My spouse is in a nursing home, should we get a divorce?

Your spouse is going to need long-term care or is already in a nursing home and you have heard that the State will take all your money. Is getting a divorce to qualify for MaineCare (Maine’s Medicaid program) a good idea? We get this question more often than you might think. The quick answer – not usually. Here’s why:

First, let’s discuss income. When MaineCare is paying for the nursing home, only the institutionalized spouse’s income is used to pay towards the bill. That means your income, as the community spouse, is not considered. You keep it all. There are some financial circumstances where you may also be entitled to keep a portion of the institutionalized spouse’s income as well. A divorce is not necessary to protect your income.

Next, lets discuss assets. When a married person applies for MaineCare nursing home benefits*, DHHS considers assets in the name of either spouse and in the joint names of both spouses (his, hers, or theirs). Unfortunately, this means that it does not matter if you have kept your finances separate. You and your spouse can have $147,400 and still qualify for MaineCare. This is because the applicant spouse is allowed $10,000 and the non-applicant spouse can have an additional $137,400. This does not include the value of your home, your vehicle, or pre-paid funeral and burial expenses, all of which are exempt assets for MaineCare purposes.

If your assets are below $147,400, then again, divorce is not necessary to protect your assets. If your assets are above this amount, usually there are better planning options than divorce. We encourage you to call and schedule an initial meeting with an elder law attorney to discuss these options.

We understand that nursing home bills are big and MaineCare is scary, but don’t panic. Divorce is almost never the best decision for asset protection purposes. In fact, the MaineCare rules are more favorable for a married couple than for a non-married couple. We would be happy to discuss your specific circumstances and needs with you and your family.

*The rules are different for MaineCare in-home benefits and residential care benefits.

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