How much in assets can a husband and wife have and still qualify for Medicaid to pay nursing home costs for one of them? Effective January 1, 2009, a husband and wife together can have $111,560 in assets and still have Medicaid pay for the nursing home costs for one of them. (The amount in 2008 is $106,400.) This $111,560 is in addition to the following exempt assets, which the government will not count: necessities such as clothing, furniture and appliances; motor vehicles; funeral or burial plans; one burial plot for each family member; one wedding ring and one engagement ring, and a home. Hawaii will probably require that the equity in a home be $750,000 or less. I will let you know in this column when the announcement is made.

If a person is not married, or if both husband and wife need nursing home help, how much in assets can each have and still qualify for Medicaid for nursing home costs? A single person can have $2,000; a married couple can have $4,000.

If you give away assets to your children, how long do you have to wait before you can qualify for Medicaid for nursing home costs without a penalty? The answer is 5 years. (It is 3 years for transfers made before February 8, 2006.) However, this does not mean that you have to wait 5 years before getting Medicaid help. There are ways to reduce or eliminate the penalty period.

If a person qualifies for Medicaid for nursing home costs, how much of the family income can the spouse keep? The spouse who is not in the nursing home (“community spouse”) can keep all of his or her own income (social security checks, pension checks, etc.). If the income of the community spouse is less than $2,739 per month, the community spouse can also be given some of the income of the one in the nursing home to bring the community spouse’s income up to $2,739. (This figure is $2,610 in 2008.) The one who is in the nursing home has to use the rest of his or her income towards nursing home costs, except for $50, which can be kept.

How much money and property can a person have when he dies without paying estate taxes? Assuming no taxable gifts were made while living, for someone who dies in 2008, $2,000,000 is tax-free. For someone who dies in 2009, $3,500,000 is tax-free. For someone who dies in 2010, everything is tax-free! But from 2011, only $1,000,000 is tax-free. Congress will probably change the estate tax law again before 2010. I will inform you in this column of changes.

How much can a person give away without paying a gift tax? Effective January 1, 2009, you can give $13,000 each year to each person without having to report it to the IRS. (The amount is $12,000 in 2008.) You can give any amount to a husband or wife who is a U.S. citizen without reporting to the IRS. If you give more than $13,000 in 2009 to any person in one year, then the amount over $13,000 is a “taxable gift.” You have to file a gift tax return to report the gift, but you can give up to $1,000,000 of taxable gifts in your lifetime without paying a gift tax. However, if you give assets away, there will probably be a Medicaid penalty if you need nursing home care. Do not give away assets (not even your home) without expert advice about the effect of both gift tax laws and Medicaid laws.

When is a probate necessary? Probate is necessary if a person dies with real estate of any value in his name only or as a tenant in common. With assets other than real estate, probate is necessary if a person dies with assets worth over $100,000 which are not in a revocable living trust or joint account, and do not name a beneficiary.