None of us expect it to happen. Whether it is the result of a car accident, a skiing mishap or a devastating illness, we just don’t expect catastrophe to happen. But it can and does, and when it does it can wreck financial havoc for you-and for generations to come.

So what happens when you find yourself in need of a weekly nurse check-in, daytime attendant or round-the-clock care? Can you afford to cover the cost–especially if you are now unable to work? Medicaid is often an answer for people who need help with medical bills. But does Medicaid come with a cost?

What many don’t know

Medicaid, sometimes also referred to as Medical Assistance, is a joint federal/state program that provides healthcare for people of very limited means. There is no deductible or co-pay and the range of care offered is expansive. But for people over 55 who need long-term care, there is a catch: Upon your death, Medicaid will place a lien on all real property you own. The lien will be equal to what was spent on your care.

For most people that is shocking-it feels like a violation: Having spent the better part of your life working, you now find that although you can count on the government to take care of you, it will ultimately cost you all you have earned. There will be no inheritance for your kids, no savings for your grandchildren.

There has got to be a way around it

It seems illogical and most people can’t help but think there has to be a way around this law. And the good news is that there is-but only with careful planning.

In general, Medicaid will circumvent people transferring funds to relatives or friends in order to preserve their estate and avoid the lien. Property that is transferred will be counted as if it were still yours and will off-set your eligibility for Medicaid. The good news, however, is that the Medicaid “look-back” period is only five years.

So what’s the solution?

Rather than transfer assets before you need to, the best solution for both your physical and financial health is long-term care insurance. In the event that you need it, the policy will be used to cover the first five years of long-term care cost. During that time, an experienced Medicaid-Planning attorney can make distributions to family and friends as you direct. This legally allows you to transfer your assets in anticipation of being eligible for Medicaid, while also being assured that you will not face a Medicaid lien.

How can I make these changes to my estate?

The best person to help you make these changes is an experienced estate planning attorney. And the best time to make these changes is now. Any delay could either greatly reduce your estate, or completely eliminate it. You’ve worked hard to build a legacy for your children and grandchildren. Why not take the next step and establish a solid and effective strategy? Planning for your future today can help ensure a happy future tomorrow.