How Gifts Can Affect Medicaid Eligibility

October 24, 2012

We’ve all heard that it’s better to give than to receive, but if you think you might someday want to apply for Medicaid long-term care benefits, you need to be careful because giving away money or property can interfere with your eligibility. 

Under federal Medicaid law, if you transfer certain assets within five years before applying for Medicaid, you will be ineligible for a period of time (called a transfer penalty), depending on how much money you transferred. Even small transfers can affect eligibility. While federal law allows individuals to gift up to $13,000 a year without having to pay a gift tax, Medicaid law still treats that gift as a transfer.

Any transfer that you make, however innocent, will come under scrutiny. For example, Medicaid does not have an exception for gifts to charities. If you give money to a charity, it could affect your Medicaid eligibility down the road. Similarly, gifts for holidays, weddings, birthdays, and graduations can all cause a transfer penalty. If you buy something for a friend or relative, this could also result in a transfer penalty.

Spending a lot of cash all at once or over time could prompt the state to request documentation showing how the money was spent. If you don’t have documentation showing that you received fair market value in return for a transferred asset, you could be subject to a transfer penalty.

While most transfers are penalized, certain transfers are exempt from this penalty. Even after entering a nursing home, you may transfer any asset to the following individuals without having to wait out a period of Medicaid ineligibility:

  • your spouse
  • your child who is blind or permanently disabled
  • a trust for the sole benefit of anyone under age 65 who is permanently disabled

In addition, you may transfer your home to the following individuals (as well as to those listed above):

  • your child who is under age 21
  • your child who has lived in your home for at least two years prior to your moving to a nursing home and who provided you with care that allowed you to stay at home during that time
  • a sibling who already has an equity interest in the house and who lived there for at least a year before you moved to a nursing home

Before giving away assets or property, check with your elder law attorney to ensure that it won’t affect your Medicaid eligibility. 

For more information on Medicaid’s transfer rules, click here.

For more on the gift tax rules, click here.

To discuss elder law issues with an attorney, please call the Elder Law Center at 630-844-0065 or contact us via email. The Elder Law Center is located in Aurora, IL, Kane County, in the Chicago Western Suburbs.

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Medicare’s Open Enrollment Season Is Coming

October 12, 2012

It is that time of year again — time to reassess whether your Medicare plan is working for you. Medicare’s open enrollment period runs from October 15 to December 7.

During this period, you may enroll in a Medicare Part D plan or, if you currently have a plan, you may change plans. In addition, you can switch out of a Medicare Advantage (managed care) plan and return to traditional Medicare (Parts A and B), enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan from traditional Medicare, or change Medicare Advantage plans.  If you are in traditional Medicare, are happy there and don’t have or want a prescription drug plan, you don’t need to do anything. 

Beneficiaries can go to www.medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) to make changes in their Medicare prescription drug and health plan coverage.

During the open enrollment period, you should review your current plan by looking at the costs and coverage for next year to determine if it is still the right plan for you. It is especially important to shop around for the best drug plan. The Washington Post is reporting that prescription drug plan premiums are expected to go up significantly. According to an analysis by Avalere Health, seven of the current top 10 prescription drug plans will have double-digit increases in premiums.

Remember that fraud perpetrators will inevitably use the Open Enrollment Period to try to gain access to individuals’ personal financial information.  Medicare beneficiaries should never give their personal information out to anyone making unsolicited phone calls selling Medicare-related products or services or showing up on their doorstep uninvited.  If you think you’ve been a victim of fraud or identity theft, contact Medicare.  For more information on Medicare fraud, click here or here

In addition, you can now get the same information found in the handbook “Medicare & You” online. Find out what’s new for the year, how Medicare works with your other insurance, get Medicare costs, and find out what Medicare covers. The handbook information on the Web is updated regularly, so it will always find the most up-to-date Medicare information.

To discuss elder law issues with an attorney, please call the Elder Law Center at 630-844-0065 or contact us via email. The Elder Law Center is located in Aurora, IL, Kane County, in the Chicago Western Suburbs.