Can life insurance cover the costs of a nursing home?

You can use life insurance to pay for assisted medical care, but that doesn’t mean you should.

Nupur Gambhir

Nupur Gambhir

Published April 1, 2020

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • If you take out a loan against a permanent life insurance policy’s cash value and don’t pay it back, the amount you owe is taken from the death benefit

  • A long term care rider can cover the costs of nursing home care but the payout is withdrawn from the death benefit, making an individual long term care insurance policy a better option

  • If your care is paid for by Medicaid, Medicaid can seek repayment through your estate

Nursing homes can be a costly expense — about $7,513 a month on average for a private room, or an average of $90,156 annually, if not more. If you receive Medicaid payments, you can use it to cover the high cost of nursing home care. However, since Medicaid only covers people up to a certain income, there’s often a huge disparity between those who are eligible for government assistance and those who have the means to afford long term care on their own.

While life insurance is meant to provide financial protection for your loved ones after you die, there are components to certain policies that can potentially help you pay for a nursing home. But are they the best options when it comes to securing assisted medical care?

Usually not — it can be difficult to qualify for life insurance that covers the costs of a nursing home. Using your life insurance policy for nursing home care can also negate the purpose of the policy itself — to financially protect your loved ones after you die. However, if you decide to utilize your life policy, there are a few key things to know.

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Using the policy’s cash value

If you have a whole life policy, your policy may have accumulated some cash value, which is the investment component associated with some permanent life insurance policies. The cash value can be utilized in a multitude of ways while you’re alive, including taking out a loan against it.

When you take out a loan against the cash value of your policy, you’re not withdrawing from the policy but rather borrowing from it, which means you’re technically borrowing from your insurer and accruing interest on the loan.

Could you use this to pay for nursing home expenses? In short, yes, but you might not want to. Assuming you’re using the cash value because nursing home costs would otherwise be unaffordable, it’s unlikely that you would be able to pay the loan back. Like most debts, the amount you still owe doesn’t just disappear when you die.

If you die and haven’t paid back the loan taken against your cash value, it is then depleted from the death benefit paid out to your beneficiaries. Depending on how big of a loan you took and how much interest you accrued — keeping in mind that nursing homes can end up being tens of thousands of dollars — your beneficiaries could receive a diminished benefit or none at all.

For the most part, term life insurance is the best policy option for most people and more cost-effective than whole life insurance.

Using a long term care rider

Life insurance policies offer supplemental coverage that you can access from the death benefit while you’re alive through something called a rider. What types of riders you can add to your coverage depends on your individual policy, but some policies offer a long term care rider, which can pay out funds for medical care if you are too ill to take care of yourself.

To qualify for the rider, you must be unable to independently perform two of the six activities of daily living (ADL) temporarily or permanently. The following activities are considered activities of daily living:

  • Eating
  • Bathing
  • Getting dressed
  • Walking or getting from one place to another
  • Using the toilet
  • Maintaining bowel and bladder continence

A long term care rider can cover the costs of nursing care, but strictly depending on meeting the qualifications can be a gamble you don’t want to take when it comes to creating a financial plan for your future. Additionally, the benefit paid out to cover the costs of assisted medical care can diminish the death benefit and leave your beneficiaries without any financial support when you die.

Long term care insurance

The best way to ensure you have the proper financial support in place for any assisted living costs is by purchasing a standalone long term care insurance policy.

Long term care insurance provides the same protections as a long term care rider but ensures that you’re not detracting from the death benefit. One of the downsides of a long term care insurance policy is that it gets more expensive as you age to the point of being prohibitively expensive. It’s important to lock down a policy as early as possible to get affordable rates.

Can nursing homes take the life insurance death benefit from your beneficiary?

Nursing homes can be paid for in a few key ways:

  • Long term care coverage
  • Private payments
  • Medicaid

Normally, if you’re paying for nursing home costs out of pocket, there won’t be any leftover payments to the nursing home when you die. The same is true for long term care coverage, but if your nursing home costs are covered by medicaid, the state could, under certain circumstances, seek out restitution after you die. This is called the Medicaid Estate Recovery Program (MERP).

Similarly to creditors collecting debts, the repayment can be collected from your estate. However, creditors cannot come after your beneficiaries for funds paid out to them by the life insurance death benefit — it can only collect the death benefit if it’s paid out to your estate.

When you die, creditors can receive payment from your estate before it is distributed to anyone designated in your will and testament. If you list your estate as your beneficiary, or if your death benefit is paid out to your estate because your primary and contingent beneficiary have passed away, the payment collected by Medicaid would then be from your life insurance death benefit.

For this reason, it is recommended that you don’t name your estate as your life insurance beneficiary and keep your policy details up to date — especially in terms of who will be receiving the death benefit.

Insurance Expert

Nupur Gambhir

Insurance Expert

Nupur Gambhir is an insurance editor at Policygenius in New York City. Previously, she has worked in marketing and business development for travel and tech. She has a B.A. in Economics from Ohio State University.

Policygenius’ editorial content is not written by an insurance agent. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.

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