Question: I desperately need some advice. My wife is 79 years old and has progressively gotten so debilitative that I (82 years old) can no longer care for her at home. We have lived in our paid off home for more than 30 years and we receive every month about $2,800 in total benefits, including our Social Security checks. Other than the value of our home (which is about $125,000), we have a modest amount of savings and no other assets to speak of. How can I afford to place my wife in a nursing facility, which I understand may cost $5,000 – $6,000 per month? What are my options? Please help!
Answer: Surprisingly, you may be able to qualify your spouse for Medicaid for nursing home benefits without doing anything further. The rules vary widely state to state, so it is essential that you talk to an elder law attorney who has extensive experience in Medicaid planning (called Medi-Cal in California) in your state before you do anything. There are many rules. In California, you can own a home of any value and still qualify a spouse for Medi-Cal. Also, in California, the retirement accounts will not keep you from getting Medi-Cal. In fact, in California, you can own up to $117,920 in countable assets and still qualify the ill spouse for Medi-Cal for a skilled nursing facility. Countable assets exclude the primary home of any value, one car, and the retirement accounts. Further, in many states, a court order can increase the amount of assets that you can keep and still qualify the ill spouse for nursing home Medicaid, and a court order can increase the amount of income that you can keep. There are also legal means to protect a home from an estate recovery claim after death if the legal steps are properly taken before the death of the nursing home spouse. Lastly, if you or your spouse served in the US military for at least 90 consecutive days, at least one of which was during a war time (combat zone or injury are NOT required), then you may qualify for up to $2,054 per month in a tax-free pension from the VA (known as Aid and Attendance Pension, or Non-Service Connected Pension) depending on your assets and your income and how much you are paying out of pocket for elder care or medical care. See an experienced elder law attorney in your state for advice on these two programs: Medicaid for nursing homes, and VA Aid and Attendance.
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