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Legal Notes

What happens to our house if my spouse has to go into a nursing home?

Pam OddyAttorney Pamela Oddy, Athol, Mass., 978-249-7511Q: My spouse and I own our home jointly (both our names are on the deed). Unfortunately, I am no longer able to care for my spouse and he/she will have to go into a nursing home. Will my house be taken away from me?

A: No. However, in order to qualify for MassHealth benefits for the purpose of paying for your spouse’s nursing home care, your spouse may have only $2,000 in total assets. Since the home is worth more than $2,000, you will have to remove your spouse’s name from the deed. He may sign his interest in the home to you; this transfer is not a disqualifying one and does not have to meet the five-year requirement that MassHealth regulations attach to transfers. The home cannot be transferred to anyone else without triggering the five-year requirement. For example, your spouse cannot transfer his interest in the home to you and to your children, nor can he transfer the home to children without creating a disqualifying transfer. Both of these examples would be considered disqualifying transfers because they were done within the five-year period of entering a nursing home.

The five-year requirement imposed by MassHealth makes it imperative that families plan as much ahead of time as possible. If the couple in this question had done some advance planning, then the home might already have been placed in an irrevocable trust or in a life estate deed more than five years ago. If that is the case, then the home is a protected asset.

The views expressed in this column represent general information. To address your particular and specific needs consult your own attorney. If you need help with referral to an attorney, contact the Franklin County Bar Association at (413) 773-9839 or the Worcester County Bar Association at (978) 752-1311.

Call Community Legal Aid at 413-774-3747 or toll-free 1-855-CLA-LEGAL (1-855-252-5342) during their intake hours (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and Wednesday from 1:30 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.). Apply for help anytime online by visiting www.communitylegal.org. Franklin County Office is located at 55 Federal St, Suite 120, Greenfield, MA. The office is no longer open for walk-ins. Services are free to people age 60 and older. Advocates are Attorney Jan Stiefel and Wendy Kane, Paralegal.