If you are a veteran interested in applying for Aid and Attendance benefits from the VA, it's important to understandhow to identify a qualified advocate to help you with financial planning and how to spot a potential scammer or unknowledgeable adviser.
Some folks out there allege they are qualified financial advisers but are engaging in scams nationwide against elderly veterans. These people often offer to complete the veterans Aid and Attendance application for free. But once they get veterans in their office, they strong arm them into buying financial products by making emotional pleas about the dire financial situation the veteran may be facing. Under pressure, the veteran may buy an annuity or insurance product that takes the funds out of the veteran's hands for years to come, while the adviser earns a generous commission. (Read more about Aid and Attendance scams.)
As a general rule, do not trust any supposed advocate who promises you something for nothing, as such guarantees always too good to be true, and in the case of Aid and Attendance scams, can end up costing an enormous amount. Be on the lookout for the following.
Offers to evaluate your eligibility for free. Free offers are frequently a draw to get you into the office where high pressure sales tactics will be used, making you feel compelled to purchase a financial product that will cost you a great deal in commissions and possibly in the actual loss of eligibility for Aid and Attendance benefits.
Offers to complete your aid and attendance application for free. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) regulations make it unlawful for any advocate to charge a veteran for the completion of an Aid and Attendance application. When used as a sales tactic, offering to do it for free is disingenuous and is intended to draw you in. Sometimes advocates or attorneys will, in fact, complete the application for free, but this is typically only the case when you are paying for related services.
Guarantees of eligibility for Aid and Attendance. Not all veterans are eligible for Aid and Attendance (learn about eligibility here), and evaluation of actual eligibility is complex. While threshold eligibility can be quickly determined in some cases based on time of service, length of service, and discharge status, actual financial and medical eligibility is a great deal more complex.
Promises of enormous financial returns for little or no fee. Frequently the opposite is true; you may get little financial return for your money. It is the company that will make an enormous amount of money.
No discussion of any downside or disadvantage to the proposed plan. A company should not make a particular financial product one-size-fits-all. Each person's situation is different. If the adviser doesn't mention any disadvantages of a product purchase or financial plan, this is a red flag that you are dealing with a scammer. Even with the best plan, there is always a downside. An honest adviser will discuss that downside with you.
One particular product is pushed rather than various options being presented to you for your evaluation.Many times these advisers insist you purchase an annuity. But annuities are not for everyone. An annuity has a set term during which the veterans' assets are inaccessible unless a substantial early withdrawal fee is paid. To learn more about whether an annuity might be right for you read the National Association of Insurance Commissioners Consumer Alert, or you can read Nolo's article on annuities for Medicaid planning.
No discussion of Medicaid and the possibility that a financial transaction can later disqualify you from Medicaid for a period of time. The same financial product that might qualify you for Aid and Attendance stands an equal chance of disqualifying you from Medicaid. No adviser should discuss financial transactions with an elderly veteran, or a veteran who may soon be in need of long-term care, without also discussing the importance of preserving Medicaid eligibility.
Here are some tips on finding a good Aid and Attendance adviser who won't cause you to lose eligibility for Medicaid long-term care or Aid and Attendance benefits or sell you products you don't need.
Amateur advisers often claim to be veterans advocates, but they are often not. Do not be swayed by the name of a company simply including the word military or veteran. Veterans advocates are required to be accredited with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. You can easily find out if a financial professional who has approached you is a legitimate veterans advocate by searching the VA's list of accredited advocates.
The VA regulates these advocates and requires regular training to be completed in order for an advocate to retain accreditation. This does not mean that the VA endorses or recommends an advocate simply because they are accredited, but under almost no circumstances would it ever be advisable to rely on a non-accredited adviser.
In addition to checking if an adviser is accredited, it is also important to check if they are licensed.
For potential scammers or advisers who are calling themselves Certified Financial Planners, check with the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards to see they are truly certified and, if yes, whether any disciplinary actions have been filed against them.
If you're dealing with an insurance agent, make sure he or she is licensed. Also, check with a qualified elder law attorney to make sure the insurance policy you are being sold won't interfere with your eligibility for Aid and Attendance or Medicaid.
To locate contact information for insurance departments in your state, visit the website for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners or call 816-783-8500.
Check if an attorney is licensed by your State Bar Association.
Questions to ask when selecting an attorney:
A qualified veterans advocate will not guarantee you'll get Aid and Attendance benefits or push financial products such as annuities or trusts, but will instead carefully consider the costs and benefits to you of implementing financial planning in order to obtain benefits, and will then present you with various planning options. You will then be asked to select the planning option that, after receiving sound advice, you feel best meets the needs of yourself and your family.
If you meet the basic criteria but have more money than the VA will permit, a qualified elder law attorney may be able to help you protect your assets by moving them in such a way that you can meet the income/asset limits for Aid and Attendance, not compromise your later Medicaid eligibility, and have your assets available to you should you need them. A trust is sometimes, but not always, needed to achieve these goals.
Some elder law attorneys will complete an Aid and Attendance application for you for free; others will refer you to the state veterans' affairs office or Disabled American Veterans for assistance with the application. Again, no one, not an attorney or anyone else, is permitted to charge you a fee for application forms or for completing the application.
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