Tag Archives: nursing homes

Are You Personally Responsible for Your Spouse’s Nursing Home Bills in Massachusetts?

by: Brian E. Barreira, Esq.

It may come as a surprise to some people, but you can be held personally responsible for your spouse’s bills if they are for payment of necessaries.  In the case of East Longmeadow Management Systems v. Wilson, the nursing home resident’s wife, Judith Wilson, was successfully sued for $45,243.24 in unpaid nursing home bills of her husband, Robert Wilson.  This case serves as a stern warning to older married persons that they need to obtain legal advice from an elder law attorney when their spouse enters a nursing home.  If she had done so, all of her husband’s nursing home bills could have been covered.

Even though Robert had no assets and even though Judith had not signed any contract or agreement accepting financial responsibility for his nursing home bills, she was successfully sued because she did not file for and obtain MassHealth (i.e. Medicaid) benefits for him on a timely basis.  On a motion for summary judgment, the Court found that under Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 209, Section 1, she was liable as his wife for the full cost of necessaries furnished to Robert during his life.

This case highlights why anybody concerned about the costs of nursing home care should be sure to obtain legal advice about MassHealth.  If Judith had obtained legal advice from a Certified Elder Law Attorney promptly after Robert entered a nursing home, she would have learned how to apply for MassHealth for him on a timely basis.  MassHealth coverage could have been applied for as long as three months after his health insurance had stopped paying for his care.

For some basic information about the at-home spouse’s ability to retain assets under MassHealth (i.e., Medicaid) law, see http://elderlawblog.info/2010/04/05/preserving-all-assets-and-maximum-income-for-the-community-spouse-when-the-other-spouse-enters-a-nursing-home/

Minimum Monthly Maintenance Needs Allowance for Nursing Home Resident’s Spouse Stays Unchanged through June 30, 2011

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 (known under Medicaid and MassHealth law as the “community spouse”) is allowed by Medicaid or MassHealth to keep some or 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 is supposed to change based on federal poverty level guidelines, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did not revise the guidelines this year, so the MMMNA will remain $1,821 through June 30, 2011.

If certain basic household expenses are more than 30% of the MMMNA, 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 $2,739 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 $2,739 of the married couple’s total income.  All of these figures remain unchanged through June 30, 2011.

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 person to hire a lawyer.

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 Preserving Assets and Maximum Income for the Healthier Spouse When the Other Spouse Enters a Nursing Home.