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End-of-Life Care: Protecting Your Parent’s Assets

We often envision our parents growing old gracefully, surrounded by familiar comforts within the walls of their own home. However, the reality is that aging at home is not always feasible. This can be due to various factors, including declining health or safety concerns. In these instances, assisted end-of-life care facilities or nursing homes can be valuable tools.

Nevertheless, the financial burden is one significant concern when contemplating long-term care for aging parents. The costs involved can be staggering, and without proper planning, these expenses can rapidly deplete your parents’ assets and investments. It is vital, then, to adopt proactive measures to navigate the financial intricacies of end-of-life care and safeguard your parents’ assets for their benefit and the future generations to come.

Pros and Cons of Nursing Home Care

A Man and a Woman Assisting an Elderly Man in Standing

When considering protecting your parent’s assets during end-of-life care, starting with whether a nursing home is the right solution is important. While options can help mitigate potential financial issues, gaining a better understanding of relative advantages and disadvantages can help you establish whether you need to implement these measures.

Some of the pros include:

  • Access to compassionate and professional care.
  • Social interactions with peers who are also navigating end-of-life care.
  • Amenities and services that your parent may struggle to access at home.
  • 24/7 support for any specific needs your parent has.

Some of the cons include:

  • Nursing home living is notoriously costly and may quickly deplete your parent’s assets.
  • Many seniors perceive moving to a nursing home as losing freedom and autonomy.
  • Being in a nursing home may put your parent at risk of internal and external scams.

Financial Considerations Associated with Nursing Homes

If you and your parent decide that a nursing home is likely the right choice, it’s vital to fully understand the financial considerations. A range of costs can be involved, which may prove to be a drain on resources, potentially putting your parent’s assets at risk.

Some of the key areas of cost can include:


Most nursing homes provide 24/7 skilled nursing care and assistance, which naturally comes at a price. Certainly, your parent’s needs can factor into the prices they’re likely to pay. If they require specialized medical treatment, assistance with the majority of tasks, or rehabilitation, this may raise the costs.


Alongside the cost of care, nursing homes charge for accommodation. The type of room your parent needs will usually affect the financial impact. In most instances, the choices available are private or semi-private rooms, with private rooms coming at a higher price. If your parent doesn’t mind having a roommate, they may experience less financial burden.

Additional Services

As we’ve previously outlined, nursing homes may offer additional services. This can include social activities, access to swimming facilities, and physical therapy. Certainly, some nursing homes will include these elements as part of the overall cost of care. However, some offer these services as optional extras, with additional costs accordingly. You may need to consider this when looking at your parent’s monthly budget and how their use of such services impacts their financial security.

Can a Nursing Home Take Your House?

Couple Sitting on a Sofa

The good news is that a nursing home can’t directly take your parent’s home in most circumstances. They also can’t force your parent to sell it to fund their care. However, that isn’t quite the same as saying that the home is entirely protected.

In some instances, the home may be considered a recoverable asset if your parent is utilizing Medicaid to pay for nursing home care. The Medicaid Estate Recovery Program (MERP) can be used by the state after your parent’s death to recoup the costs that were provided for their care. This could include taking ownership of the home or requiring its sale.

That said, even MERP has limitations. If your parent’s spouse still occupies the home, it is usually considered to be exempt from recovery. This can also apply if dependent family members are living at the property. In either case, the home is usually not the most at-risk asset due to nursing home care.

Planning for Nursing Home Costs

Your best approach to protecting your parent’s assets is to help them make solid plans for their finances in relation to nursing home care. Start by gathering information about the costs of nursing homes in your area. The average cost of a semi-private room is around $93,000 per year, but as we’ve outlined, this can vary. Speak to representatives, discuss your parent’s specific needs, and get a solid idea of the costs.

From here, you should take stock of all the assets your parent currently has available. Consider their income, savings, investments, and any other resources they may have. Understanding their current financial resources will help determine how much they can contribute to nursing home costs.

This is also a key point at which to start protecting your parent’s assets. They don’t just need to be safeguarded from recovery. It’s important to make sure their retirement savings aren’t impacted by economic downturns, causing their resources to become depleted. Work with them to take steps such as diversifying their assets to ensure a more balanced portfolio or arranging for their home to be rented when it’s not occupied.

Putting Assets in an Irrevocable Trust

a pile of coins on top of banknotes

One option for protecting your parent’s assets when they’re in a nursing home is to utilize an irrevocable trust. In essence, this trust is a legal entity that holds assets for the benefit of designated beneficiaries. Once your parent’s assets are transferred into an irrevocable trust, they are no longer considered part of your parent’s estate. As a result, they can have a certain amount of protection from potential creditors, including nursing homes.

So, why does this work? Well, the law considers the trust and your parent to be two separate entities from a financial standpoint. This means that technically speaking, your parent doesn’t own the assets, rather, the trust does. The benefit of this isn’t just that these assets can’t usually be seized to cover debts. It can also mean your parent’s assets drop below the threshold needed to qualify for programs like Medicaid.

Nevertheless, you should understand that this isn’t a simple or quick fix to the situation. You’ll need expert guidance to ensure the process is performed thoroughly and legally, with a reliable trustee appointed to manage the assets on your parent’s behalf.

Protecting Real Estate and Other Investments

There are multiple ways to help your parents protect their other assets as well. One way would be to essentially turn these assets into income by purchasing a Medicaid-compliant annuity. Medicaid is generally reserved for those considered “low-income” earners or individuals. With a qualifying annuity, your parents can use their assets to deposit a lump cash sum that will then be invested and later repaid to them as income. This may see their assets “decreased” enough that they qualify for Medicaid while simultaneously protecting their assets and cash from seizure by the nursing home.

Another option is to form a life estate, though this requires some foresight. This is due to Medicaid’s five-year “look-back” or review period that keeps people from selling assets at less-than-fair market value. The life estate allows dictates ownership of the estate until death, in which case the life tenancy expires. The “remainderman” will gain property ownership when the life tenant dies.

Getting Help From a Nursing Home Planning Attorney

Lawyers Looking at Documents

Navigating nursing home planning and asset protection can be overwhelming. If your parent has significant assets, it may be worth seeking assistance from an experienced nursing home planning attorney. 

These professionals have in-depth knowledge of the laws and regulations related to nursing home care, asset protection, and government assistance programs. They’re specialists that can help you and your parent develop customized asset protection strategies. They’ll assess your parent’s financial situation, recommend appropriate legal tools, such as trusts or gifting strategies, and then guide you through the implementation process.

Importantly, they can prepare and review any legal documents and provide advocacy to uphold your parent’s wishes concerning their assets. This may include powers of attorney, advanced healthcare directives, and living wills. Making sure these documents are in place provides peace of mind and ensures that your parent’s best interests are protected in case of incapacity or medical emergencies while at the facility.

They may also help provide practical advice on protecting assets from day-to-day risks while your parent is in a nursing home. This includes shredding confidential documents, particularly those related to government correspondence and bank accounts. Correctly disposing of such sensitive items — either personally or using an off-site provider — can protect assets from potential scammers.  

Purchasing Long-Term Care Insurance

Long-term care insurance may be appropriate for protecting your parent’s assets and ensuring they receive quality nursing home care. These types of policies are designed to help cover costs such as room and board, medical services, assistance with daily living, and any other specialized care your parent might need.

Insurance can help protect your parent’s assets because the plan will often take most of the financial burden. The contributions the insurer provides limit the amount of your parent’s savings that need to go toward their care each month. 

However, it’s important to understand that your parent may not qualify for long-term care insurance if they already need assistance or are experiencing health conditions that are likely to lead to the need for care. You’ll need to make plans well before the move to a care facility if this is going to be a viable option.

Medicaid Planning: Qualifying for Benefits Without Losing Assets

Smiling Man and Woman Wearing Jackets

Medicaid is a government program that can provide financial assistance for long-term care, including nursing home costs. However, it is designed for those with limited income and assets. Understanding how Medicaid contributes to nursing homes can allow your parent to utilize it effectively wherever necessary.

There are a couple of key elements to focus on:

Medicaid Eligibility

Medicaid eligibility is determined based on income and asset limits that are set by your state. These limits can vary; some states have different programs with separate income thresholds for nursing home care. Your parent’s income, including Social Security benefits and pensions, will be assessed to determine eligibility. As will their investments and real estate. (except for the primary residence).

This doesn’t mean that you can seek to hide your parent’s assets to ensure they qualify. Medicaid programs tend to implement a look-back period to review your parent’s financial transactions to ensure that assets were not transferred or gifted to qualify for benefits. Working with a qualified attorney to discuss the implications of legitimate asset transfers is important to avoid any negative consequences.

Medicaid Mistakes

There are various mistakes people tend to make in relation to using Medicaid for nursing home care. The primary one is failing to plan at least five years before the anticipated nursing home care needs. Waiting until the last minute can limit your options and may result in transferring assets during the Medicaid look-back period, which can bring penalties or disqualification.

Another key mistake is to include exempt assets when reporting income and asset amounts. Medicaid allows certain assets to be exempt, meaning they are not counted toward the asset limit. This can vary from state to state, but including such assets can unnecessarily deplete resources or trigger penalties. Wherever possible, work with a professional to identify exemptions correctly.


Navigating the financial intricacies of end-of-life care and protecting your parents’ assets requires careful planning and consideration. Understanding the various costs is essential in developing a comprehensive strategy. Exploring options like irrevocable trusts, seeking assistance from a nursing home planning attorney, and considering long-term care insurance can be key to safeguarding assets. Additionally, familiarizing yourself with Medicaid eligibility requirements and avoiding common mistakes can enable your parents to qualify for benefits without sacrificing their assets.

However, it’s important to remember that the need to protect your parent’s financial assets doesn’t end with their admission to a nursing home. Ongoing vigilance and collaboration are essential to safeguarding their resources against the rising costs of the facility and potential risks that may occur over time. Regularly discuss these matters with your parent and adjust strategies as and when they’re needed.

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