Tag Archives: estate and gift tax

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.

Fitting Medicaid Issues and Long-Term Care Insurance into Estate and Gift Tax Planning

by: Brian E. Barreira, Esq.

Proper estate planning should not ignore long-term care issues, such as the following:

(1)  Any gifts or other transfers for less than full value, including $13,000.00 gifts and other annual exclusion gifts, are considered to be disqualifying transfers for Medicaid purposes.

(2)  The average current cost of a semi-private room in a Massachusetts nursing home is now roughly $300-320 per day, which amounts to $9,000-9,600.00 per month or $108,000-115,000 per year. Persons with Alzheimer’s disease who can no longer remain at home run the risk of an extended nursing home stay, reputedly averaging 8-9 years. With a potential long-term care cost of roughly $864,000-1,035,000, how can intelligent estate and gift tax planning be done without factoring long-term care insurance into the process? It is difficult for an estate planner to recommend making large gifts if the remaining assets will possibly be insufficient to meet the client’s foreseeable needs.

(3)  Often overlooked in the estate and gift tax planning process is how a revocable trust established by a now-deceased spouse is viewed if the surviving spouse applies for Medicaid. A funded trust that avoided probate is often considered completely available for the surviving spouse’s care, so funding a revocable trust for the sole purpose of avoiding probate can place a surviving spouse in a worse position than if probate avoidance had not been accomplished.

(4)  There is one type of trust that spouses can establish for each other that meets the criteria established under both federal law and Massachusetts regulations for being considered unavailable to a Medicaid applicant: a discretionary testamentary trust. Under a peculiar federal Medicaid law, an unfunded trust that was funded by the deceased spouse’s Last Will and Testament is not considered available for payment of the nursing home care of the surviving spouse to the extent that distributions are discretionary. In essence, a bypass or credit shelter trust can be established under the decedent’s Last Will and Testament that has only the surviving spouse as a beneficiary, with no required distributions of income or principal. The surviving spouse should not be given a general power of appointment over the trust or any other power to make withdrawals.