Are IRAs Considered Countable Assets for Medicaid?

Q. My next door neighbor is a retired financial planner. We walk every morning to stay in shape and maintain good health. This morning, I brought up the topic of whether my father’s IRA would be countable if he applies for Medicaid. Due to the complexity of Medicaid, she suggested that I ask an experienced Elder Law attorney, so I thought my best first course of action should be to send this question to you. If my father has assets in an IRA, will they be taken into consideration when it comes to Medicaid Planning? If so, how can they be protected?

A.  With the possible exception of a primary residence, IRA’s and other retirement assets such as 401(k)’s are often the single largest asset for many seniors. To be eligible to receive Medicaid benefits, applicants can have only a small amount of assets ($2,000 in most states). If your father does not plan properly, his IRAs will count as available assets under the Medicaid rules of most states and will therefore affect his Medicaid eligibility.

If your father is age 70 ½ or older, he must take a required minimum distribution each year. If he is taking at least the required distribution out of his plan on a monthly basis, this is referred to in some states as his IRA being in “payout status.” If the account is in this so-called “payout status”, in a few states (but NOT in Virginia or Maryland) the retirement assets would not be counted by Medicaid, but the monthly payments that he receives would be counted as income.  In DC, all money in retirement accounts are exempt from being counted for Medicaid.  

In most states, including Virginia and Maryland, IRAs and all other retirement accounts with cash value are countable assets, which means the total amount in the account will be counted as an asset affecting Medicaid eligibility. In order to protect retirement accounts in connection with Medicaid, one option is to cash out the retirement account and pay the income tax on it, and then transfer the proceeds to a Living Trust Plus™ Asset Protection Trust. After 5 years the funds would not be counted as a resource that he will have to “spend down” under Medicaid eligibility rules. Instead, his money will be protected and can be used for his benefit during his lifetime, and whatever is left can be passed on to his beneficiaries through the trust.

The rules regarding IRAs and Medicaid are complicated and vary from state to state.  As you can see, finding the best solution for retirement assets demands careful analysis from an experienced Elder Law attorney, preferably a Certified Elder Law Attorney.  If your father is nearing the need for nursing home care, or may need nursing home care in the next 5 to ten years, the time for him to plan is now.  Call Virginia Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. today at 703-691-1888 in Fairfax or 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg to make an appointment for an introductory consultation.

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.