Fear of Losing Home to Medicaid Contributed to Elder Abuse Case

While this happened in California, it could easily happen anywhere – even here in Southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It’s the tale of a woman and her daughter who, fearing they’d lose their home to Medicaid, severely abused the woman’s mother, who shared the home with them, and thus caused her death. If the pair had consulted with an elder law attorney, they might have figured out a way to get the woman’s mother the care she needed and protect their house.

The facts of the case are these:

Amanda Havens, the daughter, was sentenced to 17 years in prison for elder abuse after her grandmother, Dorothy Havens, was found neglected, with bedsores and open wounds, in the home they shared. The grandmother died the day after being discovered by authorities. 

Amanda’s mother, Kathryn Havens, who also lived with Dorothy, is awaiting trial for second-degree murder. According to an article in the Record Searchlight, a local publication, Amanda and Kathryn knew Dorothy needed full-time care, but they did not apply for Medicaid on her behalf due to a fear that Medicaid would "take" the house.

This, unfortunately, is a common misconception, because the state will not immediately take a Medicaid recipient’s home from them. Nor is it true that nursing home residents automatically have to sell their homes to qualify for Medicaid.

In some states, like Pennsylvania, the home is not considered a countable asset for Medicaid eligibility purposes if the nursing home resident intends to return home. In other states, the nursing home resident must prove a likelihood of returning home. The state may place a lien on the home, which means that if the home is sold, the Medicaid recipient would have to pay back the state for the amount of the lien.

After a Medicaid recipient dies, the state may attempt to recover Medicaid payments from the recipient’s estate, which means the house would likely need to be sold.

Never fear, though: there are things Pile Law Firm can help Southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey Medicaid recipients do to get the care they need and still protect their family homes.

For example, a Medicaid applicant can transfer the house to the following individuals and still be eligible for Medicaid:

  • The applicant’s spouse;
  • A child who is under age 21 or who is blind or disabled;
  • A disabled individual under the age of 65 who’s the sole beneficiary of a trust into which the home has been placed (even if, in certain circumstances, the trust is for the benefit of the Medicaid applicant);
  • A sibling who has lived in the home during the year preceding the applicant’s institutionalization and who already holds an equity interest in the home; or
  • A "caretaker child," who is defined as a child of the applicant who lived in the house for at least two years prior to the applicant’s institutionalization and who, during that period, provided care that allowed the applicant to avoid a nursing home stay.

In addition, with a little advance planning, there are other ways to protect a house. A life estate can let a Medicaid applicant continue to live in the home while still allowing the property to pass outside of probate to the applicant’s beneficiaries. Certain trusts can also protect a house from estate recovery.

The moral is: Don’t let a fear of Medicaid prevent you from getting your loved one the care they need. While the thought of losing a home is scary, there are things you can do to protect the house. To find out the best solution for you in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, contact Pile Law Firm today.