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Spouses legally obligated to pay for long-term care

You're financially responsible for your spouse's care until

You're financially responsible for your spouse's care until you are divorced. Credit: iStock

My husband and I have been separated for 10 years and all of our assets have long been divided. But we were never officially divorced and he is still on my medical insurance plan. If he needs to go to a nursing home, what would my financial obligation be?


Spouses are legally obligated to pay for each other's necessities of life: food, shelter, clothing and health care -- including nursing home care.

If your husband qualified for Medicaid nursing home benefits, as his wife you'd be restricted to a Community Spouse Resource Allowance (CSRA). Currently, the CSRA is $2,980.50 of monthly income, and $119,220 of assets. Your assets (excluding your house, as long as you live there) and your income in excess of those limits would have to be spent on his care.

The fact that you've divided your assets won't protect them because you're still married, and a married couple's money generally is considered a single marital pool. Your IRA is an exempt asset for Medicaid purposes, says Stephen J. Silverberg, a Roslyn Heights elder law attorney -- but it's also the first item counted in the CSRA.

Federal law gives you the right to refuse to pay for your spouse's care. To assert that right, Silverberg says, you'd have to provide your financial records going back five years. Any financial gifts you had made during those years would be considered gifts made by your husband, and would delay his Medicaid eligibility. After you signed a spousal refusal, Medicaid would cover your husband, but it would retain the right to sue you (or your estate after your death) to recover what it spent on his care. Silverberg adds that to date, Medicaid has rarely sued.

THE BOTTOM LINE You're financially responsible for your spouse's care until you are divorced.

WEBSITES WITH MORE INFORMATION nwsdy.li/medicaid and nwsdy.li/ltermcare

TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to Ask the Expert/Act 2, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747-4226, or email act2@newsday.com. Include your name, address and phone number. Questions can be answered only in this column. Advice is offered as general guidance. Check with your own advisers for your specific needs.

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