I thought this was an excellent piece by my friend and probate attorney Paul Horn. As always, check with your attorney on how this might apply to you and your estate.
Aging is inevitable, but lucky for us, medical technology continues to improve, which has increased our life expectancy. As we live longer, long-term medical care costs continue to raise. The super wealthy in America can easily pay for their long-term medical costs and thus the focus of their estate planning is on how to minimize their estate taxes because their estate will be taxed at a rate of 40% of the amount that is over the federal estate tax exemption of $5.45 million per person.
However, for most middle class Americans, one of the major ways of financing their long-term medical costs is through Medi-Cal planning because for them to pay for their own long-term medical care would deplete their lifetime savings. Most people do not have sufficient money to pay for long-term care. One of the benefits of Medi-Cal is that it pays for long-term care, whereas, Medicare does not pay for long-term care. California is projected to receive $17.1 billion in federal Medi-Cal funds for the 2015-2016 year.
Medi-Cal planning is crucial and ideal for the baby boomer generation to figure out how to tap into some of this money to take care of their long-term medical care and at the same time save their homes to pass on to their children. This article will briefly summarize the popular techniques that attorneys use to not only qualify homeowners for Medi-Cal but to also preserve their homes for their children or loved ones.
1. Protecting Your Home
Currently, you can own a house of any value and qualify for Medi-Cal. On February 8th, 2006, President Bush signed into law the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA) which put a limit on a person’s home equity. California is slow in implementing the provisions of the DRA. Once the DRA provisions are fully implemented in California, a lot of the windows for Medi-Cal planning will be closed. California might implement the provisions of the DRA in 2016. If the DRA provisions were implemented in 2015, the home equity limit would have been $828,000, and that would be adjusted yearly for inflation. But even when the DRA is implemented, the home equity limit will not apply if the home is being occupied by the spouse, a disabled child, blind child, or a child under age twenty-one.
Until the DRA rules are implemented, you can own a house with equity of $500,000, $5 million, or more and still be qualified for Medi-Cal. However, once you die then Medi-Cal will come after the house for all the applicable medical costs that Medi-Cal paid on your behalf. The State of California, namely the Department of Health Care Services, can file a claim against the estate of an individual who was 55 years of age or older at the time he or she received Medi-Cal benefits or who (at any age) received benefits in a nursing home, unless there is a surviving spouse or a minor, blind or disabled child.
Therefore, if you are using Medi-Cal and you own a house, then potentially that house might belong to the State of California. So how do you have your cake and eat it too? How do you use some of that $17 billion dollars that California receives per year that is earmarked for Medi-Cal and still pass the house on to your children when you die?