Cona Elder Law


Ask the Expert – What Can At-Home Wife Keep?


​by Lynn Brenner with expert Jennifer B. Cona, Esq.

My husband and I are both over 80 years old. We have a house, our Social Security and his IRA, which is under $100,000 and pays our living expenses. If he needs nursing home care, must his required IRA distributions be spent on his care? I believe the at-home spouse of a Medicaid recipient is allowed to keep some assets. Would it be necessary to move money from his IRA to other savings to qualify it for this exemption?

An at-home spouse can keep $109,560 in her name. But transferring money from his IRA into your name is a bad idea because IRA withdrawals are taxable.

To qualify for home Medicaid benefits, he can’t have more than $13,800 of assets in his name, says Jennifer Cona, a Melville elder law attorney. That doesn’t include his primary residence or an IRA from which he’s taking distributions. But the IRA distributions go to the nursing home; and they must be based on his life expectancy, according to Medicaid’s actuarial table, not the Internal Revenue Service table. The Medicaid table requires bigger distributions.

The “at-home” spouse is allowed $2,739 of monthly income in addition to $109,560 of assets. The income entitlement could mean the IRA distributions go to you instead of the nursing home, Cona says. If your other monthly income is only $739, for example, you’d be entitled to $2,000 of your husband’s income. If the house is solely in his name, she recommends he transfer it to you. Otherwise, Medicaid can put a lien on it and force a sale after his death to recoup benefits paid to him. That can’t happen if you own it jointly with right of survivorship.


The spouse of a nursing home resident on Medicaid is entitled to keep $109,560 of assets and $2,739 of monthly income.

Two websites with more information: and

About the Author Cona Elder Law

Cona Elder Law is a full service law firm based in Melville, LI. Our firm concentrates in the areas of elder law, estate planning, estate administration and litigation, special needs planning and health care facility representation. We are proud to have been recognized for our innovative strategies, creative techniques and unparalleled negotiating skills unendingly driven toward our paramount objective - satisfying the needs of our clients.

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