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"How to get Medi-Cal coverage for your nursing home care... without selling your home or leaving your family without a dime... Surprising ways to pay for your assisted living and long term care costs."

Elder Law Today Newsletter | Vol. 3 | April, 2005


Will You Be Able to Keep Your Real Property and Still Qualify for Medi-Cal?

Your Home As An Exempt Asset: One of the most frequently asked Medi-Cal questions we receive is whether the Medi-Cal applicant will be able to keep his/her home and still qualify for Medi-Cal. As a general rule, a Medi-Cal applicant’s home is not considered a countable asset and will not be counted against the asset limits for Medi-Cal eligibility purposes as long as the nursing home resident “intends to return home” and states so in writing. It does not matter if it does not appear likely that the nursing home resident will ever be able to return home. The intent to return home, by itself, preserves the property’s character as the principal residence, at least for a time. As a result, for all practical purposes, nursing home residents do not have to sell their home in order to qualify for Medi-Cal. The home is also exempt if the recipient’s spouse, child under age 21 or “dependent relative” continues to reside in the home. In addition, the residence is exempt if it is inhabited by the recipient’s sibling or son or daughter who has resided there continuously for at least one year prior to the date the applicant entered the nursing home. The home may also be exempt if there are legal obstacles preventing the sale of the home, and the applicant provides evidence of attempts to overcome the obstacles. In addition, the home may be exempt if it is in a multiple dwelling unit, one of which is the principal residence of the beneficairy.

Estate Claim After Death: Although the home may be established as an exempt asset during the life time of the Medi-Cal recipient, the home may be subject to recovery by the State of California after the death of the recipient. However, this can only occur if the home is left in the recipient’s name at the time of his/her death. The home may continue to be exempt from a State claim however, after the death of the recipient, if he/she leaves a surviving spouse, a minor child or blind or disabled child of any age. The rules regarding recovery against residences have been expanded so that the State may recover against joint tenancies, tenancies in common, living trusts, retained life estates, etc. In the past several weeks, the State Department of Health Services has stated a renewed vigor, through emergency legislation, to recover against life estates.

Protecting The Home From a State Claim: Transfer of Title - It is the intention of many of our clients to preserve their home and its value for their children. After struggling their entire lives, many of our clients would like to leave something to their children, and often their home is their only remaining asset of any value. There are legal and accepted methods of transferring title to the home and keeping control of the home, in order to preserve the home for the family and protect it from a State claim. Contrary to popular belief, the 30 month look back or waiting period does not apply to the transfer of the home. This is because the home is an “exempt asset” for Medi-Cal qualification. Exempt transferees of title include, but are not limited to a spouse, a son or daughter under age 21 who is blind or permanently disabled.

Caveat: It is our opinion that any real property title transfers should be accomplished through an elder law attorney familiar with this area of the law. The transfer should also be accomplished, when appropriate, as part of the integrated estate plan. Title transfers are complicated and involve issues including capital gains taxes and possible re-assessment by the County Assessor. Certain methodologies including special trusts, powers of appointment and occupancy agreements may be employed with the transfer, depending on the situation and the overall estate plan.

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