Q: Three years ago, my mom signed over ownership of the house to us because my husband and I moved in as her caregivers. We have put much into the house to improve it as well as paying the taxes and insurance on the property.

Mom has been on dialysis for four and a half years, and her illnesses have progressed to the point where I don’t know if I will be able to care for her. I’ve been thinking about putting her into a nursing home.

I have been told that we could lose our home if she goes into a nursing home because it was a quit claim deed. Is this true?

A: There are a bunch of “ifs” to discuss.

Unfortunately, if your mother requires Medicaid to pay for her nursing home bill, Medicaid has a five-year lookback rule. In other words, the government can look back five years to determine if your mother had assets that could have been used to pay for her stay in the nursing home. If so, and if these assets were given away, the government can claim that those assets could have and should have been used to pay for the Medicaid expenses.

It sounds like your mother’s house would be her chief asset. She may have given you her home to avoid putting the asset at risk of being sold to pay for her nursing home care. If she now needs Medicaid assistance, and it has only been three years since she gave you the house, it is possible that the government could try to unwind the transfer of the home to you and your husband.

Alternatively, Medicaid could put a lien against the property and whenever you sell it, the government would collect on the lien.

Now you have to figure out if there is a way you can preserve some ownership of the property.

The home may have been transferred to you and your husband and you in turn did not pay your mom money for the home. But you’ve spent money on the property and to care for your mom. Whether these expenses would be sufficient to allow you to keep the home and not subject the home to the five-year rule might influence the decision as to whether you can keep the home or whether the home should be used by Medicaid for her nursing home expenses.

You might want to get all the documentation together to outline what the home was worth and how much you have paid towards your mother’s expenses and the home’s expenses the last several years.

Then, contact a knowledgable elder care or estate attorney to discuss the situation, the issue of timing and how you and your mother structured the transfer. If she gave you the home in exchange for your care and your money to take care of her the last three years, Medicaid rules might view it one way. If the transfer was outright and your mother had no expectations of anything in return, that transfer would be suspect under Medicaid rules.

Oct. 3, 2008.

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