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In Medicaid Planning, Some Trusts Can Put Elderly Persons in a Worse Position Than If They Had Taken No Action At All

April 23, 2010

If Assets Can Be Given Back to or Taken Back by the Original Owner, the Assets of the Trust Are Not Protected for MassHealth Purposes If a Nursing Home Stay Becomes Necessary

In trust law, there is no such thing as “one-size-fits-all.”  Trusts must be designed to meet the particular concerns of the person whose assets will be placed there.  Two of the major non-tax concerns of many elderly persons in Massachusetts are probate avoidance and Medicaid (known in Massachusetts as MassHealth).

Revocable Trusts

Although the assets of just about any revocable trust will avoid probate, the assets of these trusts are never preserved for Medicaid purposes if a nursing home stay eventually becomes necessary and a MassHealth (i.e., Medicaid) application is filed.  All of the assets of a revocable trust are deemed countable, which in MassHealth jargon means the assets must be spent for the care of the nursing home resident.

The home of a MassHealth applicant is usually considered noncountable, but if it is in a revocable trust, in Massachusetts it is treated the same as any other asset.  The home of a MassHealth applicant that is in a revocable trust must be sold and the proceeds spent on the care of the nursing home resident.  Any exemptions that the home might have received, such as for the MassHealth applicant’s spouse and certain children or siblings, is lost by having the home in a revocable trust.

Many elderly persons go to free living trust seminars, and are “sold” the benefits of probate avoidance. In my opinion, what goes on at those seminars (and the free hour with the lawyer afterwards) is nothing more than a sale.  The sale is often a reddish binder that contains documents that include a revocable trust. In my recent experience, both spouses are co-Trustees of each other’s revocable trusts. The problem is that if one of them becomes mentally incapacitated, we’re stuck with 2 trusts that each have an incompetent co-Trustee, and have to go through extensive steps to get the incompetent Trustee removed from the position.  In my experience, the married couple was not informed during the sale process about what would happen if one of the spouses eventually needed nursing home care.

The bottom line is that revocable “living” trusts are easy sales to be made to elderly persons by inept, one-size-fits-all planners or online document banks, but do not meet the MassHealth concerns of the elderly persons who cannot afford or qualify for long-term care insurance.

Irrevocable Trusts

Although the assets of just about any irrevocable trust will avoid probate, the assets of these trusts are often not preserved for MassHealth purposes in Massachusetts if a nursing home stay eventually becomes necessary and a MassHealth application is filed.

Since April 1, 1990, MassHealth regulations have provided that if a Trustee of an irrevocable trust can give assets back to the original owner, and if a MassHealth application is filed by or on behalf of the original owner, the assets of the trust are deemed available to the nursing home resident, and render the elderly person ineligible for MassHealth. This law applies retroactively to irrevocable trusts created before the Massachusetts regulation was adopted. The impact of this law on irrevocable trusts means that many older irrevocable trusts do not meet the MassHealth concerns of the elderly persons who cannot afford or qualify for long-term care insurance.

Fixing Bad Trusts

In attempting to fix any MassHealth problem caused by a trust, a transfer of the assets causes a 5-year MassHealth lookback period unless the transfer of the assets goes back to the original owner.  It can be fairly simple to fix the problem if a revocable trust is the cause of MassHealth ineligibility, since the original owner can revoke the trust and get the assets placed back into his/her name, but if the original owner is mentally incapacitated at that time, revoking the trust might not be so easy

It is often difficult to fix the problem if an irrevocable trust is the cause of MassHealth ineligibility. The MassHealth problem caused by any irrevocable trust is completely dependent on the provisions of the trust, and the method of fixing the problem varies from trust to trust. Usually the elderly person is not the sole Trustee, and neither the Trustee nor the elderly person has the power to get the assets placed back into the elderly person’s name. In many cases, a Massachusetts Probate Court proceeding known as a trust reformation is needed, and in other cases, a Probate Court petition to terminate the trust due to frustration of purpose is the better procedural move.

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