When applying for Medicaid nursing home coverage, married couples have major advantages that allow them to protect more assets compared to single people.

Single individuals can only have an extremely limited amount of countable assets in order to qualify for Medicaid. While their primary residence and some other assets are protected from counting toward Medicaid nursing home eligibility, these assets are not protected after the individual passes away. Once a person who receives Medicaid nursing home coverage dies, the state Medicaid agency files a lien against the person’s estate to recover the cost of the assistance provided. This recovery can take up most, if not all, of an individual’s remaining assets.

Even if no other planning is done to protect assets from Medicaid recovery, a married couple can protect their residence and some other assets, for their own lifetimes, by transferring ownership to the spouse who does not need nursing home care. The spouse who needs care can receive Medicaid nursing home coverage and the remaining spouse can hold on to the residence and other assets even after the other spouse passes away.

Please see the related post: Protecting Your Residence Under Medicaid

However, unmarried couples do not receive this protection. Once one partner in an unmarried couple dies after receiving Medicaid nursing home coverage, the state Medicaid agency will file a lien against the person’s estate without regard of how the recovery may affect an unmarried partner. As a result, the estate of the deceased partner may be forced to sell their share of their residence to satisfy the lien. If the decedent was the sole owner of the residence, this sale may force the displacement of the remaining partner.

Additionally, simply transferring the residence to the partner not receiving Medicaid would also not help the couple’s situation. Any such below market transfer would severely damage the Medicaid eligibility of the spouse needing care. The transfer to the partner would be treated as a countable asset and cause the spouse needing care to spend far more out of pocket before becoming eligible for Medicaid nursing home coverage.

With this in mind, unmarried couples facing the immediate prospect of one partner needing nursing home coverage may want to consider getting married for the added financial protection. However, before doing any Medicaid planning steps, people should meet with an experienced, local elder law attorney to discuss all available options.

Ultimately, the best Medicaid planning is done far in advance of anyone actually needing needing nursing home coverage. Individuals who are single, married, or unmarried should should meet with an experienced, local elder law attorney as soon as possible to develop a plan that will protect their assets and prepare for any potential nursing home needs.

To discuss your planning needs, please call Martha C. Brown & Associates at (314) 962-0186.