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Planning for your future and for that of your elderly loved ones is extremely important. If you expect that you or your family will need financial assistance in order to afford long-term care, it is vital that you work to develop a Florida estate plan with an eye towards maintaining eligibility for needs-based governmental assistance programs such as Medicaid. Medicaid planning is not to be taken lightly and can involve complicated questions of Florida estate and other financial laws. To protect the financial stability and physical wellbeing of yourself and your family, consult with a qualified, dedicated, and knowledgeable West Palm Beach Medicaid planning and elder law attorney. Seeking Medicaid planning assistance from an unqualified individual is not only a way to get yourself into dire financial straits–you may also be making yourself the victim of a crime.
The Florida Supreme Court has explicitly addressed the question of who is qualified to issue expert advice regarding Medicaid planning. After significant hearings and related proceedings, which included revising an earlier proposed advisory opinion by the Florida Bar’s Standing Committee, the Florida Supreme Court approved an official opinion on the matter. The Court ruled that certain Medicaid planning activities constitute the practice of law, such that only a lawyer may conduct those activities. If a person who is not licensed to practice law in the State of Florida nevertheless provides those services for clients, that person is guilty of the “unlicensed practice of law.”
The Court’s per curiam opinion focuses on a few specific activities leading up to an application for Medicare: (1) Drafting personal service contracts; (2) the preparation and execution of Qualified Income Trusts; and (3) rendering legal advice on the interpretation of Florida law to obtain Medicaid benefits. The UPL Committee that supported the opinion pointed to the potential harm caused by permitting unlicensed lawyers to perform such legal tasks, including “denial of Medicaid eligibility, exploitation, catastrophic or severe tax liability, and the purchase of inappropriate financial products threatening or destroying clients’ life savings.”
The Court did state that “preparation of the application for Medicaid benefits” was outside the scope of its opinion, noting that federal law permits nonlawyers to help with the actual application process.
In Florida, the unlicensed practice of law is a crime, and a serious one at that: It is a third-degree felony. Third-degree felonies are punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 for each charge and up to five years in state prison. The Florida Supreme Court and Florida lawmakers have thus determined that Medicaid planning is sufficiently important to ward off unqualified advisors by threatening criminal liability.
A skilled, qualified, and licensed West Palm Beach special needs planning attorney can help you and your family plan appropriately to maximize your chances for need-based eligibility. If you need an experienced and compassionate Florida Medicaid planning and elder law attorney, contact the seasoned, dedicated, and effective West Palm Beach trust and estates attorneys Shalloway & Shalloway at 561-686-6200.