In the right circumstances, the purchase of a life estate can be an effective means to protect a parent’s assets and a child’s inheritance. For example, a parent may sell his or her home and move in with a child. As part of the arrangement, the parent can purchase a life estate in the child’s home. This transfers cash to the child while giving the parent the legal right to reside in the home for the rest of the parent’s life. The care provided by the child may help the parent remain in a supportive home setting. If a few requirements are met, the cash paid to the child will be protected from the cost of long term care that may be needed by the parent in the future.
As Marshall goes on to explain, a correctly structured life estate can shelter the money paid for the estate from medicaid cost recovery. The medicaid laws specifically allow for this kind of financial protection, laying out the requirements a life estate must meet to qualify. A qualifying life estate will not affect the owner's eligibility for medicaid, and the purchase price will be protected from future long term care costs.
But Marshall cautions against people running out and purchasing life estates in anticipation of long term care bills. Medicaid and health care costs are only one aspect to consider when developing an estate plan. One must also keep in mind tax consequences and other non-Medicaid issues. A life estate will not be an effective estate planning tool in every situation.