Skip Navigation

Considerations for Married People

As we mentioned in the section on assets the asset limit in most states is about $2,000 for an individual, and $3,000 for a couple when both spouses are living together.  But, if one spouse is in an institution such as a nursing home and the other spouse is still living on the community, different rules apply.  These rules are commonly known as the spousal impoverishment rules.

The spousal impoverishment rules are designed to keep the spouse living in the community from becoming impoverished when the other spouse enters a nursing home. Without the spousal impoverishment rules, the state would consider a couple’s jointly owned assets to belong entirely to the institutionalized spouse when the state determines that spouse’s eligibility for Medicaid. And, most of the couple’s income might have to be used to help pay for the cost of the institutionalized spouse’s nursing home care, leaving little or nothing for the spouse in the community to live on.

Under the spousal impoverishment rules, though, the community spouse is allowed to keep a portion of the couple’s assets. That portion is usually one-half of the couple’s combined assets, up to a maximum of $115,920 in 2013. In about half of the states, if the couple has less than that in total assets the community spouse can keep all of the couple’s assets.

In addition to assets, the spousal impoverishment rules provide that at least some of the institutionalized spouse’s income can be protected for the community spouse to use. This helps ensure that the community spouse will have income to pay for living expenses. In 2013, the maximum amount of the institutionalized spouse’s income that can be protected for the community spouse is $2,898 a month. However, in deciding how much income to protect, the state will take into consideration any other income the community spouse has.