Q: My Mom is an 80-year old widow living in South Florida. Her only income is her monthly check from Social Security, and her only asset is her condominium that she owns.

She purchased it for around $40,000, and it is now worth around $120,000. She has about $30,000 left on the mortgage.

In her will, she has left instructions that the condominium is to be shared between me and my sister. She is still is pretty good health, but I am concerned about what will happen when the time comes that she can longer take care of herself, and may need a nursing home.

Is there something we need to be doing now to make sure she will be able to keep the condo if she has to go into a nursing home? I would appreciate any advice you can give me.

A: About the only thing your mom can do is to place the condo into a trust that names you and your sister as beneficiaries. That means that she will give up ownership rights to the property, and you and your sister will be the trustees.

But be aware that in some states, if you try to shelter assets like this and she goes into nursing home care soon after (in some states it is within three years of the transfer of assets, in other states the time frame is less than that), the state can sue you for fraud and reverse the transaction. If the state is successful, the condo would be sold to help pay for your mother’s care.

What you need to do is speak to an estate attorney to see what options are available for you and your mom. And while you’re at it, make sure your mom signs a durable power of attorney for health care and another one for financial matters, so that someone she trusts can direct her medical care if she is unable to do so herself.

While the possibility of using the cash in the condo to pay for your mother’s care isn’t as appealing as keeping it and having Medicaid pick up the bill, that is what her assets are there for.

Published: Apr 22, 2005