Many seniors find themselves in need of Medicaid to pay for their long-term care but are surprised to learn that their modest monthly income may disqualify them. The reason for this is that Medicaid is a “means-tested” benefit. In other words, you must not have income exceeding certain thresholds in order to qualify and receive Medicaid benefits. For example, in New Jersey, the monthly income limit for nursing home or community-based services is $2,523 for individuals and $5,046 for married couples.

Medicaid expects all of an applicant’s monthly income, besides a monthly personal needs allowance and Medicare premiums, to go toward nursing home costs. So, what if you have more income and other expenses? A Miller Trust may help you resolve this dilemma.

A Miller Trust is a Medicaid planning tool that can assist you in meeting the income limits and qualifying for Medicaid. Unlike other planning tools, Miller Trusts do not have specific disability or age requirements.

How Does a Miller Trust Work?

If your income exceeds Medicaid’s income limit, you can deposit the amount of your excess income into a Miller Trust – also referred to as a “qualified income” trust. Once it is deposited into this trust, it is not counted as income by Medicaid. However, to qualify, a trust must be irrevocable, which means you cannot cancel or change it. Once you put money into the trust, you cannot get it back directly. However, the trust can pay certain expenses on your behalf.

A Miller Trust is a good option for any Medicaid applicant needing long-term care services, whether at home, in their community, or in a skilled nursing care facility. This trust is created by the applicant, a guardian, or a person with a properly drafted power of attorney. A trustee is chosen to manage the trust and the income deposited. Anyone other than the Medicaid applicant can serve as a trustee.

Once the trust is set up, the trustee establishes a bank account to receive excess income from the Medicaid applicant. The income can only be used for certain expenses. For example, it may be used to pay the personal needs allowance of an individual in a nursing home, Medicare premiums, bills not covered by Medicaid, or supplement costs of a nursing home.

Another requirement of a Miller Trust is that the applicant’s state Medicaid agency will be the beneficiary of any remaining funds in the trust upon the death of the Medicaid applicant. The amount the state receives is limited to the total value the state paid in long-term care on behalf of the applicant. Any amount remaining after this payment may go to a person the applicant chooses.

Medicaid Income Cap

You should be aware that not every state allows Miller Trusts as a method to qualify for Medicaid. Currently, only about 25 states, known as “income cap” states, permit it. Other states do not impose an income limit for nursing home care, and so there is no need for a Miller Trust in these locations. For example, in Massachusetts, you would pay all your income, minus certain deductions, to the facility, and Medicaid would pay the remaining cost.

Before creating a trust, it is important to speak with an elder law attorney to ensure this option is right for you. If you live in a state where this is not allowed, there may be other options, such as pooled income trusts, which serve a similar purpose.

For guidance in Medicaid planning, consult your attorney.