My husband and me live in two separate flats within the same retirement block. However, it is not important where we live – we could be miles apart.

We are joint tenants in both properties. As a second home, we paid stamp duty for the second flat.

He pays council taxes as a single-person for one flat and I pay council taxes as a single-person for the other (this has already been approved by our local council). One flat is worth around £70,000 (his) and one £100,000 (mine).

Separate flats: How do the rules on property and care bills apply when a couple are living in different homes (Stock image)

Separate flats – How do property and care bill rules apply to a couple who lives in different homes? (Stock photo)

Each of us lives independently, but we pay our bills, service fees, and other expenses from a joint bank account.

What happens if one of us moves into a care home for the elderly?

If it comes to that point, we plan for the larger flat (or whoever it is who has been placed in care) to be sold and the smaller flat to remain the sole residence of the person.

We get the exact same state/private monthly pensions, just a few more pounds per month.

Tanya Jefferies from This is Money responds: The common concern of older couples is what to do if one partner needs care?

This is a unique situation. We asked an experienced lawyer to explain how the rules regarding property and care bills might apply to your case.

James Urquhart-Burton, partner at Ridley & Hall Solicitors, replies:Although it is difficult to read, the details of the charging structure for care and support are available in this official government guidance. 

The first thing to remember is that people should not be charged in a way that they cannot afford. Assessments by local authorities should be person-focused. This is because relationships and caring journeys can come in many shapes and sizes.

James Urquhart-Burton: People should only be charged in a way which they can afford

James Urquhart – People should only be charged for what they can afford

What happens if one or both of your needs are met?

It is up to the local authority to assess your needs. If it intends to charge for care and support, a financial analysis must also be done.

The local authority should not assess the income or capital of the subject of the financial evaluation.

This means that if only one of you needs care, then they will only be able to take into account that person’s capital and income.

For this reason, assessment of a couple’s capital can be complex.

I should also mention that if you require care, but it is possible to provide it in your home then the home’s value is not taken into account in the financial assessment.

If that isn’t the case and placement in a care home is necessary and you jointly own your home, the local authority will usually assume that each of you has the benefit of an equal 50/50 split.

How is the assessment handled if a couple lives together?

Married couples who live in the same house will find it easier, as they will enjoy the’mandatory disregard’.

That means that should one of them go into a care home and the other remain in the family home, the local authority is required to disregard the resident’s interest in the property.

The logic behind this is that the spouse still living in the property should never be forced to move from their home to pay for their spouse’s care.

What happens if a couple lives apart?

In your case you each own your flats jointly as joint tenants. Each of you lives in one flat alone.

Let’s assume your husband needs to go into a care home and you don’t. As joint tenants, you now own the flat where he lived. Therefore, there is a presumption you each have a 50/50 share of the equity.

Your husband’s 50 per cent share of the flat he was living in will be taken into account for his financial assessment, particularly because the flat is now vacant.

You say that flat is worth around £70,000. This would mean he has £35,000 locked up in the flat (assuming no mortgage debt) and this would place him above the upper capital limit of £23,250, so he would need to self-fund his care for a time if his income is not sufficient to meet the cost of his care up front.

The same thing would happen in the opposite situation.

What steps can you take (within the rules), to limit care costs?

Local authorities tend not to be suspicious about changes in ownership and residence that appear to have occurred in order to circumvent the care-charging rules. But, it strikes me that there are some steps you could take that will ensure you and/or your husband don’t spend any more than necessary.

You should think about’severing’ your joint tenants on both flats if you have other beneficiaries you wish to receive your estates.

This would mean you would be able to hold them as ‘tenants common’ going forward, each with a 50% share.

You could also make new wills to leave your shares to anyone else you choose, while still giving each other an ‘life interest in the properties.

If one of your surviving partners needs to go to a nursing home, it is not what you want.

You should also think about splitting your joint bank account and making sure that your incomes as well as your outgoings are kept separate.

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