Retaining Assets While Being Medicaid Eligible

Medicaid is a program with strict income and wealth limits to qualify, explains Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “You Can Keep Some Assets While Qualifying for Medicaid. Here’s How.” This is a different program from Medicare, the national health insurance program for people 65 and over that largely doesn’t cover long-term care. In this system, clients often have a goal of retaining assets while being Medicaid eligible.

If you can afford your own care, you’ll have more options because all facilities (depending on the level of medical care) don’t take Medicaid. Even so, couples with ample savings may deplete all their wealth for the other spouse to pay for a long stay in a nursing home. However, you can save some assets for a spouse and qualify for Medicaid using strategies from an Elder Law or Medicaid Planning Attorney.

You can allocate as much as $3,259.50 of your monthly income to a spouse, whose income isn’t considered, and still satisfy the Medicaid limit. Your countable assets must be $2,000 or less, with a spouse allowed to keep half of what you both own up to $130,380. Countable assets include things like cash, bank accounts, real estate other than a primary residence, and investments.  However, you can keep a personal residence, personal belongings (like clothes and home appliances), one vehicle (2 for married couple), engagement and wedding rings and a prepaid burial plot.  There are more detailed rules for countable and exempt assets, but suffice it to say most things count.

If you have too much income over the $2,382 income per month for the application, you can use a Miller Trust aka Qualified Income Trust for yourself, which is an irrevocable trust that’s used exclusively to satisfy Medicaid’s income threshold. If your income from Social Security, pensions and other sources is higher than Medicaid’s limit but not enough to pay for nursing home care, the excess income can go into a Miller Trust. This allows you to qualify for Medicaid, while keeping some extra money in the trust for your own care. The funds can be used for items that Medicare doesn’t cover.

However, your spouse may not have enough to live on. You could boost a spouse’s income with a Medicaid-compliant annuity. These turn your savings into a stream of future retirement income for you and your spouse and don’t count as an asset. You can purchase an annuity at any time, but to be Medicaid compliant, the annuity payments must begin right away with the state named as the beneficiary after you and your spouse pass away.

These strategies are designed for retaining assets while being Medicaid eligible for married couples; leaving an asset to other heirs is more difficult. Once you and your spouse pass away, the state government must recover Medicaid costs from your estate, when possible. This may be through a a claim on your probate estate (usually means the house) before assets go to heirs, reimbursement from a Miller Trust or other items.  That is a topic unto itself, albeit an important one, so see here for more information on Medicaid recovery.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/protect-assets-from-medicaid-recovery/

Note that any assets given away within five years of a Medicaid application date still count toward eligibility. Property transferred to heirs earlier than that is okay. One strategy is to create an irrevocable trust on behalf of your children and transfer property that way. You will lose control of the trust’s assets, so your heirs should be willing to help you out financially, if you need it.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 24, 2021) “You Can Keep Some Assets While Qualifying for Medicaid. Here’s How”

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Is Transferring the House to Children a Good Idea?

Clients frequently ask this question, especially as mom or dad is aging and perhaps living in assisted living or some other senior care arrangement.  Many try to do so using online forms, and find later that it was a mistake.  Transferring your house to your children while you’re alive may avoid probate, but gifting a home also can mean a rather large and unnecessary tax bill or could effect eligibility for long term care benefits. It also may place your house at risk, if your children get sued or file for bankruptcy

You also could be making a mistake, if you hope it will help keep the house from being consumed by nursing home bills.

There are better ways to transfer a house to your children, as well as a little-known potential fix that may help even if the giver has since died, says Considerable’s recent article entitled “Should you transfer your house to your adult kids?”

If a parent signs a quitclaim to give her son the house and then dies, it can potentially mean a tax bill of thousands of dollars for the son.

Families who see this error in time can undo the damage, by gifting the house back to the parent.

People will also transfer a home to try to qualify for Medicaid, but any gifts or transfers made within five years of applying for Medicaid can result in a penalty period when seniors are disqualified from receiving benefits.  A capable elder law attorney can advise you on better ways to address this, as well as potential corrections if necessary.

In addition, transferring your home to another person can expose you to their financial problems because their creditors could file liens on your home and, depending on state law, take some or most of its value. If the child divorces, the house could become an asset that must be divided as part of the marital estate.

Section 2036 of the Internal Revenue Code says that if the parent were to retain a “life interest” in the property, which includes the right to continue living there, the home would remain in her estate rather than be considered a completed gift. However, there are rules for what constitutes a life interest, including the power to determine what happens to the property and liability for its bills.

There are other ways to avoid probate. Many states and DC permit “transfer on death” deeds that let homeowners transfer their homes at death without probate.  Texas has both transfer on death deeds and “Lady Bird Deeds,” and an attorney can advise you on the differences and the best way to utilize them with your estate plan.  An excellent solution is to use a living trust which allows assets it owns or receives at death to avoid probate.  Having the trust own the property, or possibly using a deed to convey the property to the the trust at death, are excellent solutions.

If you are interested in learning more, please see this article for various ways to own and hold real estate.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/how-to-own-your-real-estate/  

In sum, there are many unexpected consequences to transferring your home to your children, so it is important to discuss the best way to convey the home to your loved ones with an attorney.

Reference: Considerable (Sep. 18) “Should you transfer your house to your adult kids?”

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Can I Afford In-Home Elderly Care?

Most clients prefer to age at home. However, in-home elder care costs add up quickly, so be aware of other affordable housing options.

Staying at home isn’t always affordable, according to a recent US News and World Report article. The article, entitled “Can You Afford In-Home Elderly Care?”, says about 80% of seniors are concerned about being able to afford home health care costs, based on a 2019 SCAN Health Plan survey. Paying for personalized in-home senior care can add up quickly and isn’t always easy on a senior’s tight income.

If you’re thinking about in-home elderly care, review these criteria to determine what costs to expect and the different payment options available for this type of care.

Find Out the Services Included in Home Care for the Elderly. In-home care can vary a lot, depending on your health conditions and needs. You might get helpers if you’re recovering at home from an illness or injury, and you could also have home care workers help you with daily activities, such as preparing meals and personal hygiene. Home care services often include rides to and from appointments, monitoring heart rate and blood pressure and in-home physical and cognitive therapy sessions.

Think about the Level of Care Needed. If you can do most daily activities on your own, but could use help with certain activities, such as cooking or cleaning, home care might be a wise option. Home care is focused on the service, and it’s supposed to help those who are living on their own as long as possible. When more care is required, moving to a place with more health support may be necessary. People who have significant needs may often look to assisted living as an alternative. Assisted living facilities offer more services, like 24-hour emergency care and ongoing supervision for seniors with Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other disabilities, although funding options may be limited.

Check Out the Cost of In-Home Senior Care. Homemaker services cost about $22.50 per hour on average and include tasks to help a person with daily duties like laundry, grocery shopping and light housework. A home health aide charges an average of $23 per hour, and may help with administering medicine at scheduled times, supervising and monitoring chronic illnesses and helping with walking aids. Of course, the exact cost of these services depends on where you live and the amount of help you need. The monthly cost for in-home care ranges from $4,290 for homemaker services to $4,385 for home health aide care. This typically costs more than the monthly median cost for an assisted living facility—but less than the median cost per month for a room at a nursing home facility.

Know Your Insurance Coverage. If you’re on Medicare, you may be able to get coverage for some short-term home services. To do so, a doctor will need to indicate that skilled nursing care is needed for a short period of time. Medicare will cover speech therapy, occupational therapy, or physical therapy. You can also use it to help with the purchase of durable medical equipment and safety additions to your home. However, Medicare won’t typically cover long-term home care services.

Medicaid will cover some health services at home, like cleaning and meal preparation, rides to and from medical visits and personal care if you are financially eligible.  Depending on the program, it provides some care and services in the home to those who need it medically. If you have long-term care insurance, some in-home services may be covered by your policy.

Look at Other Payment Methods. If your insurance won’t cover in-home care, you might have to pay out-of-pocket. One way to lower costs, is by asking family members to help. If you need to hire more help over time, the cost for services will increase accordingly. If that doesn’t work, they may help pay for in-home elderly care.

Additionally, people often overlook government benefit options, such as Medicaid or Veterans’ benefits such as Aid & Assistance.  People wrongly assume they aren’t eligible for the benefits, and miss out on funds available to them.  See here for a fuller description of this issue.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/medicare-basics-what-to-know/

Reference: US News and World Report (June 10, 2020) “Can You Afford In-Home Elderly Care?”

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