“Since estate issues, one way or another, affect everyone over time (since death does) and since Medicaid planning has for many years been a topic of popular conversation—and popular misconceptions in the U.S., it is not unusual that both subjects have generated misunderstandings and, in some cases, folklore that has persisted.”
No matter how many articles are published and posted, many myths continue to come up in conversations between estate planning attorneys and their clients, says a recent article from The Mercury, “PLANNING AHEAD: Outlining some common estate and Medicaid myths.” These three appear to be the most pervasive.
The “reading of the will.” Maybe we’ve all seen too many movies centered on family feuds over inheritances. However, this simply doesn’t happen today. In the movie version, beneficiaries gather in a wealthy person’s library, the decedent’s beloved cat is sitting in their favorite chair, a roaring fire blazes in the seven-foot-tall fireplace and a shock reverberates around the room as the cat is named the sole heir to a fortune.
None of this is true, although a pet trust could be used to pay for the care of the cat. There are requirements in some states to notify interested parties of the death, and in some instances, notices need to be published in local newspapers. It is not necessary to provide a copy of the will to interested parties. However, a copy of the will can be obtained once it has been filed with the court as part of probate.
The government or nursing home takes the family residence once a resident enters a Medicaid facility. This is a scary myth. However, the reality is more complex. The government and nursing homes don’t keep an inventory of houses. If a nursing home resident who is unmarried qualifies for Medicaid and still owns a home in their own name and the home is still in their name upon death, in many states, the state generally has a claim as a creditor of the estate through the process of recovery to compensate the state for funds used for the person’s care.
If the house was sold during the lifetime of the Medicaid recipient, the house, which has been an exempt asset under the Medicaid rules, has lost its exempt status by being converted to cash, which is not exempt. This becomes a complicated transaction, but the taking idea is an oversimplification.
There are also exceptions, even during lifetime. They may include transferring the Medicaid recipient’s house to a disabled child or transferring the house to a “caretaker child” if the requirements are met. An experienced elder law estate planning attorney is needed to work through these complex issues.
Finally, there’s a myth or misunderstanding about the five-year lookback period. Most people know the rule applying to transfers before requesting Medicaid benefits. However, it’s not as simple as it sounds. It makes more sense to say assets may not be transferred without following the many rules—and there are many.
For peace of mind, it’s best to meet with an experienced elder law attorney to map out your plan for long-term care and create or update an estate plan. Their knowledge of your state’s laws regarding estate planning and Medicaid will be invaluable.
Reference: The Mercury (Aug. 16, 2023) “PLANNING AHEAD: Outlining some common estate and Medicaid myths”