Generally, one member of a married couple is liable to pay for all, or at least a substantial portion of, health and nursing home care for the other, over and above what is reimbursed by public or private insurance. (State laws allow a healthy spouse of modest means to keep (exempt) a portion of the combined property.)
Fortunately, the legal situation is far better for unmarried couples. If one partner has large medical bills or moves to a nursing home, the other’s property is not at risk of being grabbed to pay the bills—unless the couple has voluntarily mixed their property together, as with a joint bank account. If the institutionalized person exhausts his or her property, including that person’s half of jointly owned property, Medicare pays the rest, and the other member of the couple need not exhaust any savings or sell property to raise money. For more information, see Long-Term Care: How to Plan & Pay for It, by Joseph Matthews (Nolo).