Today we are going to learn about what a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust is and how it works. We also going to discuss when it should be used, it’s benefits and how an elder law attorney can help you through the process.
What is a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust?
A Medicaid Asset Protection Trust, sometimes called Pooled Income Trust, is a tool to protect your assets and allow people to qualify for Medicaid long-term care.
When should a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust be used?
To protect your assets, the trust has to be created 2.5 years before home care Medicaid is needed or 5 years before nursing home care is needed. This is because Medicaid inputs a “look-back” period when someone applies for Medicaid. The reason a certain period of time has to pass before your assets are protected is that the transfer of assets into a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust is considered a “gift.” Medicaid also enforces strict income and asset guidelines. In order to qualify for Medicaid, you cannot have more than $2,000 of liquid assets. Liquid assets are assets that can be easily converted to cash in a short amount of time. Examples include cash, checking accounts, and saving accounts. Once you meet the guidelines, Medicaid looks into what happened to your assets which is why you need to prepare years beforehand. The applicant still has to report the existence of the Medicaid Asset Protection Trust – it is not hidden from the government in any way.
How Does a Medicaid Trust Work?
A Medicaid Asset Protection Trust is an irrevocable trust which means once it has been made, it cannot be changed or terminated without the permission of the grantor’s beneficiary. Assets placed in the trust are considered gifts to the beneficiaries, which protects the assets from Medicaid. In New York, an irrevocable trust can be revoked as long as the beneficiaries and the grantor consent to it. But, beware that once a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust is revoked, the assets are no longer protected by this trust.
The Grantor of a Medicaid Trust has to name someone other than themselves or their spouse as the Trustee. This means that the Grantor is giving up control. However, the Grantor still has the power to remove and change any trustee as well as the power to change the beneficiaries of the Trust. If the Grantor owns a home, they can maintain the right to live in that home rent-free for their entire life, and their spouse can do so too. This “life estate” lets the grantor continue to obtain any property tax exemptions.
The Grantor is not entitled to the principal of any assets placed in an Irrevocable Trust which means that they are not entitled to any of the property that can generate ordinary income.
However, they can receive all income (interest, dividends, rental income, etc.) that the Trust assets may generate. The Trustee’s role is to invest the assets held by the Trust. However, because the Grantor maintains some control over assets in the Medicaid Trust, it is considered a grantor trust, and they are still taxed on any income.
When an Irrevocable Trust is created, assets that the Grantor wants to protect will be retitled in the name of the Trust, which is known as “funding the trust.” Assets can include anything from a checking or brokerage account to property. However, Individual Retirement Accounts do not get retitled into the name of the Trust because they are already protected for Medicaid purposes by law – as long as the required minimum distribution is taken.
Usually, Grantors will place their home and some liquid assets in the trust and name a child as trustee then not think about it for years. Most trusts provide that after the death of one of the spouses, the income interest continues for the surviving spouse. Then, after the death of the remaining spouse, the assets are distributed to beneficiaries as they would be in a will.
What are the benefits?
The main benefit of a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust is the ability to receive Medicaid. In general, with trusts, you can protect your and your family’s assets and pass on any valuable assets, like property. Some other specific benefits have been mentioned above such as property tax exemptions, uninterrupted income, and the ability to still use the assets after the grantor’s death. Some other benefits include:
● Avoidance of probate court
● Maintenance of privacy
● Avoids the hassle of multi-state probate proceedings- in case trustees do not reside in the state that the grantor did
● Provides planning for mental disability- should the grantor ever not be sound of mind, they cannot amend the trust
● Keeps assets in the immediate family
● Keeps assets out of surviving children’s divorces
● Keeps money out of creditors’ reach
How can an elder law attorney help?
An elder law attorney can help you decide whether a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust is right for you. A host of factors goes into the decision, such as the client’s available funds, relationship with intended beneficiaries, and timing. It is important to meet with a knowledgeable and experienced elder law attorney to assess which plan best achieves your goals and relieves any of your concerns.