Justia Public Benefits Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates
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The Medi-Cal program, California’s enactment of the federal Medicaid program, was administered by the California Department of Health Care Services (the department) administers the Medi-Cal program. In this case, the department sought reimbursement from a revocable inter vivos trust for the Medi-Cal benefits provided on behalf of Joseph Snukst during his lifetime. Following his death, the probate court ordered the assets in the revocable inter vivos trust to be distributed to the sole beneficiary, Shawna Snukst, rather than to the department. The Court of Appeal concluded federal and state law governing revocable inter vivos trusts, as well as public policy, required that the department be reimbursed from the trust before any distribution to its beneficiary. Judgment was therefore reversed and remanded. View "Riverside County Public Guardian v. Snukst" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court reversing the determination of the Massachusetts Office of Medicaid's board of hearings that Plaintiff's home was a countable asset, making her ineligible for Medicaid long-term care benefits, holding that the superior court did not err.While they were both still living, Plaintiff and her husband created an irrevocable trust, the corpus of which included their home. The terms of the trust granted Plaintiff, during her lifetime, a limited power of appointment to appoint all or any portion of the trust principal to a nonprofit or charitable organization over which she had no controlling interest. MassHealth denied Plaintiff's application for long-term care benefits, determining that the home was a countable asset because Plaintiff purportedly could use her limited power of appointment to appoint portions of the home's equity, which was included as part of the trust principal, to the nursing home where Plaintiff lived as payment for her care. The superior court reversed. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that the plain terms of the trust neither intended for nor permitted Plaintiff to exercise her limited power of appointment for her benefit, as contemplated by MassHealth. View "Fournier v. Secretary of Executive Office of Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

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A.B., a 40-year-old male diagnosed to suffer from severe schizophrenia, has been subject to conservatorships on and off for 20 years. A.B. has no real property or significant assets; his only income is $973.40 in monthly social security benefits. The public guardian was most recently appointed as A.B.’s conservator in 2016 and reappointed annually until the dismissal of the conservatorship in 2019. In August 2017, the public guardian was awarded $1,025 and county counsel was awarded $365 in compensation for services rendered 2016-2017. In 2018, the court entered an order for compensation for the public guardian and county counsel in the same amounts covering 2017-2018. The public guardian sought compensation for services rendered 2018-2019, $1,569.79 for its services, and $365 for county counsel.The court found that the request for compensation was just, reasonable, and necessary to sustain the support and maintenance of the conservatee, and approved the petition, again ordering the public guardian to defer collection of payment if it determined that collection would impose a financial hardship on the conservatee. The court of appeal reversed. While the court had sufficient information before it to enable consideration of the factors enumerated in Probate Code section 2942(b), the court failed to do so and improperly delegated responsibility to the public guardian to defer collection. View "Conservatorship of A.B." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed an order of the district court affirming an administrative law judge's proposed order that trust principal consisting of a jointly owned home constituted a countable asset for the purpose of the Medicaid eligibility of Marilyn Scheidecker, holding that there were no circumstances under which payment from the trust's corpus could be made for Marilyn's benefit.The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services denied Marilyn's application for Medicaid, concluding that Marilyn's one-half interest in the trust's principal was a countable resource placing her over Medicaid's resource limit. The ALJ upheld the denial. The district court affirmed the ALJ's ultimate conclusion that the trust was a countable asset pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1396p(d)(3), holding that circumstances existed by which payments form the trust's corpus could be made to or for Marilyn's benefit. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court was incorrect in its application of the federal statute. View "Estate of Scheidecker v. Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

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The district court affirmed the North Dakota Department of Human Service’s determination that Harold Ring was ineligible for Medicaid. When these proceedings began, Ring was ninety-six years old and living in the Good Samaritan Home in Mohall. An application for Medicaid was submitted on his behalf in April 2018. It was denied due to disqualifying transfers. Ring’s daughter, Nancy Ring, filed a second Medicaid application on Ring’s behalf in November 2018. The November application was also denied because Ring’s “client share (recipient liability) is more than the medical expenses.” Ring died after the Department issued its decision but before the district court affirmed. No party was substituted on Ring’s behalf for purposes of the district court proceedings. In 2020, Ring's attorney filed a notice of appeal to the North Dakota Supreme Court, claiming the Department’s imposition of a penalty period due to disqualifying transfers was inappropriate because Ring was a vulnerable adult who was financially exploited. On May 1, 2020, the Good Samaritan Society and the Department stipulated to dismissal of the probate petition because “a Special Administrator is not needed at this time.” The court dismissed the petition on May 5, 2020. The Supreme Court determined that essential issues remained unresolved in this matter: since neither side filed a notice of death or moved to substitute a party, the district court did not determine whether this action survived Ring's death, and if it did, whether a proper successor was available for substitution. The matter was remanded for these findings and substitution. View "Ring v. NDDHS" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the probate court's order denying plaintiffs' request, following the death of their daughter, that the remainder of their daughter's special needs trust be distributed to them rather than to the Department of Health Care Services as reimbursement for Medi-Cal payments for their daughter's medical care.The court held that the mandatory recovery rules for special needs trusts apply to the trust remainder; plaintiffs' interpretation of Probate Code section 3605 conflicts with federal law; the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' opinion letter supports the Department's position that section 3605 permits the Department to recover for the daughter's Medi-Cal expenses; public policy considerations weigh in favor of permitting reimbursement to the Department; and the trust itself requires reimbursement to the Department. The court also held that plaintiffs failed to show that the Department's claim impermissibly included services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Lanterman Act. View "Gonzalez v. City National Bank" on Justia Law

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Three plaintiffs' cases were consolidated for review; the plaintiffs were elderly women receiving long-term care in nursing homes. In each case, the “institutionalized spouse,” began receiving long-term care at a nursing home at her own expense. One to two months later, each plaintiff’s husband, a “community spouse,” created an irrevocable trust that was solely for his own benefit (a “solely for the benefit of,” or “SBO,” trust). The couples then transferred a majority of their individual and marital property to each SBO trust or its trustee, giving up any claim of title to that property. Distributions or payments from each SBO trust were to be made on an actuarially sound basis and solely to or for the benefit of the community spouse. The distribution schedule required that each trustee distribute the income and resources held by the trust to each community spouse at a rate that would deplete the trust within the community spouse’s expected lifetime. A short time after each SBO trust was formed, each institutionalized spouse applied for Medicaid benefits. The Department of Health and Human Services and its director (collectively, the Department) determined that each institutionalized spouse did not show the requisite financial need because the value of the trust assets put their countable resources above the monetary threshold, and it denied each application. In each case, the plaintiff unsuccessfully contested the Department’s decision in an administrative appeal, but each decision was then reversed on appeal at the circuit court. On appeal in the Court of Appeals, all three cases were consolidated, and the Department’s denial decisions were reinstated. The Michigan Supreme Court concluded that the Court of Appeals erred in its interpretation of the controlling federal statutes, which caused the Court of Appeals to improperly reinstate the Department’s denial decisions. Because the administrative hearing decision in each case suffered from "the same faulty reasoning" used by the Court of Appeals, the Court surmised that legal error may have caused the administrative law judges (ALJs) to forgo a more thorough review of the Medicaid applications at issue or to disregard other avenues of legal analysis. Therefore, rather than order that the Medicaid applications be approved at this time, the Court vacated the hearing decision of the ALJ in each case and remanded these cases to the appropriate administrative tribunal for any additional proceedings necessary to determine the validity of the Department’s decision to deny plaintiffs’ Medicaid applications. View "Hegadorn v. Dept. of Human Services" on Justia Law

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Jerilyn Braaten, the personal representative of the Frederick Ardell Krueger Estate, appealed an order holding the Department of Human Services could recover 100 percent of the net proceeds from the sale of Krueger's home to pay for medical assistance benefits previously received by his deceased spouse. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court erred in ruling the Department is entitled to 100 percent of the net sale proceeds. For purposes of Medicaid recovery from a surviving spouse's estate, the Department's recovery from a deceased recipient's joint tenancy property is limited to the deceased recipient's fractional interest in the property. The matter was reversed and remanded fo the trial court to permit the Department to recover 50 percent of the net sale proceeds. View "Estate of Krueger" on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Oregon Supreme Court’s review was whether an adult foster care provider claiming unjust enrichment may recover the reasonable value of its services from a defendant who, through fraud, obtained a lower rate from the provider for the services. Plaintiff owned two adult foster homes for the elderly. Plaintiff had contracted with the Oregon Department of Human Services to provide services in a home-like setting to patients who qualified for Medicaid. For those patients, the rates charged would be those set by the department. Isabel Pritchard resided and received care in one of plaintiff’s adult foster homes until her death in November 2008. Because Prichard had been approved to receive Medicaid benefits, plaintiff charged Prichard the rate for Medicaid-qualified patients: approximately $2,000 per month, with approximately $1,200 of that being paid by the department. Plaintiff’s Medicaid rates were substantially below the rates paid by plaintiff’s “private pay” patients. Prichard’s application for Medicaid benefits, as with her other affairs, was handled by her son, Richard Gardner. Gardner had for years been transferring Prichard’s assets, mostly to himself (or using those funds for his personal benefit). Gardner’s misconduct was discovered by another of Prichard’s children: defendant Karen Nichols-Shields, who was appointed the personal representative for Prichard’s estate. In 2009, defendant contacted the police and reported her brother for theft. Ultimately, Gardner pleaded guilty to three counts of criminal mistreatment in the first degree. Gardner’s sentence included an obligation to pay a compensatory fine to Prichard’s estate, to which he complied. After defendant, in her capacity as personal representative, denied plaintiff Larisa’s Home Care, LLC’s claim against Prichard’s estate, plaintiff filed this action, essentially asserting Prichard had been qualified for Medicaid through fraud and that Prichard should have been charged as a private pay patient. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded that, generally, a defendant who obtains discounted services as a result of fraud is unjustly enriched to the extent of the reasonable value of the services. The Court therefore reversed the contrary holding by the Court of Appeals. Because the fraud here occurred in the context of a person being certified as eligible for Medicaid benefits, however, the Court remanded for the Court of Appeals to consider whether certain provisions of Medicaid law may specifically prohibit plaintiff from recovering in this action. View "Larisa's Home Care, LLC v. Nichols-Shields" on Justia Law

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In several cases consolidated for review, the issue common to all was whether the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services could recover from beneficiaries’ estates an amount equivalent to certain Medicaid benefits paid to, or on behalf of, those beneficiaries during their lifetimes. Pursuant to the Michigan Medicaid estate-recovery program (MMERP), DHHS asserted creditor claims in the amount of those benefits against the estates of four deceased beneficiaries. In each case, the estate prevailed in the probate court and DHHS appealed. The Court of Appeals consolidated the appeals and reversed in part, concluding that DHHS could pursue its claims for amounts paid after MMERP’s July 1, 2011 implementation date, but not for amounts paid between that date and the program’s effective date, July 1, 2010. One estate appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, arguing due process barred DHHS from recovering any amount paid before 2013, when the agency had directly notified the estate’s decedent of MMERP. DHHS applied for leave to appeal in all four cases, arguing that the Court of Appeals had erred in concluding that the agency was not entitled to recover the amounts paid between July 1, 2010, and July 1, 2011. The Supreme Court concluded DHHS was not barred from pursuing estate recovery for amounts paid after July 1, 2010. View "In re Gorney Estate" on Justia Law