Q: My wife has just been diagnosed with dementia. I intend to care for her at home but as I am in my seventies I don’t know how long for. We own our house jointly but I am worried that if my wife has to go into a care home I might be forced to sell the house to pay for her care. Could this happen?
A: As the house is also your home, the local authority cannot include your house in any assessment of your wife’s assets which means you should not have to sell the house to help fund her care. If, however, you sell the property to “downsize”, the new house will again be disregarded (provided it is purchased within 6 months) but any surplus cash attributable to your wife will be required to fund her care.
As ‘joint tenants’ you and your wife have equal rights over the whole property and when one of you dies your share automatically passes to the other rather than becoming part of your estate. But if you own the property as ‘tenants in common’ you will each have your own half share of the property which you can pass on to someone else in your Will rather than it automatically going to your spouse. For example, you could each leave your share to a child or grandchild or put your share into trust. If your wife requires long term care, that arrangement will not stop you being entitled to remain in the property.
A further advantage of owning the property as ‘tenants in common’ is that if your wife dies and you later need long term care the property may still be protected for the beneficiaries of your Will as you would own only half of it, which would restrict the sum capable of being clawed back.