Can a widow's pension be protected from nursing home costs?

Nancy in pennsylvania asked...

Can a widow's pension be protected from nursing home costs? My mother is 85-years-old and in a nursing home for 5 years. She pays her care with her Social Security check. I, her daughter, have signed her up to receive Veterans Pension from my father. Can she save this pension check without the nursing home taking it for her daily expenes? I travel back and forth to the home and take her food, as the food is horrible there. She had kidney failure due to not eating there, and almost died from that. That's why I take her food. Can she save some of her pension for her burial expenses? She will lose her burial insurance at the age of 86.

Expert Answer

If your mother's nursing home stay is covered by Medicaid, her Social Security payments are automatically used to help pay for her care. If she also gets a veterans pension, that money, too, goes into the pot of total monthly income used to pay for her nursing home care.

Medicaid does have a provision allowing a nursing home resident to keep a burial fund of up to $1,500. The veterans pension could be used for such a fund once your mother's other burial insurance coverage runs out.

Under some circumstances, Medicaid allows some money to be set aside to pay for the "personal services" of a family member who helps care for an elder. This has to be a reasonable amount paid for legitimate care, and should be spelled out in a written personal services contract. But this type of arrangement is almost always approved by Medicaid only for people who get home care, not for people in nursing homes. That's because it's presumed that the nursing home takes care of all resident needs. You can't be paid simply for visiting your mother. As for getting paid for taking her food, you would probably have to have a doctor or licensed nutritionist certify that for health reasons your mother needs to eat your food rather the food served by the nursing home.