Ask the Expert: Don't hire lawyer yet

You don't need to pay a lawyer $12,000

You don't need to pay a lawyer $12,000 fee to file for Medicaid. There's no Medicaid filing fee and the Department of Social Services provides free assistance with completing the application. (Credit: iStock)

Lynn Brenner

Lynn Brenner Lynn Brenner

Brenner answers questions about all aspects of family finance.

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I'm trying to apply for Medicaid for my 90-year-old father. The lawyer quoted a $12,000 fee for filing the paperwork. Does this sound right?

No. There's no Medicaid filing fee and the Department of Social Services provides free assistance with completing the application.

You don't need a lawyer's help if your father has low income and assets. You do if his income and assets are substantial enough to require legal analysis of his Medicaid eligibility, a review of his estate plan and the creation of a trust to preserve assets for his heirs. But in that case, the lawyer shouldn't quote a single big fee for "filing paperwork." He should provide a detailed written description of his proposed services and what they cost. (If your father's Medicaid application is denied, for example, does this fee include legal representation at a hearing to appeal the decision?)

To get a handle on how much expert help you may need, consider paying an elder-law attorney a consultation fee to assess your father's situation, or call Family & Children's Association at 516-485-3425. The agency provides free financial counseling to senior citizens.

With or without third-party assistance, completing a Medicaid application for a person who is 65 or older is a time-consuming job. Only indigent people are eligible for Medicaid (medicaid.gov), and applicants' financial records are carefully examined. You must assemble five years' worth of financial records -- life insurance, annuities, mutual funds, stocks, bonds, etc. If any accounts have been closed within the past five years, you must say where the money was transferred or how it was spent, and you must explain each transaction of $2,000 or more.

The bottom line No one should hire a lawyer without first obtaining an engagement letter that details the services he or she will perform.

Websites with more information bit.ly/SS1J35 and bit.ly/SQkRVv

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