It was not too long ago that I recall predictions being made that in the not too distant future, we would be living and working in a “paperless society.” I envisioned my desk being as clean as a whistle, not a stitch of paper anywhere to be found.  As I look around my office today, I think it is safe to say that the predictions of a “paperless society” were as accurate as those of the Y2K worldwide computer apocalypse.

Perhaps, most illustrative of how paper intensive a society we have become is the documentary proof required by Medicaid for Nursing Home Medicaid eligibility. It requires the applicant (often an ailing senior or his or her spouse) to provide documentary proof literally from the moment of birth to the present date. If the client has not been in the habit of safekeeping biographical documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce papers, naturalization documents and military discharge papers, the task can become daunting for a senior who has decided not to retain legal counsel to assist in the preparation and filing of the application.

In addition to the above stated documents of a biographical nature, the documentary proof required by Medicaid for a nursing home application as to the applicant’s finances is exhaustive and comprehensive. It requires that for the five years preceding the date nursing home Medicaid is requested, that the applicant provide copies of federal and state income tax returns with 1099s and W-2s; copies of all account, bank and brokerage statements with copies of all checks; deposits and withdrawals of $3,000 or more (for Westchester County Applications) with explanation thereof. Perhaps, more than any other documentary proof, Medicaid’s requirements for the account statements creates the greatest difficulty for the client. Especially in cases where the client has multiple bank, brokerage and mutual fund accounts.

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Even in the unlikely case where the client has been able to locate all of the required account statements, the likelihood that the client will have copies of all checks, deposits and withdrawals of $3,000 or more with explanations thereof is rare.  Fortunately, the banks and major financial institutions are required to keep duplicate copies either on disks or microfiche which can be requisitioned. Unfortunately, obtaining the necessary records from the financial institutions in and of itself can also become a major undertaking for the client.

In conclusion, I regularly advise my clients to maintain all of their financial records for at least five years as one day their eligibility for Medicaid may hinge on their availability.

Anthony Enea, Esq. is a member of Enea, Scanlan & Sirignano, LLP, with offices in White Plains and Somers. He can be reached at 914-948-1500. He is a past chair of the elder law section of NYSBA and past president and founding member of the New York chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He practices exclusively in elder law, wills, trusts and estates and guardianship proceedings.