Large settlements get everyone’s attention. A multi-million dollar recovery changes both the plaintiff's and the attorney’s lives. But what about those more “routine” cases under six figures? Sometimes the smaller recoveries present more difficult issues. Many clients who are involved in these matters have public benefits issues - usually related to Social Security and Medicaid coverage.
In the big cases, many clients can literally “walk away” from government benefits and not be concerned about the strict asset and income limitations which need to be heeded to maintain vital support. In the smaller cases, the receipt of just $20,000 can cause real problems for a plaintiff on the edge of losing government benefits eligibility.
Imagine working diligently on a motor vehicle case or slip and fall accident that yields a $50,000 net recovery to your client. The post settlement issue? That kind of money is not going to set the client financially for life, but, if handled improperly could really cause problems on many levels - some of which will be significant financially in the form of lost government benefits. This will reduce the actual realized recovery for your client and can cause her/him to have to reapply for benefits or miss vital medical coverage. The answer? Just ask!
Frequently plaintiff lawyers will call our firm to “bounce” an idea off of us in the small recovery scenario. The good news? Many cases are literally a 15 minute phone call to determine that the settlement will not affect the client’s benefits. The better news? Sometimes that brief phone call does uncover an issue and can allow the plaintiff lawyer to better guide the client through the options using us as an information center on the latest trends and options to navigate receiving a sum of money before accepting the funds.
What are some of those quick options you ask? As we all know, every client’s situation is different, so the options are different also. The important thing to remember is that some circumstances that apply to one client may not apply to another so it’s important to find out some background information as soon as possible. Here are a few items we ask to see and so should you:
1. Copy of all health insurance cards;
2. Copy of any correspondence from the Social Security Administration advising of benefits eligibility or denial;
3. Copy of any correspondence from the PA Department of Human Services;
4. Copy of any court order appointing a guardian for the client; and
5. Copy of any Power of Attorney.
While this is certainly not exhaustive of the information that is needed, it provides a general roadmap of what may be going on in the client’s life with government benefits as well as any restrictions that could impede a good planning option.
* Certified as an Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation under authorization of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.