Tag Archives: Medicaid

Long-term health care planning for same sex couples

By Patrice A. Putman, Maine elder law attorney

On June 26, 2013, the US Supreme Court overturned essential parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, a decision that has a major impact on many of my friends and clients. Until then, the federal Defense of Marriage Act “DOMA” did not allow the recognition of same sex marriage. This meant that a married same sex couple who had lived together for 20 or even 60 years was not able to take advantage of the hundreds of federal benefits that the government gives to married heterosexual couples. Many people realize that same sex couples have not been able to take advantage of the tax benefits associated with filing joint federal income tax returns or Social Security benefits. Something that people are less aware of is the inequity in how long-term care rules have applied to these couples. Now, in Maine, a state where same sex marriage is recognized, these inequities can begin to be addressed.

When a family receives a diagnosis of dementia, they not only need to live with frightening health consequences, they also need to deal with a myriad of financial consequences. Where health insurance and Medicare pay for the diagnosis and treatment of most illnesses, they do not pay for long-term care costs when a person needs to move into an assisted living or nursing home. Only long-term care insurance and Medicaid (called MaineCare in Maine) pay for long-term care. Long-term care generally costs $70,000 a year or more. MaineCare will begin contributing to long-term care costs when a person has less than $10,000 in assets.

When a married person moves into an assisted living facility, MaineCare allows the couple to transfer their assets to the spouse who still lives at home. This means that while the spouse who moves into the assisted living facility can only have $10,000, the rest of the couple’s assets can be kept and used by the spouse at home. When a married person moves into a nursing home, MaineCare allows the spouse living at home to own a home, a car, personal property, and have other assets totaling $115,920. Unmarried couples do not have these options. Only the $10,000 rule applies to the unmarried person.

Now that the Supreme Court has declared significant parts of DOMA to be unconstitutional, the federal government must begin providing same sex spouses the same ability to transfer and protect their hard-earned assets that other married couples have always had. Now, when dementia hits a married gay or lesbian couple, they will have the same heartbreak and the same financial concerns that other married couples have, not 100 times more – at least if they are lucky enough to live in a state like Maine where same sex marriages are allowed and recognized.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only. It should not be construed as rendering legal advice or offering an answer to a specific legal problem.

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: 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.

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.

Governor proposes: no more MaineCare for assisted living and residential care

by Sally M. Wagley

This week Maine’s governor released his proposal for cuts to the MaineCare (Medicaid) program.   A number of the proposed cuts will affect Maine’s elderly. 

An area of particular concern is the elimination of MaineCare coverage of expenses faced by elderly and disabled people who live in residential care and assisted living facilities.   As an elder law attorney, I have many clients in these facilities who cannot afford to pay the monthly cost of $4000 to $7000, who are on MaineCare or will need to apply for it soon.  I also have many clients who are stressed out caregivers who cared for an elderly relative for as long as possible, before reaching the point of exhaustion.  

Assisted living and residential care facilities are for elderly people, many of them with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, who need supervision around the clock. In these settings, they are provided with security, reminded when to eat, dress and bathe, are helped with medication, and provided assistance with some activities of daily living.

 Where will these people go if they can’t get MaineCare and can’t afford to pay privately?  Most will not meet the criteria for nursing home level of care.  So they will have to return to live with exhausted spouses and other relatives, many of them also elderly and with health problems).   For those without families or homes to go to, or whose families simply cannot take them back, the outcome is not clear. 

 The governor’s proposal is at this point just that — a proposal, which will need legislative approval before it becomes a reality.  Regardless of whether you agree with the governor, it is important to be aware that this change may be coming.