Many of our older clients are worried about two things – 1. Having the resources to afford long-term care, or qualifying for government assistance if they don’t, typically Medicaid; and 2. They want to leave their house to their heirs if it is one of their primary assets. These concerns are true even for reasonably healthy individuals.
These concerns lead to questions of strategies for those who own their homes and wish to live there as long as possible, but are concerned that one, or both (if they are a couple) will need expensive, long-term care in either an assisted living facility or a nursing home. Is there a way to continue to own your home as long as possible, qualify for Medicaid AND make sure the family home is passed on to the children? The short answer is that it is difficult to accomplish this goal without giving up ownership and taking actions which require long-term planning. This brief article will not explore all the avenues to both preserve assets to pass on to heirs and minimize your “countable” assets in qualifying to Medicaid assistance, but will provide a brief discussion regarding the family home.
The most common strategy many people will employ is to transfer ownership of the home to a child, but continue to live in the home. While this strategy can sometimes “work” – there are several potential problems with this course of action. First, Medicaid utilizes a look-back period for assets that were transferred within 5 years of a person applying for Medicaid. This means that if you transfer ownership of your home to a child (or children) and need to apply for Medicaid within 5 years of the transfer, Medicaid will impose a penalty period during which you will not be eligible to receive benefits. The period is calculated by dividing the value of the assets transferred by the average monthly cost of long term care in the state to arrive at the number of months you will be ineligible. Worse, the penalty period will begin running on the first day you start receiving services and would be eligible for Medicaid, but for the transfer.
The second potential problem, even if the 5 year look-back period isn’t an issue, is that you give up ownership of your home and it is now owned by someone else. While this can often work out just fine, sometimes we can’t always control events in our children’s lives. Events such as lawsuits, accidents, divorce and the loss of a job may put their ownership of “your” house in jeopardy.
You should be very careful in considering options for your home if you are worried about needing long-term care and talk with an attorney specializing in such matters before taking steps on your own.
Tim Brynteson is a partner with Otis, Bedingfield and Peters LLC in Loveland. Tim’s practice emphasizes on business transactions, real estate, business succession planning, estate planning, probate administration, and tax controversies and can be reached at 970-663-7300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.