STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – For many veterans, Veterans Affairs pensions can be the difference between living comfortably in old age and struggling to pay the bills. With recent changes to the law, estate planning is more important than ever.
Certified Elder Law Attorney Amos Goodall appeared on a popular eldercare podcast, to explain the impact of the regulations on veterans. Goodall is the president of the National Elder Law Foundation and currently practices in Central Pennsylvania with Steinbacher, Goodall & Yurchak.
“There are a lot of gray areas,” Goodall said. “But at least people should know what the regulations are and how they have changed recently.” First, veterans need to determine whether they should be applying for compensation or pension. For compensation, a veteran needs to meet conditions that could include honorable discharge, disease or injury aggravated or incurred during duty, and absence of willful misconduct. For this type of program, there are no income or asset requirements.
“What I’d like to say that the folks who are considering whether they might be entitled to compensation, that they contact the local Veterans Service Office or a qualified attorney like a Certified Elder Law Attorney,” Goodall said.
“One of the things you have to do is agree that [lawyers] don’t charge a fee for the initial consultation or for this initial work making the application. So people shouldn’t hesitate a second to talk to a qualified lawyer or a veteran service officer, VSO, about whether they might qualify for this compensation.”
For veterans who served more than 90 days in World War II, Korea, Vietnam or the Gulf War who are disabled, in a nursing home or over age 65, the pension program may apply. There are different rates of payment depending on family and financial qualifications. For a veteran without a spouse or child, the pension could be up to $13,166 a year.
“It doesn’t sound like a lot. But for a family who might be in an assisted living facility, $13,000 a year may make the difference between being able to pay the bill and stay in the facility, and not being able to pay the bill,” Goodall said on the podcast. “So it’s a really important tool in the estate planner’s tool chest.”
Certain qualifications must be met to receive the pension. Some key points:
- Less than $123,600 in net worth. Excludes household goods and a residence with up to 2 acres of land
- New transfer penalty rules. Giving away money that puts you below the $123,600 threshold will put you under a penalty. Fraudulent veteran’s annuities and disabled children are exceptions to the rule
For those struggling to understand these new rules, support systems are in place.
“Lawyers who have received CELA certification have demonstrated a familiarity with VA requirements and can help or make a referral to a specialist if required. Knowledgeable lawyers can help provide assistance so that folks will qualify as soon as they possibly can, and that all ties are decided in their favor,” Goodall said.
“There are Veteran Services Offices in most (Pennsylvania) counties where there’s someone who can help with applications. In other places, there are national veterans’ organizations who will assist in these applications,” he said.
“The National Elder Law Foundation () maintains a directory of attorneys who are certified elder law attorneys. Their listed credentials will include whether they are accredited veterans attorneys or not. Most that I know are accredited veterans attorneys, because it’s an important tool in your toolbox,” Goodall concluded.
About National Elder Law Foundation
The National Elder Law Foundation is the only national organization certifying elder and special needs law practitioners. NELF’s Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA) designation is itself certified by the American Bar Association, and there are nearly 500 CELAs across the country. For more information, visit https://www.nelf.org/.
Meg Hyatt Executive Director National Elder Law Foundation 520-881-1076 [email protected]
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