When my mother Ginny moved to Florida in 2000, she was 70 years-old and had the money from the sale of her condo, an inheritance from her stepmother, and her monthly Social Security check. These funds were placed into a brokerage account and she received a check every month for her expenses. Over 17 years, however, the money reached a tipping point where her costs outweighed her account income and it became clear that it would eventually run out. With less than a year remaining, her two daughters (Hailey and myself) had to figure out alternate measures. Otherwise, our two families would be splitting about $1200 every month for her living expenses.
The initial thought we had was to research her valuables. She had told us through the years that certain items she owned may be worth a lot. So, I fell into an interesting research project. I started to photograph mom’s eclectic art objects she had collected over the years and I sent them to an auction house in Chicago. I forwarded photos of figurines, a handful of paintings and large fashion prints given to Ginny as a gift in the 1940’s. They had been purchased in France. I sent along photos of jewelry pieces including necklaces, brooches and hat pins.
Unfortunately, there was just no market for the bulk of the items with the exception of a turquoise “blossom squash” necklace given to her in the 70’s. The auction house wanted that piece and included it in an auction held in Colorado that fall. It sold and Ginny received a few hundred dollars.
We worked on reducing her bills. Once we found a cable provider that would offer phone and cable (no internet required for Ginny) for less than half her current bill, we switched. We reduced her renter’s insurance policy. We researched cheaper Medicare supplement programs. (She fought this idea because she didn’t want anything to change and she wanted her same doctors.) We looked for anything that would stretch her remaining dollars.
I took a look at the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. It’s a needs-based program for the elderly, blind or disabled. If a person has limited income and assets, the program would pay approximately $770.00/month. But it’s tough to qualify for financially. Their cut-off for financial assets is less than $2000 ($3000.00 for a couple.) Although it does not include current Social Security benefits, Ginny still had approximately $7000.00 in her account, making her ineligible. We discussed “waiting it out” until she had the qualifying balance, but we had no idea how long it would take to get approved, if at all, and have the payments start. There could be a long time delay.
And then there’s Medicaid. She could save some money if they accepted her into a Medicare Savings Program (MSP). This is when Medicaid works with Medicare and pays the recipient’s monthly Medicare supplement (eligibility varies per state.) For now, this would be the extent of potential Medicaid coverage for her because she’s pretty healthy and wouldn’t qualify for other assistance. The MSP would be a savings, but not enough to close the gap.
We were also told that it might be helpful to meet with a law firm familiar with senior care law. We needed someone to lay-out any other available programs for seniors like mom. It didn’t matter whether the help came from the state or federal level. We were newbies. What was out there that we could legitimately tap into for Ginny?
Unfortunately, the attorney we met with was borderline polite. I’m not sure if the advance paperwork did us in. It showed that there were no assets to protect or even a need for a will. It’s also possible that it was just the bad cold he was nursing, but he seemed to have very little time for us.
“Why are you here?” was the exact question.
“Because you advertise advanced knowledge of senior care programs? We are here to figure out how to help our mother. She’s 86. She’s broke. Medicaid is not an option until something actually fails her. Do you have a list of programs we could investigate and see if she might qualify for one?” (OK, I was more thinking that response than actually saying it out loud, but we needed someone familiar with the workings of state and federal senior assistance programs to get us in a door. Any door.)
He offered one idea. It was a program I had previously heard about from someone in my community. It was the Veteran Administration’s Aid and Attendance Program.
My dad, David, was a Korean War veteran. He had passed away in 1978 a couple of months before I graduated from high school. Our family and friends helped my mother explore VA benefits at that time, but for whatever reason, she was ineligible. Maybe something had changed, and it could provide some financial relief.
My sister and our husbands held a round table on how to approach the VA. We knew that we would need to locate dad’s discharge papers and death certificate. Thankfully, Ginny had saved the discharge papers which was a huge help and I purchased a copy of the death certificate online through the State of Ohio’s website. In the meantime, Hailey decided to hire a facilitator from a local senior care business. She is familiar with this VA program and she agreed to join my sister and me when we met with the VA administration office in Clearwater to assist with any questions.
The Aid and Assistance Program basically assists in helping a veteran or spouse of one pay for another person to “aid and assist” them with a variety of daily needs. It is structured so that the payment goes directly to the recipient, but the recipient pays out the money to the person who supplies that monthly assistance. It can be paid to a professional healthcare provider or a family member. It is expected that there will be a pay-out every month to the assistance provider. The recipient can’t just keep the money.
The VA coordinator was extremely helpful. He explained that the amount given can vary per case. He used a formula and it appeared that mom might be eligible for some assistance. We didn’t know what to expect so we were pleased with even a small amount.
I know the Veteran’s Administration has been criticized in recent years, but personally, I have nothing but praise for the organization. It took two months to be processed. We happened to be together for my birthday when Hailey got an alert about a deposit in mom’s account. They had retroactively paid out the past month and the current one. And the amount was almost double what we had originally heard. It would almost cover her full monthly expenses.
We were grateful that they would consider her case at all and now they had given us more than we expected. It was probably the best birthday gift I had received in a long time. I got to unwrap some peace of mind. Neither Hailey or I have ever expected anything from anyone or any organization, so their help really touched me. And I also like to think that after 40 years, my dad is helping her too.
Next: The Cable Debacle