Can Medicaid take your house, even a jointly-owned home, to pay for long-term care?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Can Medicaid take your house? My elderly dad and I jointly own a home. We have separate bank accounts and split the bills (one paying electric, the other paying gas, etc) . We each have Power of Attorney over the other. He couldn't afford his tong term care insurance premiums because they got to be nearly a third of his income. I'm permanently handicapped but so far I can still pay my long term care insurance premiums. Neither of us has any cash, savings, IRAs or pensions. If he should have to go into a nursing home under Medicaid, can they kick me out of the house and take half the proceeds? I checked into one nursing home and they said they take all but $20 of the person's income (SS) and I would have to pay all his other bills (credit card, life insurance, Medicare B, etc) and that Medicaid takes the house automatically. What can Medicaid take, and what's off limits? I am in Missouri and cannot afford a eldercare attorney. Thank you for helping.

Expert Answer

Your father's interest in the house won't count against him should he need to enter a nursing home, because a person's primary residence is exempt when Medicaid counts a person's assets in determining eligibility. Upon his death, however, if the house remains partly in his name, Medicaid may be able to make a claim against his 50% interest in the house. So, you should have him deed his interest to you at the earliest opportunity, which would remove the house from his estate. Because you are disabled, this gift should not count as a disqualifying transfer resulting in a delay in his Medicaid eligibility for nursing home coverage. And because you are living in the house, Medicaid will not attempt to "take" it.

Your father's Medicare premiums, deductibles, and co-insurance will be paid by Medicaid. But it is true that Medicaid will not allow your father's income to be used to pay those other non-Medicare bills, so you will have to decide if you want to continue to keep the life insurance in force by paying the premiums yourself. As to his debt to the credit card companies, you are not personally responsible for your father's debts. If you notify the creditors that your father is now in a nursing home, that Medicaid takes all his income, and that he has no assets, they may write off the debt and stop hassling about it. Or, your father could file for personal bankruptcy, but without any assets (if he transfers the house to you) and no income, there's nothing for the credit card companies to go after and so this is probably unnecessary.