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Legal Matters: Housing and Home Ownership

An expert in legal issues and older Americans gives advice on the housing matters you might face while taking care of a loved one

Editor's Note: These answers present general information in response to brief factual scenarios and do not provide legal advice or substitute for the advice of an attorney. Every person's circumstances are different and laws vary from state to state. If you need legal advice or other expert assistance, seek the services of an attorney or other competent professional.

My husband's parents, who live in another state, want to deed their home to us, with a clause that specifies that they will continue to reside there for as long as they live. Could you give us a general idea of how we should move forward?

Deeding property outright to a child is not always a good idea. Important tax benefits can be lost, there is no guarantee that the parents can live in the home for life, and if Medicaid coverage should be needed for long-term care, the transfer can disqualify the parent from benefits.

One alternative could be a transfer that formally retains a life estate for the parent, but that could still cause problems if Medicaid is needed, and tax consequences can be uncertain. Many states permit an individual to create a transfer-on-death deed, but the advantages and disadvantages of this alternative are complex. Home ownership is too important to tinker with without good legal advice. You may be able to find free or reduced-cost legal help through a legal services agency or bar association.

Legal Matters: Housing and Home Ownership

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Get advice on legal matters that arise during caregiving.

My parents are both in a nursing home. They don't have much in cash assets, but do own a home. I am willing to let the nursing home place a lien against it. We will probably have to deplete their assets, so that their care is covered by Medicaid. They have a checking account with my name on it. Can I use this money for things like updating their home, so it can be sold?

Your parents' assets should be spent only for their benefit, including reasonably maintaining and improving their home. In most states, but not all, the home can remain an exempt asset under Medicaid, so your parents may be able to qualify for Medicaid nursing home care coverage without selling the home. If the home is sold, virtually all of the proceeds will have to go for their care. If they keep the home, Medicaid will have a right to recover what Medicaid has paid for their care out of their estates after they both die. (Go to for details.)

So, keeping the home may or may not be a good idea, depending on many factors. You have to look at what can be done with the house while they are in the nursing home, the value of the property, financial consequences of the sale and their prognosis. Check with an attorney experienced in Medicaid in your state. A word of caution: If you or another family member move into the home, it could jeopardize the home exemption under Medicaid. Medicaid rules are quite complicated and the advice of an elder-law attorney can prevent major problems later on.

I'm taking care of my 85-year-old mother because the doctor said she couldn't live alone. We moved her in with us in our two-bedroom mobile home in a senior park. The owner of the park informed us that we have to pay an additional $150 for her to stay here. Is he allowed to charge us an additional fee?

I have to assume that there is some kind of tenancy agreement you signed when you moved into the mobile home park. The answer to your question depends entirely on the terms of the agreement and upon any state laws governing mobile home parks.

Charles P. Sabatino is the director of the American Bar Association's Commission on Law and Aging.