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Hudson Valley Press

June 6th, 2012

Seniors have been heard by Albany politicians

Sanford R. Altman
Question: I know that last year’s State budget was not very “senior friendly.” How do we fair in this year’s budget?

This year, I am extremely happy to report that, finally, our Legislature saw the wisdom of supporting New York’s seniors. In fact, this is the first time in my over 30 years of practicing law that I have seen the government reverse such negative laws for seniors in the space of one year.

As those of you who have been following my column over the past year may recall, a provision in last year’s State budget allowed the State to dig into people’s estates and pull out virtually every penny that the State spent for that person on Medicaid. The budget provision expanded the State’s power to include in-trust-for accounts for your grandchildren, your life interest in your home and many other items which, in the past, you had always been able to leave to your family. This Expanded Estate Recovery is now history. It was repealed by the State Legislature almost a year to the day from when it was first enacted.

Another toxic provision for seniors slated to be stuck into this year’s State budget was nipped in the bud - the elimination of “spousal refusal” for Medicaid. It had always been the law in New York (and viewed as morally and ethically proper) that healthy married New Yorkers would not need to impoverish themselves because their spouse was ill and needed Medicaid to pay for care. It was made very simple by having the healthy spouse state that he or she would not make assets or income available to pay for his or her ill spouse. This was known as a “spousal refusal.”

The Governor thought that it would be fine to change that to save money despite the fact that it would result in impoverishment of a healthy senior, increase in divorces in long term marriages and more seniors in nursing homes rather than being cared for at home. After a hard fought battle, the Governor relented and this provision was omitted from the budget.

How did this happen? Seniors made it known that they are not going to be easy targets for a quick budget fix any more. Locally, legislators Assembly woman Gunther and Senators Larkin and Bonacic also battled on behalf of seniors.

The practical effect of these changes is that those who have had worked with their attorneys on estate planning and elder law planning can, for the first time in a year, relax with the knowledge that their planning was not in vane. Their homes where they have retained their life interest will go to their children as planned and accounts with family members as beneficiaries will end up with their families. Married couples with one spouse in poor health can still rely on the spousal refusal if long term care is needed. For those of you who have yet to do your planning, the law that has been in flux for a year is now settled and you would be well advised to commence your planning as soon as possible.

This unprecedented turn around from Albany is a sign that our elected officials have finally woken up to the fact that those who have had paid into the system for their entire lives will simply not be ignored.

Sanford R. Altman is an attorney practicing elder law, estate administration and estate planning with Jacobowitz & Gubits in Walden. He is a member of the AARP Legal Services Network and chairman of the Town of Montgomery Seniors Independence Project. This column is intended to give general legal information, not legal advice.
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