Eligible Senior Citizens Not Taking Advantage of Medicaid Be

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HARLINGEN – An Area Agency on Aging program administrator said fear is keeping many elderly Texans from receiving the care they need and deserve.

Minerva Sturgill said her parents bought their home 70 years ago. Now in their early 90's, they look forward to one day leaving the home they worked so hard for to Sturgill and her siblings.

However, she told CHANNEL 5 NEWS her father recently needed to be checked into a nursing home. He planned to use Medicaid benefits but was shocked after reading a section of the application.

"An application was submitted and they were informing us that you know someday, because of the cost that one of those forms says that they can come and take my parents’ home," Sturgill explained. "My mother was so upset that it got to the point where she said no one is taking this home from me.”

Sturgill told us this revelation left her parents frustrated and fearful. Hoping to calm their fears she and her sister rushed to the local area agency on aging office.

Debra Lachico, program administrator at the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council Area Agency on Aging, said there's a program that can ensure the home you worked so hard for will stay in your family after you die.

She explained the Sturgill's weren't the only Medicaid eligible seniors unpleasantly surprised.

“There's a lot of fear," she said.

Lachico explained that due to constraints in the budget and pressure from the federal government, Texas was forced to pass the Medicaid Estate Recovery Program in 2005.

“When that person passed away, if they did not meet one of the exemptions – and there are many of them – then the state had the right come in and recoup the money that paid out for that person," Lachico told CHANNEL 5 NEWS.

She said once a recipient receives more than $3,000 in Medicaid benefits, their property could be ceased after their death. However, she explained that a nonprofit organization called the Texas Legal Services Center discovered a legal loophole to the program.

That loophole is called the transfer on death deed project.

"What the heirs will do is go to the court, get a copy of the TODD law, I mean the TODD document, submit it to the state agency and that's it protects their home and lot," Lachico explained.

We reached out to the Texas Legal Service Center. A representative explained that the nonprofit will help educate eligible Medicaid recipients and their families on how to enroll in the transfer on death deed project free of charge.

Sturgill said that's a huge weight lifted off her and her family’s shoulders. They plan on taking the necessary steps as soon as possible.

Lachico told CHANNEL 5 NEWS anyone interested in the transfer on death deed project may call Texas Legal Services Center toll free at 800-622-2520.


There are several exemptions to the Medicaid Estate Recovery Program. Being exempt from the program means the state may not seize your home as repayment even without the transfer on death deed project.

According to Texas.gov, the state will not ask for repayment when:

  • There is a spouse who is still alive
  • There is a child under 21 years of age
  • There is a child of any age who is blind or permanently and totally disabled under Social Security requirements
  • The value of the estate is $10,000 or less
  • The amount of Medicaid is $3,000 or less
  • There is an unmarried adult child who lived full-time in the Medicaid person’s home for at least one year before their death
  • The cost of selling the property is more than the property is worth


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