By Nancy Burner, ESQ.
For many, the question of how to best care for our aging loved ones becomes a reality sooner than we think. Most people, when given the option, would prefer to age in place, remain in their homes for as long as possible receiving the care services they need in a familiar setting surrounded by family. For many, the Community-Based Long-Term Care Program, commonly referred to as Community Medicaid, makes that an affordable and therefore viable option.
Oftentimes we meet with families who are under the impression that they will not qualify for these services through the Medicaid program due to their income and assets. In most cases, that is not the case. Although an applicant for Community Medicaid must meet the necessary income and assets levels, it is important to note that there is no “look back” for Community Medicaid. What this means is that for most people, with minimal planning, both the income and asset requirements can be met with a minimal waiting period, allowing families to mitigate the cost of caring for their loved ones at home.
An individual who is applying for Medicaid Home Care may have no more than $14,850 in nonretirement liquid assets. Retirement assets will not be counted as a resource so long as the applicant is receiving monthly distributions from the account. An irrevocable prepaid burial fund is also an exempt resource. The primary residence is an exempt asset during the lifetime of the Medicaid recipient; however, if the applicant owns a home, it is advisable to consider additional estate planning to ensure that the home will be protected once the Medicaid recipient passes away.
With respect to income, a single applicant for Medicaid is permitted to keep $825 per month in income plus a $20 disregard. However, if the applicant has income that exceeds that $845 threshold, a pooled income trust can be established to preserve the applicant’s excess income and direct it to a fund where it can be used to pay his or her household bills.
These pooled trusts are created by not-for-profit agencies and are a terrific way for persons to take advantage of the many services available through Medicaid Home Care while still preserving their income for use in meeting their monthly expenses.
Functionally, the way that these trusts work is that the applicant sends a check to the fund monthly for that amount that exceeds the allowable limit. Together with the check, the applicant submits household bills equal to the amount sent to the trust fund. The trust deducts a small monthly fee for servicing these payments and then, on behalf of the applicant, pays those household bills.
As you can see, this process allows the applicant to continue relying on his monthly income to pay his bills and, at the same time, reduce his countable income amount to the amount that is permitted under the Medicaid rules. An individual who is looking for coverage for the cost of a home health aide must be able to show that they require assistance with their activities of daily living. Some examples of activities of daily living include dressing, bathing, toileting, ambulating and feeding. In fact, where the need is established, the Medicaid program can provide care for up to 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
The Community-Based Medicaid Program is an invaluable program for many seniors who wish to age in place but are unable to do so without some level of assistance.
Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office.