Q: My mother is a relatively healthy 80 year old. A neighbor suggest that we transfer her home to me and have her retain a life estate interest, so she could avoid losing out on benefits from Medicaid, should she need nursing home care in the next few years. I am an only child and my father passed away years ago. What do you think about this idea?
A: If the life estate deed is recorded at least five years before your mother requires a full-time nursing home care, this transfer should not bar her from Medicaid qualification. The rules on Medicaid qualifications for this type of situation are complicated to say the least. However, an overly simplified answer would be that her life estate interest will not be counted as a resource for KanCare (Medicaid program in Kansas) qualification purposes.
Maintaining your mother’s home while she is in the nursing facility could potentially strain your finances. If she uses a life estate deed, there are other issues you both should consider, including:
1. Sale. If you plan to sell your mother’s home while she is alive, be aware that selling the house will require your and your mother’s consent. Your mother’s life estate interest has a value and such interest likely will then disqualify her from receiving KanCare benefits for a period of time, during which she will have to private pay for her nursing home care.
2. Gifting and Capital Gains Tax. Remember, that even though you don’t have a tangible asset yet due to your Mom’s life estate interest, you have still been gifted the residuary value of the home. Property that is gifted during your mother’s lifetime does not get a step-up in basis at her death, meaning you will likely have to pay capital gains tax on the property if you sell it. The tax you will owe after the sale could be substantial and will depend on factors such as what your mother paid for the property when she purchased it and what you sell the home for. Additionally, this will result in a penalty if your mother goes into a nursing facility and needs to become Medicaid eligible within 5 years of making the gift.
3. Death of Residuary Owner. What happens if your mother gifts you her home, maintains her life estate and then you die before she does? The property would then go to your estate, which may not be what your mother would want.
Instead of deeding the house to you and having your mother retain a life estate interest, your mother may want to consider creating an irrevocable trust and deeding the house to the trust. This gives you a lot more flexibility. The trustee could sell the house and the sale proceeds would not disqualify your mother from KanCare benefits. If the house is not sold, then when your mother passes away, the trust could be set up in such a way that you would receive a “stepped-up basis”, resulting in no capital gains taxes if and when you sold the house.
Be aware, that this type of trust is very complicated and not something that should be attempted on your own or without expert guidance. Please see an experienced long-term care estate planning attorney to determine the best course of action for your mother’s unique situation.
For more information on Real Estate and Medicaid planning, contact Davis & McCann, P. A., Dodge City, KS. We are members of Wealth Counsel, a national consortium of Estate Planning Attorneys and focus our practice on providing clients with the best legal advice on estate planning, Medicaid and Long-term Care Planning, Special Needs Planning, Family Business/Small Business Succession Planning, Probate, Trust Administration, Real Estate, 1031 Exchanges, and related matters.
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