“Will you still need me? Will you still feed me? When I’m 64?”

When I'm sixty-fourThe Beatles first released these quaint, clarinet-fueled lyrics in 1967 when the loving answer to these questions was a resounding, "Yes!" Traditional marriage vows echo this sentiment in that they presuppose a relationship span that encompasses young and old age, wellness and serious illness, wealth and poverty. However, as modern aging has come to be defined by living longer with chronic care needs, and providing long-term care has shifted to the public sector, with two thirds of long term care services paid for by Medicaid, loving spouses may be forced to answer, "No," to these questions. The future of elder care may depend on divorce.

In case you haven’t heard, long-term care needs are expensive. In 2014 the average annual cost of a semi-private room in a skilled nursing facility was $83,114! The majority (70%) of people over 65 need some level of long-term care at some point—whether that will be provided in a home, an assisted living center, or a nursing care facility, according to The Huffington Post in a recent article titled “Is Divorce the Best Option for Older Americans?”

To find a way to pay for these services, many Americans look to the Medicaid Long-Term Care benefit. This program can pay for the room and board or home health services of qualifying individuals over age 21. To be eligible, an individual must meet the age and medical necessity criteria, as well as financial criteria concerning income determined by the federal government. Medicaid will look at an individual’s assets—like their banking accounts, real property, investments, household belongings, life insurance, and one car. However, all income and assets are subject to a five-year look back period: you can’t just give away stuff to avoid it being counted as an asset for eligibility. However, if a person has financial excess, Medicaid allows him or her to "spend down" their income and assets in order to be poor enough to qualify. Doesn’t that sound a little tricky?

The original article explains that for married couples Medicaid has what are called "spousal impoverishment" rules. These rules cap the assets for a couple living together, although the rules are totally different if one spouse resides in an institution. The spouse living in the community typically is allowed to retain a larger portion of income for his or her living expenses. Medicaid will not try to recoup the costs for the long-term care from the estate of the deceased recipient until the community spouse passes away.

While all of these rules enable elderly and chronically ill individuals to access needed long-term care services, the original article argues that these rules also tacitly encourage divorce. "Medicaid Divorce" isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s been considered a legal option for avoiding the five-year look-back period for Medicaid eligibility and for avoiding the estate recovery process. Legal experts emphasize that asset protection is super-complicated, and it may be different in another state. All that said, the solution of divorce is still a hot topic, as these rules discourage couples from living together and looking after each other. A couple's combined assets are only protected if the Medicaid recipient doesn’t live with his or her spouse, so by divorcing, a couple can cohabitate and still protect the income and assets of the spouse not receiving Medicaid home health benefits.

According to the original article, a divorce could also protect the primary residence from the Medicaid Estate Recovery program: the surviving spouse is given the right to use and enjoy it even though it’s owned by someone else. The surviving spouse lives there until his or her death, then the state is able to recoup the costs of care from the estate. That means that the next generation pays for the care of their loved ones by losing a potential inheritance. A divorce could keep the real property in the name of the community spouse and protect it from recovery for Medicaid care expenses.

Aging and care are already expensive and stressful, and even the young Beatles in 1967 wondered if love now would translate into care in old age. It should. You can learn more about this topic as well as other strategies on our website under the tab entitled: elder law planning in Virginia. Be sure you also sign up for our complimentary e-newsletter so that you may be informed of all the latest issues that could affect you, your loved ones and your estate planning.

Reference: The Huffington Post (March 16, 2015) “Is Divorce the Best Option for Older Americans?”

Like this article?

Share on facebook
Share on Facebook
Share on twitter
Share on Twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on Linkdin
Share on pinterest
Share on Pinterest

Leave a comment


We have a LOT more where that came from!

We hate spam too. We will never share or sell your information.

Call Now ButtonCall Us Now https://jsfiddle.net/7h5246b8/

Request a free consultation

We hate spam too. We will never share or sell your information.

We've been putting together as many resources as possible so that we can continue to help:

  • If you’re a current client with a signing appointment or a prospective client with a consultation and would prefer that meeting take place in your own home, we can accomplish that with a little bit of pre-planning on our part and with the addition of a laptop, smartphone, tablet or other computer in your home to facilitate this virtual meeting. For those of you that need to sign legal documents, that too can be accomplished with the use of a webcam (FaceTime etc.), so that we can witness and electronically notarize all of your important legal documents.
  • We launched the rollout of our on-demand webinar early so that new clients and our allied professionals can view the important component parts of ‘an estate plan that works’ at their convenience.  That is available on our website.
  • Live video workshops will be produced as quickly as possible and certainly ahead of our previous schedule; we will keep you posted as these events become available. Given the ‘boutique’ nature of the firm, we rarely have more than ten people in our office including team members at any one time. During this period of ‘social distancing,’ we promise to have no more than 8 people at any time.   This allows us to comply with the Governor’s directive to limit in-person gatherings.
  • The best way to communicate with us is still by phone during regular office hours of 8:30 to 5:00, Monday through Friday, or, you can email any of our team members (that is, their first name followed by @zarembalaw.com).  We will respond to these emails as quickly as possible.
  • Please continue to follow the directives of our local, state, and federal agencies. For your health and in consideration of our team who is assisting you, if you’ve scheduled an office appointment or planned to drop off paperwork and are experiencing a fever, dry cough, or shortness of breath, please contact your primary care doctor for guidance and then our office to reschedule.

Thank you, Walt and the Zaremba Team

Update to our Process

The unprecedented coronavirus pandemic has taken our entire country by surprise. We understand how difficult this time is for America’s businesses and families.  However, we believe it is vitally important that we make every effort possible to continue to offer solutions that avoid disrupting our important partnership with you, your family and friends.  As you know, estate planning is not something that should wait for a more convenient time, therefore the opportunity to address your important goals both during and after this crisis should not wait.  To that end, we have added the option of a ‘virtual consultation’ to our office process.  You will now have a choice of either meeting with us in our office or in the comfort of your own home.