As an elder law attorney, I hear this fear, or variations of it, from many of our older clients. There is plenty to be worried about in the world of nursing home and healthcare costs, but in general, having the Commonwealth of Massachusetts ‘take your house' should come off that list.
If you are elderly and medically need to be placed in a skilled nursing facility, someone needs to pay for your expenses while you are there. If you have long term care insurance, income, or savings, you are generally responsible for covering your own costs. If you cannot afford to pay for nursing home care, you can apply for MassHealth. MassHealth, which is the Massachusetts form of Medicaid, is available if you fit certain financial parameters. The rules are complex and they sometimes change, so please talk to your attorney for answers to questions specific to your situation.
However, in terms of the house, if you have a spouse, sibling, disabled or caretaker child who is living at home, and is able to stay there, the primary residence is ‘not counted' when determining if you are eligible for long term MassHealth. This means that he (or she) can continue to live there, even if you are in a nursing home and receiving MassHealth benefits. We recommend that the house be put into the healthier spouse's name at this point. If, on the other hand, the house is empty and you have been in a nursing home for several months and are unlikely to be able to return home, MassHealth may require that you sell the house and that the proceeds be used to pay for your care. MassHealth almost never forces a person to leave their home because of medical costs.