Category Archives: Preserving Assets & Income for the Spouse

Preserving Assets and Maximum Income for the Community Spouse When the Institutionalized Spouse Enters a Nursing Home

by: Brian E. Barreira, Esq.

When one spouse enters a nursing home and may be applying for MassHealth, the spouse who remains at home or in assisted living often has some important choices to make with an unbiased legal advisor.

One of the biggest mistakes that many spouses make when the other spouse enters a nursing home is not getting legal advice from an elder law attorney about Medicaid, known in Massachusetts as “MassHealth.” The “free” information that many community spouses (which under MassHealth law  means any spouse who is not in a nursing home) often rely on can turn out to be quite costly to them.

There are different layers in MassHealth law, and many persons only seem to know about the bottom layer, so let’s go over that one first. Under 2022 law, just about everything other than the home and car are totaled, and the community spouse supposedly can keep only the first $137,400.00.

Unfortunately, this lower layer is where the knowledge of many persons ends, and two other upper layers of the law effectively override the lower layer. One upper layer is that the community spouse can enter into certain types of annuity agreements with the spenddown (that is, excess) assets.

Before even thinking about using the annuity layer, however, the community spouse should keep three things in mind: (A) not every annuity will work; (B) the published regulations and unpublished internal procedures and policies which now allow such a move can change with little advance notice, so it is often not advisable that an annuity be purchased until the institutionalized spouse’s nursing home stay has already occurred; and most importantly (C) some community spouses can keep everything without needing an annuity, and are better off without an annuity, due to the other upper layer of MassHealth law that protects income for the community spouse.

At present, the community spouse has the absolute right to an income of at least 2,177.50 per month. This is known as the Minimum Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance (“MMMNA”). If shelter expenses exceed 30% of this figure, or $653.25, or if a disabled child lives at home, the community spouse is often entitled to keep a higher MMMNA. If the Social Security and pension payable in the name of the community spouse is less than the $2,177.50 figure, at the end of the MassHealth application process the community spouse is allowed to keep some or all of the institutionalized spouse’s income to be brought up to the MMMNA.

If the needs of the community spouse are greater than $3,435.00 per month, a higher amount of income can sometimes be preserved for the community spouse via the fair hearing appeal process, where the need to keep the other assets has to be proved to maintain the financial ability to remain in the community.  A common situation where need can be fairly easily proved is where the community spouse is living in an assisted living facility and needs to be there due to frailty, medical condition or other special needs.   Once the need to be in assisted living is established, the appeal is primarily about numbers and prevailing interest rates, so the elder law attorney can often handle it alone without the community spouse having to go to the hearing.

Another option to retain greater income for the community spouse is a Probate Court procedure known as separate support.  Since both spouses need legal representation in court, it is important that the institutionalized spouse have a durable power of attorney that allows the appointed agent or attorney-in-fact to hire a lawyer.

When spenddown and appeal options are determined by an elder law attorney as potentially unsuccessful, the community spouse can often purchase certain types of immediate annuities, where the assets used to make the purchase then change character and are treated as the community spouse’s protected income.

One other option available to the community spouse, but not often done in Massachusetts, is known as spousal refusal, where the community spouse refuses to cooperate in the application and payment processes.

Minimum Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance for Nursing Home Resident’s Spouse Is Now $2,002.50 until 6/30/2017

by: Brian E. Barreira, Esq.

When one spouse is living in a nursing home and the other spouse is living anywhere else, the spouse who is not living in the nursing home (who is known under federal Medicaid law as the “community spouse”) is allowed by MassHealth to keep some (or sometimes all) of the nursing home resident’s income through an income allowance known as the Minimum Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance (MMMNA).  Every July 1st, this figure changes based on federal poverty level guidelines.  The MMMNA has now been increased to $2,002.50, effective July 1, 2016 and continuing through June 30, 2017.  (This MMMNA figure is the same in 48 states; Alaska and Hawaii have higher figures.)

The income calculation  for the community spouse does not end there.  If certain basic household expenses are more than 30% of the MMMNA, which is $600.75, the community spouse is entitled to keep an extra amount of the couple’s income.  This extra income is known as the Excess Shelter Amount (“ESA”).  Between the MMMNA and the ESA, the community spouse can now be entitled to as keep as much as $2,980.50 of the married couple’s total income.  If even more income is needed, such as where the community spouse is living in an assisted living facility, the community spouse can request a fair hearing and attempt to prove the need for more than $2,980.50 of the married couple’s total income.  In some cases, the community spouse would need more than $2,980.50 due to the costs of an assisted living facility, but would be required at the fair hearing to prove the need to live there.

Utilizing the MMMNA provisions in Medicaid/MassHealth law is always better than purchasing an immediate annuity with excess assets, since all payments from the annuity are treated as income, and taking that step ends up reducing the amount of the married couple’s income that the community spouse could otherwise keep.  Unfortunately, due to the asset rules under Medicaid/MassHealth, in many situations the community spouse has no choice but to purchase an immediate annuity with excess assets.

 

What Is the Excess Shelter Allowance When Filing a MassHealth Application in 2015-2016?

by: Brian E. Barreira, Esq.

When applying for MassHealth, the at-home spouse, known as the community spouse, is allowed to keep all of the community spouse’s own income, no matter how much that amount may be.  If the community spouse’s own income is below $1,991.25, however, the community spouse is allowed to divert income from the institutionalized spouse to get up to the $1,991.25 requirement of the current law.  (Note:  the $1,991.25 minimum monthly maintenance needs allowance —MMMNA— will likely increase on July 1, 2016.)

The $1,991.25 in income currently allowed for the community spouse can be increased beyond that figure if the community spouse’s housing expenses are high.  That increase is known as the Excess Shelter Allowance.   If the community spouse’s housing expenses are more than 30% of the MMMNA, (i.e., 30% of $1991.25, which comes to $597.38), then the additional income needed is referred to as the Excess Shelter Allowance, and ends up being an additional income allowance for the community spouse.

For some spouses, the increased income allowance can mean an increase in the community spouse resource allowance, which is the total amount of assets that the at-home spouse is allowed to keep.

Minimum Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance for Nursing Home Resident’s Spouse Is Now $1,991.25 until 6/30/2016

by: Brian E. Barreira, Esq.

When one spouse is living in a nursing home and the other spouse is living anywhere else, the spouse who is not living in the nursing home (who is known under MassHealth law as the “community spouse”) is allowed by MassHealth to keep some (or sometimes all) of the nursing home resident’s income through an income allowance known as the Minimum Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance (MMMNA).  Every July 1st, this figure changes based on federal poverty level guidelines.  The MMMNA is $1,991.25 from July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016.

If certain basic household expenses are more than 30% of the MMMNA, which amounts to $597.38, the community spouse is entitled to keep extra income, known as the Excess Shelter Amount (“ESA”).  Between the MMMNA and the ESA, the community spouse can now be entitled to as keep as much as $2,980.50 of the married couple’s total income.  If even more income is needed, such as where the community spouse is living in an assisted living facility, the community spouse can request a fair hearing and attempt to prove the need for more than $2,980.50 of the married couple’s total income.  In some cases, the community spouse would need more than $2,980.50 due to the costs of an assisted living facility, but would be required at the fair hearing to prove the need to live there.

Utilizing the MMMNA provisions in Medicaid/MassHealth law is always better than purchasing an immediate annuity, since all payments from the annuity are treated as income, and purchasing an annuity ends up reducing the amount of the married couple’s retirement income that the community spouse could otherwise keep.  Unfortunately, due to the asset rules under Medicaid/MassHealth, in many situations the community spouse has no realistic choice but to purchase an immediate annuity with excess assets.

Minimum Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance for Nursing Home Resident’s Spouse Is Now $1,966.25 until 6/30/2015

by: Brian E. Barreira, Esq.

When one spouse is living in a nursing home and the other spouse is living anywhere else, the spouse who is not living in the nursing home (who is known under MassHealth law as the “community spouse”) is allowed by MassHealth to keep some (or sometimes all) of the nursing home resident’s income through an income allowance known as the Minimum Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance (MMMNA).  Every July 1st, this figure changes based on federal poverty level guidelines.  The MMMNA was $1,939 from July 1, 2013 until June 30, 2014, and has been increased to $1,966.25 from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015.

If certain basic household expenses are more than 30% of the MMMNA, which amounts to $589.66, the community spouse is entitled to keep extra income, known as the Excess Shelter Amount (“ESA”).  Between the MMMNA and the ESA, the community spouse can now be entitled to as keep as much as $2,931.00 of the married couple’s total income.  If even more income is needed, such as where the community spouse is living in an assisted living facility, the community spouse can request a fair hearing and attempt to prove the need for more than $2,931.00 of the married couple’s total income.  In some cases, the community spouse would need more than $2,931.00 due to the costs of an assisted living facility, but would be required at the fair hearing to prove the need to live there.

Utilizing the MMMNA provisions in Medicaid/MassHealth law is always better than purchasing an immediate annuity, since all payments from the annuity are treated as income, and taking that step ends up reducing the amount of the married couple’s retirement income that the community spouse could otherwise keep.  Unfortunately, due to the asset rules under Medicaid/MassHealth, in many situations the community spouse has no choice but to purchase an immediate annuity with excess assets. See Protecting Assets and Maximum Income in 2014 When Applying for MassHealth to Help Pay for the Unhealthy Spouse’s Nursing Home Bills.

 

When Can Spouses Make Gifts to Each Other without Causing a MassHealth or Federal Gift Tax Problem?

by:   Brian E. Barreira, Esq.

Under federal Medicaid law and MassHealth regulations, spouses have the right to transfer assets to each other at any time without causing a period of ineligibility from MassHealth. The purpose of the gift is not scrutinized by MassHealth, and the 5-year lookback period does not apply to possibly cause a MassHealth disqualification period. Gifts between spouses can even occur after a nursing home stay has begun and after a MassHealth application has been filed. If one spouse is not a United States citizen, however, a federal gift tax problem can arise.

For federal gift tax purposes, spouses who are both United States citizens can make gifts of any amount to each other at any time without causing any gift tax issue, and without even causing any need to file a federal gift tax return. Gifts to a spouse who is not a United States citizen, however, are limited by federal tax law to $143,000 in 2013, and any gift above that amount would require the filing of a federal gift tax return. For most married couples, however, exceeding that amount would not pose any tax problem, since any gift in excess of $143,000 would not cause an immediate tax; rather, the amount of the gift in excess of $143,000 would merely use up some of the gift-giving spouse’s federal estate and gift tax exemption, which is $5,250,000 in 2013.

Should You Get a Second Opinion Before Buying Annuities?

by: Brian E. Barreira, Esq.

Many of my clients have been sold annuities that they thought helped their financial situation if nursing home care was needed in the future. Unfortunately, very few annuities help the situation, and some of them turn out to be financially disastrous. My opinions about the overannuitization of older persons in Massachusetts can be found on another blog of mine in the following posts:

Is It a Good Idea for an Elderly Person to Purchase a Deferred Annuity?

Is a Deferred Annuity Helpful from a Medicaid or MassHealth Standpoint?

You should take special caution whenever you walk into a bank, where they seem to be especially clueless (or commission-driven; make sure you ask how much the salesperson is making on the sale), so see the following posts:

Should You Buy a Deferred Annuity at a Bank?

Should You Ever Buy an Immediate Annuity at a Bank?

 

What Is the Excess Shelter Allowance When Filing a MassHealth Application in 2013-2014?

by: Brian E. Barreira, Esq.

When applying for MassHealth, the at-home spouse, known as the community spouse, is allowed to keep all of the community spouse’s own income, no matter how much that amount may be.  If the community spouse’s own income is below $1,939, however, the community spouse is allowed to divert income from the institutionalized spouse to get up to the $1,939 requirement of the current law.  (Note:  the $1,939 minimum monthly maintenance needs allowance —MMMNA— will likely increase on July 1, 2014.)

The $1,939 in income currently allowed for the community spouse can be increased if the community spouse’s housing expenses are high.  That increase is known as the Excess Shelter Allowance.   If the community spouse’s housing expenses are more than 30% of the MMMNA, (i.e., 30% of $1939, which comes to $582), then the additional income needed is referred to as the Excess Shelter Allowance, and ends up being an additional income allowance for the community spouse.

For some spouses, the increased income allowance can mean an increase in the community spouse resource allowance, which is the total amount of assets that the at-home spouse is allowed to keep. See Protecting Assets and Maximum Income for the Community Spouse When Applying for MassHealth in 2013 to Help Pay for the Unhealthy Spouse’s Nursing Home Bills in Massachusetts

Minimum Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance for Nursing Home Resident’s Spouse Is Now $1,939 until 6/30/2014

by: Brian E. Barreira, Esq.

When one spouse is living in a nursing home and the other spouse is living anywhere else, the spouse who is not living in the nursing home (who is known under MassHealth law as the “community spouse”) is allowed by MassHealth to keep some (or sometimes all) of the nursing home resident’s income through an income allowance known as the Minimum Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance (MMMNA).  Every July 1st, this figure changes based on federal poverty level guidelines.  The MMMNA was $1,891 from July 1, 2012 until June 30, 2013, and it will increase from $1,891 to $1,939 from July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014.

If certain basic household expenses are more than 30% of the MMMNA, which amounts to $582, the community spouse is entitled to keep extra income, known as the Excess Shelter Amount (“ESA”).  Between the MMMNA and the ESA, the community spouse can now be entitled to as keep as much as $2,898 of the married couple’s total income.  If even more income is needed, such as where the community spouse is living in an assisted living facility, the community spouse can request a fair hearing and attempt to prove the need for more than $2,898 of the married couple’s total income.

Utilizing the MMMNA provisions in Medicaid/MassHealth law is always better than purchasing an immediate annuity, since all payments from the annuity are treated as income, and taking that step ends up reducing the amount of the married couple’s retirement income that the community spouse could otherwise keep.  Unfortunately, due to the asset rules under Medicaid/MassHealth, in many situations the community spouse has no choice but to purchase an immediate annuity with excess assets.  See Protecting Assets and Maximum Income for the Community Spouse When Applying for MassHealth in 2013 to Help Pay for the Unhealthy Spouse’s Nursing Home Bills in Massachusetts.

When is a Community Spouse Allowed to Make Disqualifying Transfers of Assets without Adversely Affecting the Institutionalized Spouse?

by: Brian E. Barreira, Esq.

Under federal Medicaid laws and MassHealth regulations, disqualifying transfers of assets (which are usually gifts or below-market sales) disqualify not only the person who makes those transfers, but also that person’s spouse. A prenuptial agreement or postnuptial agreement has no effect on the required disqualification imposed on MassHealth applicants under federal Medicaid law.

Any disqualifying transfers of assets made by a person are problematic because they can disqualify that person’s spouse for the next 5 years, which is the lookback period currently in effect for MassHealth. Therefore, gifts should not be made if a nursing home stay and MassHealth application are likely in the near future, and should especially not be made during the MassHealth application process.

The month after a MassHealth approval for an institutionalized spouse, however, a different set of rules applies. At that point, whatever the community (i.e., at-home) spouse does with real estate and other assets is not treated as having been done by the institutionalized spouse. This letter I received in 2000 from the federal government agency overseeing the Massachusetts MassHealth agency Medicaid letter post eligibility transfer by spouse confirms that a community spouse may transfer assets the month after MassHealth approval of the institutionalized spouse.