Americans today are living longer than ever. Many of these older individuals are living with chronic care needs that exceed the physical or financial capabilities of their spouse. With the ever-increasing costs of long-term care services, many families must rely on government assistance programs like Medicaid. Because so many Americans rely on these benefits, eligibility requirements are strict, forcing families to find creative ways to qualify. This sometimes leads even happy and loving couples to head to divorce court.
Seventy percent of those over the age of 65 will eventually need some level of long-term care, whether provided in their home, or in an assisted living or nursing care facility. These services may be paid for by accessing the Medicaid Long-Term Care benefit, which covers expenses like home health services or room and board at in-care facilities. In order to become eligible for this benefit, persons in need must meet certain financial criteria as determined by federal poverty guidelines, of which married couples are held to a different standard than unmarried individuals.
Divorcing and Transferring Assets
To determine Medicaid eligibility for married couples, total income and assets are combined into one pool. When totals exceed eligibility amounts, Medicaid allows the couple to spend down their assets in order to qualify. However, this is not as easy as transferring assets to other family members because such activity would trigger a five-year look back period, during which time the spouse would be ineligible to qualify.
However, the division of assets that occurs in a divorce proceeding is not a disqualifying transfer. Many couples have found that by divorcing and transferring a disproportionate amount of assets to the well spouse, they are able to minimize the amount they have to spend down and avoid the look back period, thus allowing the in-need spouse to qualify for Medicaid services sooner. Additionally, the rules allow for divorced individuals to cohabitate, as well as protect the primary residence from the Medicaid Estate Recovery Program.
These “Medicaid divorces,” as they are often referred to, are unique from typical divorces. They are not the product of a broken partnership, but rather a combined effort of two loving spouses to protect their combined life’s savings and provide the best care possible for each other. For this reason, unlike typical divorce protocol, both spouses are able to consult a single divorce attorney to handle their needs.
It should be noted that a divorce that occurs for any reason can impact other benefits that the couple, an individual spouse, or any dependent minors may already be receiving or expect to receive in the future. For this reason and others, couples considering a divorce as a planning tool for Medicaid eligibility should always consult a reputable divorce lawyer familiar with applicable state and federal laws who also has experience handling complicated financial matters and estate planning.
Towson Divorce Lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles Offer Assistance in All Matters of Maryland Divorce
Towson divorce lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC represent clients in Maryland divorce proceedings including clients on Medicaid. Our team of want to help you sleep at night by offering you quality legal counsel on all matters pertaining to divorce, alimony, child support, property division and all other family law issues. Our Hunt Valley divorce law firm serves clients in Baltimore County, Carroll County, Harford County and Howard County, as well as residents of Towson, Bel Air, Columbia, Westminster and Essex. Call us for a free consultation at 443-589-0150 or use our online contact form.