Transfers to a Medicaid Irrevocable Trust

Transfers to a Medicaid Irrevocable TrustA Medicaid irrevocable trust, also known as an asset protection trust, may allow you to qualify for Medicaid benefits while preserving assets for family members or other beneficiaries. It is a legally enforceable arrangement that allows you to transfer property to someone else (the trustee) who holds the property for family members, typically children.

You and your spouse are not beneficiaries of this trust. Typically, one or more of your children would be the trustee. The trust is “irrevocable” meaning that you cannot amend or revoke it.

At the time of asset transfers to the trust, the “gift” is subject to the transfer of asset rules -- in most cases this is a five-year look back period.

Under federal law, a state may not look back more than 60 months from the Medicaid application date in an attempt to find disqualifying asset transfers. In month 61, a Medicaid applicant is financially eligible for Medicaid because the gift made 61 months ago does not have to be disclosed to the State.

There are many benefits to establishing a Medicaid irrevocable trust:
  • Flexibility: You would retain some control over the trust, including the ability to add or remove beneficiaries, excluding yourself, or to change the trustee.

  • Life Use or Use and Occupancy Agreement: If you transferred your residence into the trust, you would either retain a life use in the house, or have a Use and Occupancy Agreement, permitting you to live there undisturbed and obligating you to pay the carrying costs of property. You would still be eligible to deduct the real estate taxes for income tax purposes.

  • Sale of Residence: If you transfer your residence or another property you own to the trust, you have the flexibility to sell the property during your lifetime. Thus, if your home is sold during your lifetime and you retained a life use, a portion of the sales proceeds based on the value of your life use would be payable to you, but most of the sales proceeds would be payable to the trust.

    Any gain would be reported on your individual income tax return. As such, you would qualify for the personal residence capital gains tax exclusion. This is a significant tax benefit and ensures flexibility in the event the home is sold. Also, as discussed below, if the home is unsold at your death, it qualifies for the stepped up tax basis which will minimize any capital gains taxes that are later realized upon its sale.

  • Tax Benefits: The trust has substantial tax benefits. First the trust is a “Grantor Trust” for income tax purposes, which means that it is not recognized as a separate taxable entity. Consequently, the trustee is not required to file a separate income tax return during your lifetime. The income earned on trust assets is reported by you on your own income tax return and under your own Social Security Number.

The transfer of your assets to the trust for the benefit of children or other family members is not a completed gift for gift tax purposes (although it is a completed gift for Medicaid purposes). A gift tax return is required to be filed for the calendar year when assets are transferred to the trust.

Finally, the trust assets (except annuities) are eligible for a stepped-up tax cost basis to the fair market value on the donor’s date of death.

The cost basis is the value the IRS uses to determine gain or loss on the sale of capital assets (e.g., real estate and securities). A taxpayer’s cost basis is the sum that the donor paid for the asset plus, in the case of real property, any improvements to the property.

There is a tremendous income tax benefit to the trust beneficiaries in using the fair market value on the date of death as their cost basis, as opposed to the “carry-over” basis rule that typically applies to gifted assets (in which the donor’s cost basis transfers to the donees).

But what if something happens to me or my spouse during the 5 year look back period and one of us needs to apply for Medicaid benefits?

Un-funding the Trust

If you transfer your house to the trust and you or your spouse enters the nursing home within five years, the trustee could gift the house back to the healthy spouse and, because the house is exempt, there is no harm in receiving the house back because it is an exempt asset. The healthy spouse could then spend down if need be.

Additionally, there are spend-thrift provision in the trust which provide creditor protection.

If you have transferred additional assets to the trust it is important to remember that should either spouse need long term care services prior to the end of the five-year look-back period all of the assets transferred to the trust will not be protected. It may then be necessary to use some of the gifted funds for the cost of care.

The trust is worded in such a way that will enable some trust property to be distributed to one of the beneficiaries and then distributed to you. The trustee should not pay any amounts from the trust directly to you or your spouse. In addition your trustee should keep good records of any expenses paid from the trust assets.

If you'd like to discuss if a Medicaid irrevocable trust may be right for your estate plan, contact us.  We'd be happy to help.

Related Posts:

Bank Accounts or House in Child's Name? Be Careful
Should I transfer my home to my children?
Revocable Trusts vs. Irrevocable Trusts: What the Difference?
3 Things You Should Know About Medicaid
Can I Really Lose My House to a Nursing Home?

Client Reviews
“I cannot find the words to thank all of you properly for your hard work and perseverance. It is a great relief to have gotten a just and proper ruling from the court. All of you have shown great professionalism and concern for the issues I brought before you.” J.G., Greensboro, GA
“All dealings have been excellent. Very professional organization. Great explanations of our options related to preparing a will. Clear, concise, great guidance and not trying to "sell us" on something we do not need. Administrative folks were super. All of our related paperwork was clearly tagged with what we needed to provide/sign/read /etc. Made things easy. Nice work.” L.G., Berlin, CT
“We loved working with your firm and really trust the advice. You have a well-deserved reputation and it was nice to check off a number of things that had been on our To-Do list. Although it's hard to make the time to take care of some of these matters, it is a great relief when you do so. I would definitely recommend your firm to anyone in need of the services that you provide.” L.M., Simsbury, CT
Everyone at the firm were consummate professionals. We felt completely comfortable with their guidance and were impressed by their compassion and commitment to us. R.H., Canton, CT
The attorney who served us was kind, thorough, and very responsive. He pointed out some issues in my mother's documents that could have been problematic down the road. After my mother passed, everything was as seamless as possible - a true gift at a time when life and death decisions were being made and emotions were overwhelming. J.B., Cromwell, CT
Great service, was on top of everything. I'm glad they were there to help us though a tough time. J.M., Farmington, CT
Members of: