Question:  When a senior enters a nursing home and applies for Masshealth long term nursing care coverage, what effect does their marital status have?

Answer:  There are two sets of rules for married vs. single applicants for Masshealth long term nursing care coverage.  Married folks appear to have it better.  Why?  Looser standards aim to preserve assets for the spouse living at home.

For instance, in order to qualify for Masshealth, a married applicant’s financial assets (not including real estate) must be below approx. $120,000.  Meanwhile, a single applicant must have below $2,000.  This difference is shocking to some.  However, consider that Masshealth does not want to impoverish the likely elderly spouse living at home.

Masshealth will also allow a married applicant’s residence to be deeded to his or her spouse without being counted as an asset subject to lien.  This inter spousal transfer of title can occur on the drive to the nursing home, with no look-back period.  (vs. a deed to a child which requires 5 years before being considered valid by Masshealth).  We have actually worked with couples to get married late in life, even obtaining guardianship authority, when necessary.

Long term unmarried elderly couples, are well advised to consider these benefits of marriage on long term Masshealth planning.  Are there downsides to marriage?  Yes.

Be careful if one individual has many financial assets, vs. the other.  Marriage may increase the qualification limit, but also increases the pool of available assets.  For example, if a marriage brings together a “poor” woman and a “rich” man, this newly married couple may combine to have $100,000 in assets.  Once married, they must spend down approx. $180,000 to get Masshealth nursing care coverage.

If the same couple was unmarried, and the “poor” applicant had only $50,000, his or her spend down would only be $48,000.  Basically, a couple with disparity in their assets should be strategic, before running down the isle.

Attorney James Haroutunian practices real estate law, estate planning and probate at 630 Boston Road, Billerica, MA. He gladly invites questions at james@hlawoffice.com or by phone at 978-671-0711.  His website blog is found at www.hlawoffice.com.

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