Mom gave us kids gifts of money about 2 yrs ago. She has been in and out of nursing home for rehab 3 times in the last 1.5 yrs, so...I tried to find out info on Medicaid (which of course is confusing). I knew Mom would not qualify at that time as she had given money and had not spent down any of her own. As expected, she got denied but when we got the denial, does that start the clock on how long she has to wait for the Medicaid penalty to pass?

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It's not a time penalty, it's a $$ penalty until the 5 year period is past. If the gift was $20,000 and medicaid cost is $200/day, then you will have to self-pay for 100 days.
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Clock usually runs 5 years from the date of LATEST transfer. So if she gives more, the clock resets. 2010 gift penalty to 2015. But if gifting happens in 2014? Clock resets to really want to consult a lawyer and have honest discussion about money gifts and transfers that WILL surface during review. Gifting can include transfer of real estate and title on cars, etc. Was she in facility Medicaid pending? Be prepared for a bill for the difference between the share of cost on Medicaid and private pay rates. And if you do not pay, facility can issue 30 day eviction order. Not pretty. Just curious - If you knew there was gifting, why apply for Medicaid?
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