What Are Options That People Consider When Attempting to Protect Their Estate from Nursing Home Poverty?

We’ve talked to many Wisconsin families about things that they had done in an effort to protect their money from all being sucked up by the nursing home costs which can exceed $100,000 annually. Lots of mistakes are being made by people who don’t truly understand the intricacies of the Wisconsin Long Term Care Medicaid law and regulations. While you won’t get all the answers in this post, you’ll learn what some of the common mistakes are. So… here are options that just don’t work.

Do Nothing

Probably the worst thing that you can do if you want to protect your estate from being eaten up to nursing home costs is to ignore the problem.

Epic-Blog-Image-3-300x133Example. Nelda had her home worth $150,000 (no mortgage). She also owned accounts totaling $450,000 in value. Nelda procrastinated taking action to protect her estate from skilled care cost. A stroke caused Nelda to have to reside in a nursing facility. Nelda was forced to spend all of her $450,000 (until there was less than $2,000 remaining) before qualifying for Medicaid. When Nelda died, Medicaid pursued its Estate Recovery rights, forcing Nelda’s home to be paid to reimburse Medicaid for what it had spent on her nursing home care.

The people who protect their estate from nursing home costs typically are those who are proactively seek out the right information, at the right time, and work with the right people, and get it right the first time. Others risk losing everything they own.

Give It Away

Some people choose to give their assets away so that the assets will not be in their name when they get sick and apply for Medicaid.
People generally utilize one of two different gifting strategies when they attempt to help their financial situation by giving their assets away:

1.     Give $14,000 Away. Gift and estate tax laws provide that you can donate $14,000 to as many people as you want to without gift and estate tax consequences. Many people mistakenly interpret this as an income tax rule. Many mistakenly believe that either the donor or the recipient must pay income tax on gifts that exceed $14,000.

money-300x200Example: Dad gives Daughter $114,000. No one owes any income tax, but since the gift exceeded $14,000 (by $100,000) Dad has used up $100,000 of his $5.490,000 estate tax exemption. No one owes tax, but when Dad dies, he can “only” leave $5,390,000 free of the 40% estate tax. The problem, however, with making $14,000 annual gifts, from a Medicaid Planning standpoint, is that assets are not protected until five years after they are given away. So, giving it away in $14,000 increments does little good.

2.     Give Everything Away. Some people think that they will beat the government by putting all of their assets in their children’s names, but this could be a bad move for tax purposes.

Example: Mom and Dad own a home that they bought 35 years ago for $30,000. Today, the home is worth $240,000. If Mom and Dad donate the home to the children during Mom and Dad’s lifetime, then the children will get Mom and Dad’s $30,000 “carry-over” capital gains tax basis. When the children later sell the home, there could be an extra $60,000 or so of capital gains tax due. Plus, when Mom and Dad donate their home to their kids, Mom and Dad will lose their property tax homestead exemption. In addition, many parents that I talk to don’t like to give up the control over their assets that they give up when they put everything in their children’s names. Serious problems could result if the children die, go bankrupt, have IRS issues, get divorced, have spouses with bad spending habits, or if they can’t pay their debts. Bottom line: Don’t turn over everything you own to your children.

Rely on Medicare To Pay Nursing Home Costs

While Medicare will pay for some of the nursing home costs for the first 100 days of rehabilitation if you had a prior hospital stay of at least three days, you must pay 100% of the remaining costs of the skilled nursing facility (unless you qualify for Medicaid).

Have a Last Will and Testament and Power of Attorney

If you think that somehow your last will and testament will help you avoid losing your home and life savings to nursing home poverty, then think again. A last will and testament (“Last Will”) names your executor who will administer the court proceeding when you die, and your Last Will tells a judge who to make sure remaining assets get disbursed to at the end of the court proceeding (“Probate”). But a Last Will does nothing to protect your estate from long term care costs.

Example. Mom had a Last Will prepared naming her daughter, Sue, as the executor. In her Last Will, Mom left her estate to her two children, Sue and Richard. Mom felt like she did all she needed to do to “protect her estate for her children.” Eight years after writing her Will, Mom went into a nursing home. Mom was forced to spend her entire life savings on her nursing home care. When Mom died, Sue, as the executor of Mom’s probate, was forced to sell Mom’s home on behalf of the estate and give all of the proceeds of the sale to Medicaid – leaving the children with nothing.

A common Last Will technique can get you in bigger trouble. Many married couples write Last Wills. Often, the Wills are structured so that the first spouse to die leaves all of his or her assets to the surviving spouse. Then, because all of the assets were lumped into the surviving spouse’s estate, the surviving spouse must deplete the entire family estate before getting any help from Medicaid. So, the “I Love You” Will leaving everything to your spouse can be a disaster.

Put Your Money In a Safe Deposit Box – Or In A Hole You Dig In The Back Yard

One of the questions on a Medicaid application asks where you have a safe deposit box and what is in the box. Documents of Proof that Medicaid says it may need from you includes, “A list of what is inside any safe-deposit box.  This must be a written statement by a bank employee or a sworn statement from someone who looked inside.”
Failing to disclose the necessary information on a Medicaid application is Medicaid Fraud. It’s easier to plan ahead, get the right information to enable you to protect your estate, and then take that action.

Some people mistakenly believe that if they “put their child’s name on their bank account,” then the bank account somehow is no longer a Countable Resource for Medicaid eligibility purposes. Wrong.

The estate lawyers of Krause Donovan Estate Law Partners, LLC practice law in the areas of Probate, Wills, Estate Planning, and Trusts. We assist clients in and around Madison, Wisconsin with all matters related to estate planning, trusts, and probate matters. Our dedicated attorneys will even make house calls if you are unable to come to our office.

Contact our office by calling (608) 268-5751 to schedule a free consultation or use our online contact form.