you are able to act, you can be your own Trustee.

  • Who should I name as the trustee?

    Most people will appoint trusted family members such as a spouse, adult child, or sibling to be the trustee. In cases of more complex trusts or larger sums of money, you may want to consider choosing a trust company, charitable trust organization or bank.

  • How do I create a trust?

    A trust is created by signing a trust agreement, then taking steps to carry out the agreement. A Will can also contain provisions to create a trust.

  • What is a testamentary trust?

    A testamentary trust is one that is created under the terms and provisions of a Last Will and Testament, and it only goes into effect following the death of the person making the Will that creates the Trust.

  • Can I create a trust without any money or property in it?

    Yes. An unfunded trust can be created and put on standby to receive assets later.

  • What is a living trust?

    A living trust or Revocable Lifetime Agreement of Trust is created during a person’s lifetime rather than under your Last Will and Testament. These are used to avoid the extra legal work and costs of probate following that person’s death. Living trusts can help to organize and contain property and avoid a court-ordered guardianship over the property of an incapacitated adult or minor child beneficiary.

  • Can a living trust save on taxes?

    No, not in and of itself. However, a living trust can serve as a platform or foundation for additional provisions specifically designed to save taxes or accomplish other goals.

  • How can a trust provide for children and other young beneficiaries?

    Trusts for children and young adult beneficiaries are created to ensure that their inheritance will be supervised by a reliable Trustee, and use wisely and well, and not wasted. A trust can specify who will benefit as beneficiaries, why the trust is created, how and when trust resources should be spent, and more. If no trust is created for a minor child beneficiary, Pennsylvania law requires the establishment of a court-supervised legal guardianship for a minor, and for funds to be held in a low-return bank guardianship account that cannot be touched until the child turns age 18. Even worse, the child can later get (and spend) the money when they turn age 18.

  • What is a Special Needs Trust?

    A Special Needs Trust is created with special provisions to protect and assist a beneficiary who has a handicap or disability, and may require government benefits to fund acute or long-term care.

  • What is a credit shelter trust?

    Historically, Federal Estate Tax applies only to the wealthiest of all estates. For wealthy married couples, credit shelter trusts, also known as A/B or bypass trusts, can be used to limit or avoid Federal Estate Tax liability by creating two trusts that can maximize tax savings and “bypass” the tax collector. Tax law changes have made Credit Shelter trusts far less useful and prevalent

  • Can I undo a trust?

    Yes, although it depends on the kind of trust you have created. Many trusts are revocable and can be changed or revoked completely by the trust's creator. There are some cases where an irrevocable trust is preferable, such as when an individual needs to permanently and completely relinquish ownership and control of a trust resource for tax or related purposes.

  • Who should help me make a trust?

    It is never advisable to set up a will, trust or estate pan on your own. Always consult an estate planning attorney for help in creating a Will, trust, Power of Attorney, deed, family care agreement or other estate efforts. A trained professional planning attorney and advisor is also invaluable in dealing with probate estate administration, inheritance, or related tax issues. Be careful to avoid salesmen who will sell living trust kits or services without regard to whether it is truly right for you.

  • What is the cost to make a trust?

    When dealing with an estate planning attorney or other professional, do not hesitate to ask about fees and costs. Those who choose the least expensive option often end up paying far more in unnecessary, avoidable expenses and taxes as a result of poor estate planning. You cannot put a price on peace of mind.

  • Why should I have an estate plan?

    Making a will and estate plan allows you to choose how your affairs will be handled following your disability or death. A good estate plan help you avoid unnecessary taxes and legal expenses, catastrophic costs for long-term or nursing care, and heartache and disappointment.

  • What is a Power of Attorney?

    A Power of Attorney is a legal document dictating who will handle your affairs if you become disabled or incapacitated by illness or injury during your lifetime. We advise everyone to have a Will, Power of Attorney, and carefully planned estate arrangements. A good estate plan will be flexible to allow for changes at any time.

  • When should I review my will or estate plan?

    You should review your will when family circumstances change, such as when a family member is born, dies or needs long-term or nursing home care, when financial circumstances change, when you see a need to make changes, or when laws change.

    When you need to establish or make changes to your estate plan, call the Pittsburgh elder law and estate planning lawyers at Marks Elder Law for a free consultation about your case.

    Ensure your family is prepared for the future by establishing an effective and thorough estate plan. The Pittsburgh elder law attorneys at Marks Elder Law have nearly four decades helping clients prepare for their future by helping to create Wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and more. We offer free consultations, so call today to learn more about how you can ensure your family will be cared for after you can no longer do so yourself.

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