Second marriages: what if your spouse requires expensive long term care?

By Sally Wagley, Maine elder law and estate attorney

We have had a number of clients, either divorced or widowed, become happily married later in life. Sadly, after a number of years of love and companionship, one of them may start to decline and need expensive care in a nursing home or assisted living facility. For purposes of discussion, we’ll assume that the husband is the one who needs institutional care, with the wife remaining at home. The wife may find out to her chagrine that she is expected to use her own assets — accumulated by her before the marriage from a lifetime of work –on her husband’s nursing home costs. She may find out that after he has depleted his own funds, he will not qualify for state assistance through Maine’s Medicaid program (called MaineCare) until she has spent down her own funds to a certain point. This causes her great anxiety, for two reasons: most important, she wants to make sure that she has enough to live comfortably for the rest of her life; in addition, she may want to be able to pass on assets to her own children.

What can a couple do in this situation? Advance planning, while both are still healthy, is the best option. If they qualify for and can afford long term care insurance, that will make it less likely that the wife will have to spend down her own savings. Another option is an irrevocable trust, whereby the wife places some of her own assets into an irrevocable trust, naming one or more of her children as trustees. She gives up control of the principal in the trust but will receive income from it. In this way, she can put some of her assets off limits for purposes of her husband’s possible future long term care expenses. In order for her to safely do this, however, she must feel reasonably confident that neither she nor her husband will need long term care in the next five years, as MaineCare has a “five-year look-back” rule which penalizes people who transfer assets in order to qualify for MaineCare.

For a couple who is already in crisis, there are still options. The spouse may purchase a certain type of annuity which meets the requirements of the law. This annuity will protect her assets while providing a stream of income. She can invest her countable assets into exempt assets, such as repairs or improvements to her home, or the purchase of a newer car.

As a last resort, some spouses choose to divorce for the purpose of preserving assets. This is a wrenching decision for most clients, but may be the only option for ensuring that the spouse at home to preserve what she has worked so hard for over the years. This divorce, however, will not prevent the wife from continuing to provide love, companionship and care to her husband, just as if they continued to be married.

Second marriages: providing for a surviving spouse in a trust

By Sally Wagley, Maine elder law and estate attorney

We have had a number of clients who fit the following profile: They are married for a second time, each with children from a previous marriage. One of them has substantially more than the other. Let’s assume for discussion purposes that the husband is the one with more than the wife. The husband wants to ensure that, should he die first, the wife has enough income to live comfortably for the rest of her life. However, he does not want to leave assets to her outright, as he wants to make sure that his children will ultimately inherit.

One option is for the husband to leave some or all of his estate to a trust for his wife’s benefit. Such a trust typically provides that she gets all the income generated by the assets placed in trust, to give her a stream of income which is adequate to maintain her standard of living. The trust may provide, in addition, that should the trust income and her own income be inadequate, the wife can receive amounts of principal which are needed for this purpose.

Who should be the trustee of this trust? One option is for the husband to name one or more of his children as trustees. If his estate is substantial, it is possible to have a bank serve as trustee. Or, if the husband trusts the wife to be a responsible trustee and to abide by the rules of the trust, he can name her to be the trustee, with one or more of his children to become the successor trustee if she becomes incapacitated.

This arrangement may be coupled with giving the wife a life estate in any real estate which he owns separately, such as a primary home or a cottage.

Second marriages: pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements

By Sally Wagley, Maine elder law and estate attorney

Some clients who marry later in life do not think, before the wedding, about the usefulness of a prenuptial agreement. In the flush of romance, these clients may not have their minds on practical matters, such as ensuring that their assets will remain separate should they divorce and ensuring that children from previous marriages will inherit.

After the wedding, when things calm down, these clients may turn their attention to these sobering issues. They may, at that point, wish they had executed a prenuptial agreement. Is it too late for these clients to execute an agreement of this kind?

No, it is not too late for these clients. Post-nuptial agreements under which each member of the couple agrees to forego certain spousal rights in the event of divorce or upon death. In this situation, each one will need to see advice from his/her own lawyer, as a single lawyer would face a conflict of interest in representing them both. Also, each one has to make full disclosure to the other of all financial assets that each has, so that there are no secrets between them in this regard.

Second marriages: the “elective share,” your spouse’s right to part of your estate when you die.

The law in Maine is such that, absent an agreement to the contrary, a married person cannot disinherit his or her surviving spouse. The law gives the surviving spouse the right to go to court to demand that he or she receive at least one-third of the deceased’s “augmented estate.” The determination of the amount that the surviving spouse can receive takes into account not only the assets in the deceased spouse’s name but also some of the surviving spouse’s assets.

We have many clients who marry later in life, sometimes for the second time. Each spouse has accumulated assets separately and may have children from a previous marriage. One or both spouses may wish to favor his or her own children in the will, choosing not to leave anything to the surviving spouse or perhaps to leave only a modest amount. For those clients who die without being aware or without addressing the “elective share” issue, the deceased’s children may be in for an unpleasant surprise, should the surviving spouse choose to seek more from the estate than what was left to him or her in the deceased’s will.

Clients who are either planning to marry or who are already married, who wish to agree that neither will file for the elective share against the other’s estate can put this in writing in a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.

Second marriages: giving your surviving spouse a life estate in your home

By Sally Wagley, Maine elder law and estate attorney

Consider the case of this typical client of ours, a man in his 60’s, married for the second time to a lovely woman, also in her 60’s. He has three grown children from his previous marriage and several grandchildren. She too has children and grandchildren of her own. Both have property, savings and investments of their own, which they wish to keep separate, and which they wish to leave directly to their own children rather than to each other.

When they marry, the wife moves into the husband’s home. The husband chooses to keep the home titled in his own name, rather than put his wife’s name on the deed, so that the home will ultimately go to his children when he dies. At the same time, he does not want his wife to have to move out of the home when he dies. He comes to us for advice.

One of the options we offer him is revising his will so as to provide his wife with a “life estate” in the home. The will we prepare for him states that should his wife survive him, she has the right to occupy the home for as long as she wants, provided she pays the expenses (taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance) and takes care of the home. Should she choose to move out of the home, the property will then belong to his children, who can do with it as they choose. If she remains there until she dies, then upon her death the husband’s children will at that point receive title to the home.

In this way, the husband can ensure that his wife will not be uprooted while at the same time ensuring that his children will inherit the property when she no longer needs it.

Legal Issues Facing People in Second Marriages

By Sally Wagley, Maine elder law and estate attorney

In the next couple of weeks, we will be blogging on some of the legal issues facing older people who are in second marriages. As Maine elder law and estate planning attorneys, we have many clients in this situation. Many of them have children from previous marriages and want to balance the needs of those children with the needs of a surviving spouse.

Some of the legal vehicles for ensuring this balance are: prenuptial and postnuptial agreements; leaving the surviving spouse a life estate in the home; marital and family trusts; a special needs trust for a spouse who is likely to need expensive long term care.

We hope you will find this information useful and we will be glad to advise you if you are in a second marriage.

Change in Medicare’s “substantial improvement” standard

By Patrice A. Putman, Maine estate and elder law attorney

Aging is never easy and many people experience a short hospitalization followed by a longer stay in a skilled nursing facility. Eldery people in Maine and elsewhere have generally understood that their hospitalization will be covered by Medicare and that Medicare can cover skilled nursing care for up to 100 days. After 100 days, continued care is considered “long-term” or “custodial” care which Medicare does not pay for.

Up until the fall of 2012, Medicare had a practice of only paying for a skilled nursing facility so long as the patient continued to make “significant improvement”. If the patient was no longer making significant improvement, Medicare’s practice was to stop paying, even if this was well before the 100 day allowance. Last fall, this practice of terminating coverage based on the “substantial improvement” standard ended. Now, the new standard for continued Medicare coverage is a whether the patient needs skilled care — even if it would simply maintain the patient’s current condition or slow further deterioration. The stated standard is “The skilled services must be reasonable and necessary for the diagnosis or treatment of your condition.” The care must also be ordered by a physician. This is a big and positive change to a long-standing practice. Medicare is now covering some patients that it was not covering just six months ago.

If you or a loved one is denied Medicare coverage for skilled nursing care in Maine, it may be helpful to meet with us. We are Maine elder law attorneys (referred to sometimes as “elder lawyers” or “elder care attorneys”). We would review the situation to determine whether you are entitled to continue coverage and then help you resolve this with Medicare.

The information provided in this post is for educational purposes only. It describes the law in effect at the time the materials were written. This information should not be construed as rendering legal advice or offering an answer to a specific legal problem.

Special Needs Trusts Can Be Structured Several Ways

By Sally M. Wagley, Maine elder law attorney

A special needs trust can be a valuable tool in protecting the long term well-being of a loved one. Here are some common questions answered about various structures.

What is a “third party” special needs trust?
A third party special needs trust is for the client who wants to provide in his or her will for a disabled child or other relative. The client’s goal is to ensure that the disabled child or relative continues to be eligible for SSI, MaineCare and other public assistance programs while having funds available on the side to meet his or her special needs. The client has a Will which appoints a trustee to handle the disabled child’s or relative’s inheritance. Typically, the trust will say that if anything remains in the trust when the disabled child or relative dies, the balance will then be distributed to certain other family members. (A third party special needs trust is not required to have a “pay-back” provision to reimburse the government.)

What is a “first party” special needs trust?
A first party special needs trust is for the disabled client on public assistance who receives a sum of money; for example, from a personal injury or medical malpractice action, from an inheritance or from a divorce. If the client places the new funds in a “first party” special needs trust which meets certain strict requirements, the client will continue to be eligible for SSI, MaineCare and other public assistance programs. The requirements are: the person must be disabled according to the standards used by the Social Security Administration; the person must be under age 65; the trust must be irrevocable; it must be established by a parent, grandparent, guardian or court; it must state that any funds remaining in the trust at the disabled person’s death be used to pay back the government for what it spent on the person’s medical care. Anyone can be named trustee of a special needs trust of this type: a friend, family member, professional, bank, trust company or non-profit organization.

What is a “pooled” trust?

A pooled trust is a special needs trust administered by a non-profit organization for the benefit of a number of disabled people. The disabled person’s funds are placed in a “sub-account” with the organization. The organization acts as trustee for the disabled person, drawing on the person’s sub-account to make direct payments to providers for the person’s special needs. In Maine, there are two pooled trusts: the Maine Pooled Disability Trust and the Maine Trust for People with Disabilities. Under SSI and MaineCare rules, if a person age 65 or older wants to fund a special needs trust, he or she must use the pooled trust.

Simple Wills that Make a Difference

By Patrice A. Putman, Maine estate and elder law attorney

Most people have some sense of what they want to happen with their “estates” (real estate, savings, cars and the “stuff” in their homes) if they die any time soon. If they have minor children, they know who they want (and, just as importantly, don’t want) to raise their kids. But then they are hesitant to call a lawyer and put their wishes in writing. Why?

Lawyers can be intimidating. When we see commercials about lawyers on TV they invariably use deep, intimidating voices and sometimes even flash fists and baseball bats. In fact, most lawyers are nice people who work hard to meet your needs. Many donate a great deal of their time to charities that they care about and volunteer in their communities.

You are concerned about cost. Having a Will written well and executed properly costs money – but probably not as much as you fear. At our office, a simple Will with a testamentary trust for the kids (a trust that is created only upon one’s death) is usually done for a flat fee, which we quote you at the end of a first meeting. This fee includes the initial meeting to gather all the necessary information and to understand your wishes. This is also when we will tell you about any unintended consequences associated with your wishes so that you can be fully informed about your choices. We then draft the Will, send you the draft, go over any questions or concerns with you, make any changes needed, and prepare a final document. The basic fee also includes a final meeting where any last questions are answered and any final changes are made. The Will is then signed, witnessed, and notarized. Copies are made and instructions (on what to do with the Will and the copies) are given.

You haven’t decided what to do. Decisions about what to do with your stuff or who to name to take care of your kids or to serve as Personal Representative (executor) are really hard decisions. We can help you think these things through. Sometimes you need more information and sometimes you need more options. Lawyers are trained to provide you with both.

If you don’t have a Will, state law determines what happens to your real estate, savings and other assets, a probate judge will decide who the best person is to raise your children. A simple will ensures that these things are handled they way you want.

The information provided in this post is for educational purposes only.   It describes the law in effect at the time the materials were written.  This information should not be construed as rendering legal advice or offering an answer to a specific legal problem.

Average annual nursing home cost now $87,000 per year

By Sally M. Wagley, Maine elder law attorney

 The cost of paying privately for care in a nursing home rose 4.4% in 2011, nationwide, according to a survey done by MetLife.  The current cost of one year in a nursing home is, on average, $87,000.

The cost of care in a Maine nursing home is at least this much, if not more:  generally in the range of $7000 to $8000 per month.

 What might this mean for you and members of your family?  Consider the following:  

  • Do you have adequate income and savings to cover years in a nursing home? 
  • If you were in a nursing home and your spouse were at home, how much would your spouse need in order to remain comfortable?
  • Is it important to you to pass on something to the next generation?   How would you feel if your savings were completely used up on the cost of your care, before you die?
  • What if you had to sell your home or other property in order to pay for your nursing home care?
  • Are you aware that Medicare covers only short stays in a nursing home –only for skilled care and rehabilitation? 
  • Do you know what the Medicaid program (called “MaineCare” in Maine) covers in your state?
  • What is the quality of care at nursing home and assisted living facilities in your area?
  • Have you checked out long term care insurance, to see what it covers and what it would cost?
  • Have you met with a elder law attorney (also referred to as an “elder lawyer” or “elder care attorney”) to find out what coverage might be available to cover some of the cost of your care, and what you can do to get that coverage?  

Be aware that each state is different with respect to nursing homes, Medicaid and other programs. While there may be books on this subject at your local book store, those books won’t tell you the specific things you should know about Maine nursing homes and Maine elder care.  Also, beware of advice given by neighbors and friends.  Each person’s situation is different, and what may have helped someone else won’t necessarily help you.   

In my blogs, I will be addressing some of these issues in the coming weeks.

Leaving your “stuff” to people in your last will

By Sally M. Wagley, Maine estate planning and elder law attorney


A concern that older people often bring to estate planning and elder law attorneys is how they can make sure that, at their deaths, the right people receive treasured heirlooms and other items.  These items include jewelry, antiques, firearms, tools, musical instruments, art work, knick-knacks, and the like.  Lawyers refer to this “stuff” as “tangible personal property.”

It is not necessary to list things in the last will and testament prepared by your estate planning lawyer.  Instead, you can list these things in a separate writing, which your will refers to.  This separate writing can be in your own handwriting or typed.  What’s important is that it be signed by you and dated.

This list can be dated before or after the will prepared by your lawyer – it doesn’t matter.  You can change it time and time again, without going back to your estate planning lawyer to get your will changed.   The best place to keep this list is together with your will.

Some people, instead of preparing this list, go around their homes and put post-it notes on things, naming the person to receive each item.  This will work out fine as long as your family agrees about who gets what.  However, if they don’t agree, there is no way to make sure that these things will go to the right people.  This can cause problems within your family and could even require a judge of the Maine probate court to resolve the issue.   Therefore, it is best to put your wishes in writing.