By: By Benny Kass
DEAR BENNY: Seven years ago, when my mother was 80, my husband and I purchased cooperative apartment shares in a senior complex for her to live in. Since at least one of the tenants had to be over 55, we put her name on the shares, as well as my name. The actual paperwork reads: " 'My Mother's Name' or 'My Name' as joint tenants with right of survivorship and not as tenants in common."
If my mother needs to move to assisted living or a nursing home, will Medicaid try to get possession of this apartment? I've called the co-op's attorney, senior law offices here in Reno, Nev., and I've called private attorneys. No one can give me an answer.
One office suggested I call the Medicaid office. As much as I would like to, I think that might give Medicaid an opportunity to take what isn't hers. We used equity in our home to purchase this apartment. My mom lives on Social Security and could never afford this apartment.
One lawyer suggested the co-op "reconvey" the share back to my name, but their bylaws require that whoever is on the deed live there.
Any ideas? Are we safe in keeping this, selling it and keeping the monies, or will Medicaid take it? --Penny
DEAR PENNY: This is a complicated question and I am surprised that the senior law offices were unable to assist. There are a number of "elder lawyers" throughout the country, and you can locate them on the Web. I searched "elder lawyers" and found a number of Web sites that should be of assistance to you.
Generally, however, Medicaid (which is administered by the state, with each state having its own rules) does not "get possession" of property. But if your mother applies for Medicaid, I assume she will need to disclose her interest in the co-op as an asset.
It is possible that the state will take into account the fact that she is not an "equitable" owner of the property (as she did not contribute to the purchase price of the property) and simply disregard the asset. But even if she is considered to be an owner for Medicaid purposes, the state may impose only a lien on the property rather than require it be sold.
In fact, if the state considers the co-op interest an asset of your mother, it wouldn't require her to sell it, but could deny her benefits until her assets, including her interest in the house, were spent down to whatever the threshold is in Nevada.
Many states allow a number of exceptions. For example, if a disabled family member (or a spouse, which I assume there is none) is living in the property, the Medicaid applicant would qualify for benefits and a lien would be imposed on the applicant's share of the property in the amount of any benefits paid -- but the benefits would need to be reimbursed when the property is sold or the disabled person or spouse dies.
This is a highly specialized area of law, and not all attorneys understand the rules or the law.
DEAR BENNY: I have a question about escrows for taxes and insurance. Let's say I am buying a home and last year's tax bill was $1,200 (or $100 per month). Can the lender set up escrow collecting $150 per month for taxes? --Nate
DEAR NATE: My mathematical skills are limited, but the answer to your question is no. According to the federal Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (commonly known as RESPA), a lender who collects money in escrow for real estate taxes and insurance can have only a two months' cushion on an annual basis.
So, if the bank is collecting $150 per month, annually that comes to $1,800. A two-month cushion allows you to collect only $1,400, or $116.66 per month.
But depending on when settlement takes place, the lender does have the right to collect sufficient funds (plus two months extra) to make sure that it can pay the taxes and insurance when they become due.
Let's take this example: You settle (go to escrow) on May 15. The tax bill in your jurisdiction must be paid by Sept. 30, 2010, but is applied from January 2010 through December 2010. Because mortgage interest is calculated in arrears, your first payment will due in July. (Note: The lender will charge you interest at closing from May 15 to the end of that month.)
By the time the real estate tax bill has to be paid, you will have made three payments in escrow (July, August and September). But the lender needs a full 12-month payment. Accordingly, the lender has the right to charge you -- at closing -- nine months' escrow to collect all the money needed, plus two months' cushion; in other words, the lender can charge you at closing for 11 months' escrow.
Here's a consumer protection suggestion: Because too many lenders often do not make the tax or insurance payments on a timely basis -- or in some cases do not make the payments at all -- homeowners should send their lender a demand letter, once a year right after the taxes or insurance payments are due, requesting proof that those payments have, in fact, been made.
For those jurisdictions where this information can be found online, you should learn how to access this from your local government's Web site.
Benny L. Kass is a practicing attorney in Washington, D.C., and Maryland. No legal relationship is created by this column.