NOTE: This article was written before the new augmented estate law was passed, and while the main gist of the article, that a married couple can preserve most if not all of their assets, remains true, certain of the points made below regarding the mechanics of how the new law works are different than described below. To learn more, you may call us at 301-260-0095.
There is a new law in Maryland that, effective October, 2020, will allow a surviving spouse to elect to take a portion of property passing as a consequence of a spouse’s death under an augmented estate formula. What does this mean?
Before the new law, a spouse only could elect to take a portion (one-third or one-half depending on the circumstances) of the estate that passed through probate. Lawyers who assist clients with Medicaid asset preservation planning took advantage of that by assisting couples to preserve all of their assets when one of the married couple needed nursing home care. The plan worked like this (and until October, 2020, will still work like this): If Husband is in a nursing home and Medicaid is paying for all of his care, then Wife could arrange to have all the assets to be titled in her name and pass outside of a probate estate.
Tools one may use to pass property outside of probate are bank and investment accounts that are designated “Pay on Death,” beneficiary designations, and life estate deeds. Before the new law takes effect next year, property passing by such tools will not be subject to an elective share by a surviving spouse.
That being the case, a husband and wife could set up their estate planning so that, if one them needs nursing home care in a nursing home for which Medicaid is paying the bill, and the spouse at home dies first, all of the couple’s assets could be protected rather than having those assets pass to the spouse in the nursing home causing Medicaid ineligibility.
Under the new augmented estate rules, however, all property held by the spouse at home would be subject to the elective share. Hence, in a case where Husband is in a nursing home and Medicaid is paying for all of his care, if Wife dies first, then it would appear at first blush that she no longer could shelter assets with “Pay on Death” accounts, beneficiary designations, and life estate deeds, because, under an augmented estate law, all of those assets are available for the spouse to elect to receive a portion.
Such is not the case with the Spousal Protection Wills that I have been using to do Medicaid planning for married couples, however. If a married couple employs the Spousal Protection Wills that I recommend, coupled with “Pay on Death” accounts, beneficiary designations, and life estate deeds that direct assets to the trust under the Will of the deceased spouse at home, which Spousal Protection Trust is for the benefit of the Husband in the nursing home in the example discussed above, then, under the new augmented estate law, the spouse in the nursing home only would be able to elect to take 11% of the property.
That being the case, if Husband is in a nursing home, and Husband and Wife own property (including the value of the house) worth $600,000, then, if Wife dies first, only $66,666 would have to be paid to the Husband in the nursing home under the new augmented estate legislation. Indeed, the administrators of the Medicaid program will insist that the spouse in the nursing home elect to take the spousal share or risk losing Medicaid benefits.
In this way, even after October, 2020, a married couple with $600,000 worth of assets, following a Medicaid asset preservation plan facilitated by this office, can preserve $533,334 even if the spouse at home dies before the spouse in the nursing home.
But doing a Medicaid asset preservation plan with this office would not stop at preserving all but 11%. There still are ways to protect all of the assets even under the new augmented estate law. That law provides other levers one could pull to effectively preserve all of the assets, just like a married couple can do now under current law. Those levers include: (i) spousal consent when the plan is put in place, (ii) judicial review under which a court may take into account, among other things, the degree to which the estate planning arrangement provides a benefit to the surviving spouse in the nursing home (which surviving spouse would be the beneficiary of 100% of the assets when using a Spousal Protection Trust), and, (iii) when an agent under a power of attorney or guardian must exercise the spousal election to comply with the Medicaid rules after the spouse at home dies, there is a mechanism by which a court order may be obtained to recognize that the interests of the spouse in the nursing home are much better served when he remains the beneficiary of 100% of the couple’s assets (albeit as beneficiary of a trust) as opposed to taking only 11% of those assets and losing Medicaid benefits for a period of time as a consequence of doing so.
William M. Gatesman has studied the new augmented estate statute well in advance of its October, 2020, effective date, and already is adjusting the estate plans for new clients to prepare for future asset preservation planning.
If you wish to review your estate plan with these thoughts in mind, please call us at 301-260-0095.