Must I Liquidate My IRA Before I Can Apply for Medicaid?
Medicaid Planning

Must I Liquidate My IRA Before I Can Apply for Medicaid?

Do the rules permit a nursing home to force a resident to liquidate an IRA and spend it down to pay for care, before they’re eligible for Medicaid? Likewise, can a nursing home make the spouse who’s not in a nursing home liquidate money in an IRA and spend it on care for the spouse?

The answer to these questions is based on the state in which you live, because Medicaid eligibility and spend-down rules vary by state. For example, in New Jersey, the answer to both of these questions is yes.

nj.com’s recent article “Can a nursing home make me spend down an IRA before applying to Medicaid?” says that there’s no protection in New Jersey for IRAs, when it comes to Medicaid. The same is true in Minnesota, Nevada, and Oregon. By contrast, in California and Florida, IRAs and other retirement plans are protected (non-countable).

While it’s not the nursing home that’s making this demand, it’s the Medicaid program itself that requires the spend-down. The nursing home is likely just doing what they’ve been told.

However, with the help of a Medicaid planning attorney, you can implement a strategy to preserve the spouse’s IRA up to a maximum of $126,420 for 2019. In addition, the nursing home resident’s IRA can, in some cases, be converted to a Medicaid annuity. Your Medicaid planning attorney will save you a significant amount of money, when compared to the legal fees. For the spouse remaining in the community, the attorney can make sure that she or he has sufficient money to live on.

While New Jersey is a very difficult state in which to qualify for Medicaid, there’s always the possibility that advance planning will shelter significant assets. Attorneys’ fees are typically paid from one of the assets that must be spent down to obtain Medicaid eligibility.

Whether Medicaid planning with an attorney is worth the expense, depends on how much could be saved or sheltered. If, for example, Medicaid planning will cost $10,000 but there is the opportunity to shelter $100,000 from long-term care expenses, it’s well worth doing for the $90,000 that would be protected. A $10,000 investment that returns $90,000 is a good investment, by anyone’s standards.

Talk to an estate planning or elder care attorney in your state, who can look at the specifics of your finances to see if you can benefit from their services.

Learn how an elder law attorney can help you plan for long-term care.

Reference: nj.com (September 18, 2019) “Can a nursing home make me spend down an IRA before applying to Medicaid?”

Dark Side of Medicaid Means You Need Estate Planning
Medicaid Planning

Dark Side of Medicaid Means You Need Estate Planning

A woman in Massachusetts, age 62, is living in her family’s home on borrowed time. Her late father did all the right things: saving to buy a home and then buying a life-insurance policy to satisfy the mortgage on his passing, with the expectation that he had secured the family’s future. However, as reported in the article “Medicaid’s Dark Secret” in The Atlantic, after the father died and the mother needed to live in a nursing home as a consequence of Alzheimer’s, the legacy began to unravel.

Just weeks after her mother entered the nursing home, her daughter received a notice that MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program, had placed a lien on the house. She called MassHealth; her mother had been a longtime employee of Boston Public Schools and there were alternatives. She wanted her mother taken off Medicaid. The person she spoke to at MassHealth said not to worry. If her mother came out of the nursing home, the lien would be removed, and her mother could continue to receive benefits from Medicaid.

The daughter and her husband moved to Massachusetts, took their mother out of the nursing home and cared for her full-time. They also fixed up the dilapidated house. To do so, they cashed in all of their savings bonds, about $100,000. They refinished the house and paid off the two mortgages their mother had on the house.

Her husband then began to show signs of dementia. Now, the daughter spent her days and nights caring for both her mother and her husband.

After her mother died, she received a letter from the Massachusetts Office of Health and Human Services, which oversees MassHealth, notifying her that the state was seeking reimbursement from the estate for $198,660. She had six months to pay the debt in full, and after that time, she would be accruing interest at 12%. The state could legally force her to sell the house and take its care of proceeds to settle the debt. Her husband had entered the final stages of Alzheimer’s.

Despite all her calls to officials, none of whom would help, and her own research that found that there were in fact exceptions for adult child caregivers, the state rejected all of her requests for help. She had no assets, little income, and no hope.

State recovery for Medicaid expenditures became mandatory, as part of a deficit reduction law signed by President Bill Clinton. Many states resisted instituting the process, even going to court to defend their citizens. The federal government took a position that federal funds for Medicaid would be cut if the states did not comply. However, other states took a harder line, some even allowing pre-death liens, taking interest on past-due debts or limiting the number of hardship waivers. The law gave the states the option to expand recovery efforts, including medical expenses, and many did, collecting for every doctor’s visit, drug, and surgery covered by Medicaid.

Few people are aware of estate recovery. It’s disclosed in the Medicaid enrollment forms but buried in the fine print. It’s hard for a non-lawyer to know what it means. When it makes headlines, people are shocked and dismayed. During the rollout of the Obama administration’s Medicaid expansion, more people became aware of the fine print. At least three states passed legislation to scale back recovery policies after public outcry.

The Medicaid Recovery program is a strong reason for families to meet with an elder law attorney and make a plan. Assets can be placed in irrevocable trusts, or deeds can be transferred to family members. There are many strategies to protect families from estate recovery. This issue should be on the front burner of anyone who owns a home, or other assets, who may need to apply for Medicaid at some point in the future. Avoiding probate is one part of estate planning, avoiding Medicaid recovery is another.

Since the laws are state-specific, consult an elder law attorney in your state.

Read here about Medicaid planning.

Reference: The Atlantic (October 2019) “Medicaid’s Dark Secret”

The Long-Term Care Sandwich Squeeze
Long-Term Care Costs Can Be Staggering

The Long-Term Care Sandwich Squeeze

The phrase “sandwich generation” is used to describe people who are caring for their parents and their children at the same time. The number of people who fall into this category is growing, according to an article from The Motley Fool, “How to Help Your Parents Retire Without Derailing Your Own Retirement.” A survey found that about 16% of Americans are currently providing long-term care to an elderly relative, and this number is expected to double within the next five years.

What’s worse, very few people are planning for this situation.

Planning is the only way to stop what has been called a self-perpetuating cycle. Without planning, caring for parents could derail your own retirement, making you need the support of your children when you get older, and while your kids are trying to save for their children’s college educations and preparing for their own retirement. Sound familiar?

What can you do to prevent this cycle?

See if your parents qualify for any assistance programs. There are government and private programs to help with housing, food, utilities, healthcare and long-term care. The programs vary by location and the situation of the people who are seeking help, but there is help, if you know where to find it.

If parents are over 65, there is something called Supplemental Social Security Income, or SSI. This is in addition to the regular Social Security benefits and might be enough to close the finance gap. In 2019, SSI provides up to $771 per month for an individual or $1,157 for a couple, if the requirements are met.

Cost cutting. If your parents don’t have a budget, help them create one so you can all be aware of how much money is coming in and how much is going out of the household. Could they tighten their discretionary spending? They could also consider a reverse mortgage on their home, if they have enough equity. Are you willing or able to have them come live with you?

Selling items could also free up cash for living expenses. If they have a house filled with memorabilia, or valuable antiques, and are willing to do so, they can combine downsizing with making some income.

Creating a plan. Get everyone in the room—parents, siblings and spouses. Discuss the challenges ahead and make sure that everyone is clear on what expenses everyone can help with. Housing and healthcare are necessary. Luxury cars and vacations are not. The need for long-term care is a distinct likelihood.

If the adult siblings need to adjust their own spending to help the parents, be realistic with each other. How much are you able to contribute, and how much are you willing to contribute? No one sibling should have to shoulder the burden themselves, unless they are wildly wealthy, and it won’t make a dent in their lifestyle.

Along with the financial planning, make sure that your parents have an estate plan. They’ll need a will, a power of attorney for finances and a healthcare power of attorney. The cost of working with an estate planning attorney to ensure that this is in place, is far less than dealing with court proceedings, if you need to pursue guardianship or settle the estate without a will.

How much does long-term care cost?

Reference: The Motley Fool (Aug. 25, 2019) “How to Help Your Parents Retire Without Derailing Your Own Retirement”