By Elizabeth Caruso, Esq.

Myth or Fact? If I am married and need to go to a nursing home, only my assets will count toward my MassHealth eligibility, not my spouse’s.

This is a MYTH!

Medicaid is the government program that pays for health care for people who qualify. It is an entitlement program that has both asset and income limits. Medicaid is administered at the state level and here in Massachusetts we call Medicaid “MassHealth.”

MassHealth eligibility for those needing nursing home care has different income and asset limits for married and single people. Married couples are allowed to have $150,620 (in 2023) combined, with only $2,000 of that allowed to be in the name of the spouse seeking nursing home care. Exempt from that figure are the couple’s primary residence, if the equity is below $1,033,000 (in 2023), and one car of any value.

Everything else in both spouses’ names—all bank accounts, stocks, retirement accounts, annuities, life insurance, etc. is countable toward the $150,620. Spouses are allowed unlimited transfers of assets to each other without penalty, so if the spouse needing care was over the $2,000, they could transfer the overage to the spouse still at home.

One of the few exemptions to the asset limit for nursing home applicants is if the spouse at home is still working and contributing toward their retirement account. That retirement account is not countable while it is still receiving contributions.

Assets are treated differently than income. Income belongs solely to the spouse who earns it. For a married couple, the spouse needing care’s income must be paid to the nursing home, but the spouse at home can keep the entirety of their own income. There are even allowances for spouses at home to keep a portion of the sick spouse’s income if they can prove it is needed for necessities.

If you and your spouse are over the asset limits and in need of nursing home care, spending all your money until you reach the asset limits is not your only option. Speaking with an elder law attorney can help you to see what options are available to you to pay for nursing home care in the way that best fits your family’s needs.

Elizabeth A. Caruso, Esq. is an attorney at Legacy Legal Planning, LLC, in Norwell, Massachusetts. She has been practicing estate planning, probate, and elder law on the South Shore for over a decade. If this article has sparked questions for you, please feel free to reach out via phone 781-971-5900 or email to schedule a time to discuss your unique situation.