The laws, considerations and consequences involved in paying for long-term care are complicated.  No matter how well-meaning “friends who’ve been through it,” facility business offices and agencies intend to be, the laws change often, and misconceptions abound.  This is the first article of a three-part series on Misconceptions about Paying for Long-term Care.

Misconception #1:  “We have to use most of our assets to pay for nursing home care”

About twelve years ago, I met “Sally,” a 69-year-old woman who had never worked outside of the home.  Sally’s goal was to have her husband qualify for Medical Assistance or Medicaid, the federal and state program that pays for persons who need assistance with their activities of daily living sufficient to be in a nursing home and who are financially qualified.  Sally’s husband had been in a nursing facility for three years.  Sally’s first words to me were “we’re down to a few thousand dollars, our house and a car.  Can you help me with the Medicaid application?”  They had depleted their life savings and paid for three years of nursing home care out of pocket!  Sally was either misinformed or heard incorrectly when she admitted her husband to the nursing facility three years earlier.

In order to receive Medicaid payment for his care, the countable assets in his name (or his portion) had to be reduced to a few thousand dollars. Sally did not realize that she could keep a significant amount of the countable assets, if not all of them.  While her husband became immediately Medicaid-eligible because they had spent down their assets, Sally was left with virtually no savings.  Sally could have kept half of the countable assets up to a statutory maximum and subject to a statutory minimum. In 2020, those numbers are $128,640.00 and $25,728.00, respectively.  In addition, under current law Sally could have kept her retirement assets and converted any excess countable resources into a stream of income for herself by purchasing a Medicaid-compliant immediate annuity.  Fortunately, there were (and are) income protections for the spouse at home, and we were able to divert a significant portion of her husband’s income to Sally for her use.

If you believe you or your loved one will need Medicaid to pay for long-term care, get expert legal advice instead of embarking on a do-it-yourself path.

Tammy A. Weber is a Certified Elder Law Attorney and the Managing Attorney of the law firm of Marshall, Parker & Weber with offices in Williamsport, Wilkes-Barre, Jersey Shore and Scranton. For more information visit or call 1-800-401-4552.

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