Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that provides funding for medical and long-term care to individuals with very low income and assets. Generally, a single individual cannot qualify for Medicaid unless her assets are less than $2,000 and she has gross monthly income below the sum of $2,313 (or if she does not, she uses a Miller Trust or a Qualified Income Trust correctly). Where only one member of a married couple is applying for Medicaid, the healthy spouse may be able to retain up to the sum of $126,420 in 2019. Greater savings may be feasible with Medicaid planning.
Certain strategies can help you legally avoid unnecessary tax liability, avoid Medicaid liens and protect your assets, while facilitating eligibility for Medicaid and other means-tested public benefits. Asset protection planning can preserve funds to pay for the “extras” that Medicaid cannot pay for, ensuring your loved one a measure of dignity and comfort. It can also protect the family home and even preserve a legacy for the children.
Planning strategies can include deeds, outright gifts, gifts in trust, and the purchase of Medicaid compliant annuities. If the individual is able to enter into a legal and binding contract, execute a legal document and make decisions, public benefits planning can be done by the individual. If this is no longer possible, the next option would be to plan through an existing general durable power of attorney.
But what if there is no power of attorney, or the existing power of attorney cannot be used? Suppose step-brothers Brennan and Dale cannot get along but their parents, Nancy and Robert, named them as their decision-makers on their respective general durable powers of attorney, and the documents require Brennan and Dale to act jointly? If Nancy and Robert are now incapacitated, using the power of attorney is not a viable option. Nor will it be, if both Brennan and Dale refuse to serve and there is no other agent. In this situation, Nancy and Robert could still benefit from Medicaid and tax planning through a guardianship.
The courts of New Jersey and many other states recognize that as incapacitated individuals, people like Nancy and Robert still have the right to restructure their finances through lawful tax and Medicaid planning as if they were able to act independently. Once certain factors are established, a court is authorized to approve tax and Medicaid planning in the best interests of the incapacitated individual. In these situations, asset protection planning may be accomplished through a guardianship.
An experienced and knowledgeable elder law attorney can help you determine whether your loved one needs tax or asset protection planning, and if so, when that planning can be authorized and carried out through a guardianship.
Questions? Let Jane know.
Jane Fearn-Zimmer is an Elder and Disability Law, Taxation, and Trusts and Estates attorney. She dedicates her practice to serving clients in the areas of elder and disability law, special needs planning, asset protection, tax and estate planning and estate administration. She also serves as Chair of the Elder & Disability Law section of the NJSBA.