My elderly mother has a long time boyfriend with whom she shares money and their home, but they never married. Now she needs nursing home care. Someone suggested they get married and then her boyfriend / husband could keep the home and their money and she could qualify for Medicaid. Will this work?
There are many different factors that come into play when answering this question, so a definite “yes” or “no” cannot be given. While we will go into more detail below, whether or not getting married will allow your mother’s boyfriend (new husband) to keep her home and money will largely depend on your mother’s and her boyfriend’s financial means (income and assets).
In order for your mother to be eligible for nursing home Medicaid, she must have limited income and assets. Currently as a single applicant, only your mother’s income and assets would be considered. At the time of this writing, in most states, the income limit is $2,349 / month and the asset limit is $2,000. (State specific income and asset limits can be found here). Some assets, such as your mother’s home, is not counted towards the asset limit, given she expresses an “intent” to return to the home and her equity interest (the value of the home in which she outright owns) is less than a state specified value. (Currently, the majority of the states set the limit at $595,000 or $893,000. If your mother were to marry, and her new husband stay in the home, it would be exempt regardless of the above requirements. However, the home may not be safe from Medicaid’s estate recovery program (MERP), in which Medicaid attempts to be reimbursed the care costs it paid for a long term care Medicaid beneficiary following his / her death. That said, if your mother passes away first, the home is safe from MERP as long as she has a husband that is alive. To be clear, the home would not be safe from MERP for a boyfriend.
If your mother were to marry her boyfriend, his income is disregarded towards her nursing home Medicaid eligibility. This means it does not count towards Medicaid’s income limit. However, if your mother’s new husband has little to no income, part or even all of your mother’s income could be transferred to him. This is called a monthly maintenance needs allowance and is a spousal income allowance for non-applicant spouses (also called community spouses). At the time of writing in most states, up to $3,216 / month can be transferred to a non-applicant spouse.
Assets, on the other hand, are considered to be jointly owned when a couple is married, regardless of if one or both spouses are Medicaid applicants. This means that depending on the value of your mother’s countable assets and her new husband’s countable assets, your mother could have assets over Medicaid’s asset limit. If the combination of your mother and new husband’s countable assets were greater than Medicaid allows, the “excess” assets would have to be “spent down” before your mother could become asset eligible. On the other hand, the joining of assets could also mean that her new husband could keep a portion of her assets. Long term care Medicaid has a community spouse resource allowance, which generally allows a non-applicant spouse to keep up to $128,640 in countable assets. This is in addition to the $2,000 in assets the applicant spouse is allowed.
It is important to mention that some states recognize and accept common law marriage as the equivalent to being legally married. (A common law marriage occurs when a couple lives together and acts as if married, but they do not have a marriage license. That said, there are specific conditions that must be met, such as cohabitating for a significant amount of time and introducing each other as “husband” and “wife”, in order for a couple to have a common law marriage. These rules vary based on the state in which one resides.) At the time of this writing, common law marriage is recognized in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and the District of Columbia.
Given the complexity of Medicaid eligibility and so many moving parts, it is best to seek counsel from a Medicaid planning expert.