Would dad be eligible for Medicaid if he divorces my mother?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My elderly father is currently in a nursing home and not expected to be able to come home, as he needs constant care (can't stand, walk, feed himself, etc). My mother is living in their home and unable to physically care for him there, however, Medicare will only pay for 100 days in a nursing home. They have money from a recent total loss on their home due to a fire, so, they are not eligible for Medicaid.

My question, if they divorced, would my Dad possibly then be eligible for Medicaid on his own?

Expert Answer

Divorce for Medicaid eligibility for long-term care coverage is possible, but it has serious practical and emotional consequences and should only be a last resort. If they stay married, Medicaid rules in this situation already would allow your mother -- known as the "community spouse" -- to keep the home she lives in and to keep a substantial amount of assets while Medicaid pays for your father's long-term nursing home costs. Depending on the state your parents live in, your mother could keep the house plus assets (called the Protected Resource Amount) of between $21,912 and $109,560. The exact amount varies from state to state. Also, your mother would be entitled to keep regular income, called a "monthly needs allowance" of up to $2,739 per month, the exact amount again depending on the state where they live. Your father could also transfer full title of the house to your mother, meaning that Medicaid would not be able to seek reimbursement out of the value of the house after your father dies.

To find out what the asset and income limits are for the community spouse in their state, contact a local Medicaid office near where they live. You can go onto your state's Medicaid Web site to locate a local office. Use any Internet search engine and enter "Medicaid" and the name of your state. Or, you can call the Eldercare Locator toll-free at 800-677-1116 and ask for contact information for a local Medicaid office.

If your parents still want to consider divorce as a device to help your father qualify for Medicaid, they should first consult an attorney who is familiar with both the Medicaid rules and the divorce laws in your parent's state. Divorce can have unwanted practical consequences for pensions, Social Security benefits, taxes, insurance, estate law, medical decision-making, even hospital and nursing home visiting rights, among other things. These should all be investigated thoroughly, with the help of an experienced attorney, before your parents take such a serious step.