Use of a Life Estate Should be Rare – Part 4

November 7, 2004

The Medicaid ramifications must also be considered when using a Life Estate. If the life tenant is not on Medicaid, then in the case we have been discussing in previous newsfaxes, 50 percent of the sales proceeds will be returned to the life tenant in an unprotected manner, necessitating a transfer (subject to look backs and penalties) all over again. Now that the client is older and perhaps less healthy, we are jeopardizing the assets, albeit half, all over again.

If the life tenant is on Medicaid, then Medicaid will have placed a lien on the life tenant’s portion of the property which then must be satisfied at the closing. Here, we would simply lose 50% of the property.

In either case, if the property had been transferred originally to an irrevocable grantor trust, then the sales proceeds wold have been payable to the trust, not returned to the senior. The trustee can then, if appropriate, purchase another home or otherwise invest the sales proceeds, without any further concern for the Medicaid system.

The bottom line is that a life estate poses tax and Medicaid problems during a sale of the property during the life of the life tenant. An irrevocable grantor trust will also keep the senior in control, protect their homes from long term care, avoid probate and preserve all tax benefits, but allows the senior (or her trustee) to sell the house at any time during their life without tax and Medicaid issues. The use of a life estate ties the hands of a senior because of the practical inability to sell the house during life.

When a lawyer approaches a client about this issue, the first question that should be asked is whether they are prepared to give up the right to sell their house during life. In those rare cases where the client is willing to give up all desires adn rights to sell the house during life, the life estat is the appropriate tool to use.