In a sign of the times, more elderly couples are seeking a divorce in order to afford long term care when their spouse becomes ill or disabled. So-called ‘Medicaid divorce’ is considered a legal option to avoid the 5-year look back period for Medicaid eligibility and a way to avoid estate recovery. With the price of long term care skyrocketing and a lack of policies supporting less expensive, private alternatives, many older couples may seek a divorce just to be able to afford care for a loved one.
The average cost of a semi private room in a skilled nursing home facility runs about $100,000 annually and the reality is that 75 percent of the aging population will need some level of long term care. While many people secure insurance in anticipation of needing long term care, few that have experienced the illness of a loved one predict the price they will have to pay and wind up turning to Medicaid as their only option.
Of course, to be eligible for Medicaid long term care, an individual must not only meet a general criteria concerning age and medical necessity, but also a financial criteria that is often only attainable if a couple elects to spend down their income and assets to be poor enough to qualify, which includes a look back period of 5 years. A couple can hold on to a few basics such as the primary residence and a car, but upon the death of both parties Medicaid will tap the estate for balances owed.
Someone who has a spouse who requires long term care in the 21st century can either choose to lose the nest egg they have built over a lifetime and the ability to pass along some inheritance to help their children, or consider a divorce. In the absence of policies that reward and support less expensive care, that honors the marriages of older Americans as well as the income and assets of the care giving spouse, many predict that Medicaid divorce will continue to rise.