My 92-year-old father lives in his co-op apartment with my brother, who is his main caregiver. The apartment is in my father's name. My brother, who currently receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits due to Crohn's disease, doesn't meet the income requirement to be an owner. My father is Medicaid-eligible, but hasn't applied for help for fear that when he dies, my brother will lose the co-op to Medicaid. Unfortunately, we can't afford an elder law attorney.

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The best solution is to transfer the apartment to your brother.

Assuming your brother has lived there for at least two years, the transfer wouldn't delay your father's Medicaid eligibility, says Bernard J. Krooks, a New York City elder law attorney -- nor should it affect your brother's SSI eligibility, because its rules allow him to own a home. As things stand, Medicaid couldn't claim the apartment during your father's lifetime, but would have a legal claim on its value after his death to recoup the benefits paid for his care, says Krooks. Medicaid is more likely to assert such a claim if it paid for a nursing home than for at-home care.

Your father will almost certainly need co-op board approval to transfer the apartment to your brother. Owning a co-op gives you two distinct assets. One is shares of stock in a corporation. The other is a proprietary lease giving you the right to live there. The co-op bylaws determine whether and under what circumstances you can transfer the lease to someone else. You should read them and then discuss your father's situation with the board members. The board may allow the transfer in exchange for your father's written guarantee to continue making all maintenance payments, says Krooks.

The bottom lineMedicaid planning is more difficult for co-op owners than for other homeowners.

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