I have worked on many Medicaid (also known as "Title 19") applications, and I have heard a lot of Medicaid application stories over the last ten years, and from my experience nothing trips up an application more often than life insurance issues.
Part of the problem is that the Medicaid eligibility rules regarding life insurance are a bit confusing. First of all, any "term" insurance is completely exempt under Medicaid rules. You can have an enormous term policy and it's not a problem for Medicaid. This is because a term policy does not pay interest or dividends and it has no cash surrender value. DSS is only interested in assets that you can liquidate into cash and spend on your care, and term insurance does not fall into that category.
Now, here's the tricky part: all other types of insurance, known as "whole", "permanent" or "universal" (the types of insurance that can generate income and carry a cash value) are exempt as long as the face value of all the policies combined totals $1,500 or less.
The problem is that "face value" is often confused with "cash value" (a.k.a. "cash surrender value"). Remember that "face value" is what your beneficiaries will collect upon your death. "Cash value" is what you can get back in cash if you voluntarily terminate the policy. These numbers are usually very different.
So, under Medicaid rules, applicant #1 could have a universal policy with a face value of $1,500 and cash value of $5,000 and the policy is exempt...no need to cash it out and spend it down to become eligible for Medicaid even though there is a significant cash value that could be used to pay for the applicant's care. Meanwhile, applicant #2 could have a policy with a face value of $1,501 and a cash value of $1,000 and the policy is a "countable asset" for Medicaid eligibility purposes. I don't make these rules, I just report them to you!
I refer to life insurance as a Medicaid application "land mine" because an applicant who is confused by these rules could file an application thinking that he's eligible because the cash value for life insurance is under $1,500. Then four months later, when the DSS caseworker takes a good look at the life insurance, she announces that since the face value is over $1,500 the policy is countable and the applicant is over-assets (after adding the cash value to the other countable assets). Therefore, the applicant has been inelgible for the last four months and the nursing home has a $30,000+ unpaid bill that is not going to be paid by Medicaid. That's when the nursing home administrator calls the facility's attorney, and the rest of the story is never pleasant.
So if you are applying for Medicaid, make sure you fully understand the life insurance rules and that you are crystal-clear on the face value and cash value of your policies.