A Cautionary Tale About Medicaid and Writing a Will

Introduction: This is a cautionary tale about one senior citizen who is a permanent resident in a nursing home paid for by Medicaid. Since her husband did not leave a will, Medicaid potentially owns 100% of her house. They also take most of her money.

A senior citizen we will call Mrs. M (for I must rely on Medicaid to cover my living expenses), lives in a nursing home that is both Medicare and Medicaid certified. Her Medicare insurance only paid for her first 100 days. After that, she had to resort to Medicaid. So although Medicaid provides all her medical and residential needs, Medicaid potentially owns 50% of her house.

Once Mrs. M became a widow, and since her husband did not leave a will, Medicaid now owns potentially 100% of her house. Medicaid takes all of her social security check plus her deceased husband's social security check minus $40. The $40 covers her $8 monthly cable bill and her weekly hair appointments. She does not have a phone in her room as that costs over $30 a month. Basically, she has zero dollars coming in.

If Mrs. M's account ever goes above $2000, she will be kicked off Medicaid and forced to pay $150 per day retroactively to the first day she got on Medicaid. So her house sits vacant and cannot be sold. It is up to her heir, her only living child, to continue to pay her electric, gas, water bill, and property tax. Additionally, he has to continue to maintain her lawn.

When Mrs. M's son met with the Medicaid personnel and was informed of the current laws, he asked how he was expected to pay for all these bills if his mother had no money coming in. There only response was, "I'm sorry." Medicaid could not take the furniture or the car; however, the house has to be maintained until the time of her death. Then Medicaid will then take control. So any extra money that comes in due to the sale of any furniture is applied to her funeral and burial fund, when that sad day finally arrives.

If Mrs. M's husband could have been induced to write a will, Medicaid would only have had the right to 50% of her house. Since Mr. M refused to consider that option, they potentially own 100% of her house instead.

When Mrs. M's son visited a lawyer after her husband died, the attorney indicated that if the elder man had simply handwritten his wishes on a sheet of paper, signed, and dated it, Medicaid would not have been able to touch his half of the house. Since he entertained the superstitious belief that the day after he wrote a will, he would die, their son has been left dealing with a financial miss.

The moral is, write a will. Do not allow your loved ones to suffer by neglecting that all-important feature.

Why does she live in a nursing home instead of at home?

Mrs. M had an abrupt decline in health and transitioned from living at home fully able to walk, cook, and take care of all personal needs to living full-time in a nursing home in a matter of two weeks. She is wheelchair bound, incontinent, and frequently needs to be fed due to her Parkinson's condition. As of September 2009, she has been a full-time resident of a nursing home since August of 2008. Thankfully, she has attentive and loving caregivers who treat her with a lot of respect and tender care.

Further Reading: Medicaid Trusts, Assisted Living, Insurance, Applying for Medicaid, Spend Down, Death Tax.

From early February to June 2008, Mrs. M was in and out of hospitals and nursing homes. She would receive enough recuperative therapy so she could return home. She would only be home for a matter of days or a few short weeks before her health declined to the extent that she had to return to the hospital and then a nursing home.

During the month of July 2008, her husband and son tried so hard to keep Mrs. M at home. They set up a hospital bed in the den. They spent hours feeding her, giving her sponge baths, changing her diapers, etc. Home health care visited two or three times a week. After nearly one month of this, they had to hospitalize her as she was close to death. The doctor told her that if she did not move to a nursing home for the rest of her life, she would die. He also told her she would have to be put on a feeding tube as her food was going into her lungs instead of her stomach. It was a heart wrenching time for the entire family.

Mrs. M suffered from frequent bouts of urinary tract infections, Parkinson's, dehydration, blood pressure spikes that caused her to faint if she tried to sit up or stand up, locked legs, fatigue, loss of appetite, anxiety attacks, and spasms of pain in her legs that sometimes caused her excruciating pain.

For Mrs. M, moving permanently to a nursing home was not just her only option, it became a true blessing. Thanks to the speech therapists, she was re-taught to eat and drink so that the food no longer traveled to her lungs. In a matter of a few weeks, she was able to go from drinking only thickened liquids and pureed food to being able to eat anything she wants including pop corn and potato chips, two of her favorite foods. She also can drink water, soft drinks, and iced tea with no side effects. Physical therapists even got her walking again to some extent. She rarely suffers from limb pain. Her legs no longer lock. They also have slowed down the negative effects of her Parkinson's symptoms.

Even though Mrs. M sometimes still has some bad days, she has miraculously bounced back from death's door a half dozen times. Much of the time, she is happy, reveling in visits from loved ones and friends, adores and relishes eating large quantities of food, and enjoys visiting the occasional restaurant. She also gets a kick out of the fact that she seems to be one of the favorite residents of the nursing home staff.

Please note: Mrs. M is a close family relative of the author.