Nursing home care in Georgia is expensive, and few people have the resources to pay for this care on their own in the long term. If seniors are not prepared financially to make the move to long-term care, they may have to deplete their resources before they can qualify for Medicaid to assist with the costs. This may result in all of a person’s wealth going to cover nursing home expenses rather than to heirs.
The American Council on Aging explains that there are ways to become eligible for Medicaid assistance without depleting assets.
In 2019, a single person may qualify for Nursing Home Medicaid with a monthly income limit of $2,313. The limit for assets is $2,000. Income includes any income from any source; nonexempt assets include cash, investments, savings accounts, real estate, and stocks and bonds. The vehicle, personal belongings and irrevocable burial trusts are exempt.
When one spouse needs nursing home care and the other does not, the primary residence is exempt if the value is below $585,000, and the nonapplicant spouse may keep up to $126,420 in joint assets. Any income from the nonapplicant spouse does not count toward the income limit.
The ACOA warns that someone preparing to move into a nursing home cannot simply transfer all his or her assets to someone else and immediately become eligible for Medicaid. There is a five-year look-back period during which a person must not have given away assets or sold them for less than the fair market value. Medicaid reviews the transactions that occurred in the 60 months prior to the application date.
Before the 60 months, a person may set up a trust and fund it with the assets to keep them from counting toward the maximum income and asset limit.
Medicaid will penalize large gifts made within the previous five years. However, Medicaid does not penalize transfers made to benefit an individual’s own children as long as they are either younger than 21, disabled or legally blind. One may also establish a trust for children under these conditions.
If the senior is not married, he or she can transfer the primary residence to a sibling if the sibling shares ownership in the house and has lived there for at least a year before the application for Nursing Home Medicaid. An adult child who serves as a caregiver may also receive the house if he or she has lived in it for two years or more before the move to the nursing home.
There are other ways to spend down assets without penalization, including Medicaid exempt annuities, debt repayment (such as paying off a mortgage) or modifications and repairs on the primary residence. Other methods may also be available depending on the applicant’s unique circumstances.