An Attorney Who Advised Against Life Estate While Conducting Medicaid Planning Is Liable for Legal Malpractice

An Attorney Who Advised Against Life Estate While Conducting Medicaid Planning Is Liable for Legal Malpractice

Medicaid Planning

A Massachusetts appeals court rules that an attorney who negligently advised a client that obtaining a life estate in property would hurt her chances of qualifying for Medicaid damaged the client because deprivation of a property right is actual damage. Brissette v. Ryan (Mass. Ct. App., No. 14-P-919, Oct. 29, 2015).

Marie Brissette and her husband consulted attorney Edward Ryan about protecting their house if they eventually needed Medicaid. Mr. Ryan advised them to transfer the house to their children and reserve a life estate, which they did. Thirteen years later, they wanted to sell that house and buy another house. Mr. Ryan advised them not to retain a life estate in the new property because it would make them ineligible for Medicaid and Medicaid could obtain a lien on the property. The Brissettes sold their house and used the money to buy a new house in the name of two of their children.

After her husband died, Mrs. Brissette sued Mr. Ryan for legal malpractice, arguing that due to his incorrect advice not to obtain a life estate on the new property, she had no legal right to it, which subjected her to the risk of being forced to move out by her children. A jury found Mr. Ryan liable for $100,000 in damages. Ryan appealed and the judge entered a judgment n.o.v., ruling that Mr. Ryan’s negligence did not cause Mrs. Brissette any actual harm because her children testified that they would never evict her. Mrs. Brissette appealed.

The Massachusetts Court of Appeals reverses and reinstates the jury’s verdict, holding that deprivation of a property right is actual damage. According to the court, “the fact that because of [Mr.] Ryan’s negligence [Mrs. Brissette] has no right to alienate the property during her lifetime by, for example, renting or mortgaging it, means that she did not obtain something of value that she otherwise would have. ”

TO READ THE TOP 8 MISTAKES IN MEDICAID PLANNING CLICK HERE.

For the full text of this decision, go to: http://www.mass.gov/courts/docs/sjc/reporter-of-decisions/new-opinions/14p0919.pdf

Be sure to consult with an experienced Medicaid Planning Attorney before making any planning decisions.

Questions? Email me at medicaid@RaphanLaw.com

Regards,

Brian

SOL Prevents Family From Enforcing Promissory Note Against Mother’s Estate

Reversing a lower court, a Kansas appeals court rules that a Medicaid recipient’s family cannot enforce a promissory note against her estate in the name of equity because the statute of limitations for enforcing the note has passed. In re Estate of Area (Kan. Ct. App., No. 110,768, May 29, 2015).

Embed from Getty Images

Five of Blanche Area’s children lent her money to build a house. Ms. Area signed a promissory note, agreeing to repay the loan, which was due in full on July 1, 2005. Ms. Area never made any payments on the loan. In November 2010, she moved into assisted living and received services paid for by Medicaid benefits.

Ms. Area died intestate, and the state successfully petitioned to administer her estate in order to recoup the Medicaid benefits. Ms. Area’s children petitioned the estate for repayment of the promissory note. The estate denied the claim because the five-year statute of limitations had passed, and the children appealed. The trial court ruled that the note was valid under the principle of equity, and that the loan should be repaid. The estate appealed.

The Kansas Court of Appeals reverses, holding that because the statute of limitations for enforcing the note had passed, the note was no longer valid. The court rules that there was “no authority for the district court to rule that as a matter of public policy different rules apply to note and mortgage agreements involving familial relationships.”

For the full text of this decision, go to: http://www.kscourts.org/Cases-and-Opinions/opinions/CtApp/2015/20150529/110768.pdf

Top 8 Medicaid Planning Mistakes, go to: http://www.raphanlaw.com/#!medicaid-planning-mistakes/c46u

Estate Planning for a Single Person

Single person

If you are single, you may not think you need to plan your estate, but single people are in as much need of a plan as anyone else. Estate planning not only involves determining where your assets will go when you die — it also helps you plan for what will happen should you become incapacitated, perhaps as the result of a stroke, dementia, or injury. If you don’t make a plan, you will have no say in what happens to you or your assets.

Without a properly executed will in place when you die, your estate will be distributed according to state law. If you are single, most states provide that your estate will go to your children, parents, or other living relatives. If you have absolutely no living relatives, then your estate will go to the state. This may not be what you want to have happen to your assets. You may have charities, close friends, or particular relatives that you want to provide for after your death.

If you become incapacitated without any planning, a court will have to determine who will have the authority to handle your finances and make health care decisions for you. The court may not choose the person you would have chosen. In addition, going to court to set up a guardianship is time-consuming and expensive. With proper planning, you can execute a power of attorney and a health care proxy, which gives the people you choose the authority to act on your behalf, as well as an advance directive giving instructions on what type of care you would like. The power of attorney can also dictate exactly what powers the individual has.

Single individuals who are divorced need to make especially certain that the beneficiary designations on their IRAs, life insurance policies, and relevant bank accounts are up to date. If you don’t, your ex-spouse could get the funds. And for single people of means, opportunities to avoid state or federal estate taxes can be more limited than for married couples, although advance planning can close the gap.

In short, proper planning is a good idea for everyone. Contact your attorney or call me for a free consultation to help you create an estate plan.

Brian A. Raphan, 212-268-8200

For more information on estate planning, click here. 

To download a FREE GUIDE TO ESTATE PLANNING, click here.

Some Potential Problems With SSA’s New Trust Guide

Social Security News

As previously reported, the Social Security Administration (SSA) recently instituted a nationally uniform procedure for review of special needs trusts for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) eligibility, routing all applications that feature trusts through Regional Trust Reviewer Teams (RTRTs) staffed with specialists who will review the trusts for compliance with SSI regulations.

The SSA has also released its Trust Training Fact Guide, which will be used by the RTRTs and field offices when they evaluate special needs trusts.  In an article in the July/August 2014 issue of The ElderLaw Report, New Jersey attorney Thomas D. Begley, Jr., and Massachusetts attorney Neal A. Winston, both CELAs, discuss the 31-page guide in detail and caution that while it is a significant step forward in trust review consistency, it contains “a few notable omissions or terminology that might cause review problems.”  Following is the authors’ discussion of the problematic areas:

• Structured Settlements. The guide states that additions/augmentations to a trust at/after age 65 would violate the rule that requires assets to be transferred to the trust prior to the individual attaining age 65. It does not mention that the POMS specifically authorizes such payments after age 65, so long as the structure was in place prior to age 65. [POMS SI 01120.203.B.1.c].

• First-/Third-Party Trust Distinction. Throughout the guide, there are numerous references to first-party trust terms or lack of terms that would make the trust defective and thus countable. These references do not distinguish between the substantial differences in requirements for first-party and third-party trusts.

• Court-Established Trusts/Petitions. This issue is more a reflection of an absurd SSA policy that is reflected accurately as agency policy in the guide, rather than an error or omission in the guide itself. This section, F.1.E.3, is titled “Who can establish the trust?” The guide states that creation of the trust may be required by a court order. This is consistent with the POMS. It would appear from the POMS that the court should simply order the trust to be created based upon a petition from an interested party. The potential pitfall described by the guide highlights is who may or may not petition the court to create a trust for the beneficiary. It states that if an “appointed representative” petitions the court to create a trust for the beneficiary, the trust would be improperly created and, thus, countable. Since the representative would be considered as acting as an agent of the beneficiary, the beneficiary would have improperly established the trust himself.

In order for a court to properly create a trust according to the guide, the court should order creation of a trust totally on its own motion and without request or prompting by any party related to the beneficiary. If so, who else could petition the court for approval? The plaintiff’s personal injury attorney or trustee would be considered an “appointed representative.” Would a guardian ad litem meet the test under the guardian creation authority? How about the attorney for the defendant, or is there any other person? If an unrelated homeless person was offered $100 to petition the court, would that make the homeless person an “appointed representative” and render the trust invalid? The authors have requested clarification from the SSA and are awaiting a response.

Until this issue is resolved, it might be prudent to try to have self-settled special needs trusts established by a parent, grandparent, or guardian whenever possible.

• Medicaid Payback/Administrative Fees and Costs. Another area of omission involves Medicaid reimbursement. The guide states that “the only items that may be paid prior to the Medicaid repayment on the death of the beneficiary of the trust are taxes due from the trust at the time of death and court filing fees associated with the trust. The POMS, [POMS SI 01120.203.B.1.h. and 203B.3.a], specifically states that upon the death of the trust beneficiary, the trust may pay prior to Medicaid reimbursement taxes due from the trust to the state or federal government because of the death of the beneficiary and reasonable fees for administration of the trust estate such as an accounting of the trust to a court, completion and filing of documents, or other required actions associated with the termination and wrapping up of the trust.

While noting that the guide, in coordination with training, “is a marked improvement for program consistency for trust review,” Begley and Winston caution advocates that “the guide should be considered as a summarized desk reference and training manual and not a definitive statement of SSA policy if inconsistent with the POMS.”

Regards,

Brian A. Raphan, Esq.

The Law Offices of Brian A. Raphan, P.C.

www.RaphanLaw.com

Legal DIY Web Sites Are No Match for a Pro, Consumer Reports Concludes

After road testing three leading Web sites that help you create your own will, power of attorney, and other important legal documents, Consumer Reports has concluded that none of the will-writing products is likely to entirely meet your needs unless those needs are extremely simple.

Consumer Reports

The independent non-profit testing agency evaluated three online services: LegalZoom, Nolo, and Rocket Lawyer. Using online worksheets or downloads, researchers created a will, a car bill of sale for a seller, a home lease for a small landlord, and a promissory note. They then asked three law professors — including Gerry W. Beyer of Texas Tech University School of Law, who specializes in estates and trusts — to review in a blind test the processes and resulting documents.

In his evaluation of the will-making programs, Prof. Beyer said that two of them could create good simple wills but he found deficiencies in all three, including features that could lead a user to add clauses that contradict other parts of the will.

Consumer Reports’ verdict?   “Using any of the three services is generally better than drafting the documents yourself without legal training or not having them at all. But unless your needs are simple—say, you want to leave your entire estate to your spouse—none of the will-writing products is likely to entirely meet your needs. And in some cases, the other documents aren’t specific enough or contain language that could lead to ‘an unintended result,’ in [a professor’s] words,”

An article on the study, titled “Legal DIY websites are no match for a pro,” appeared in Consumer Reports.  To read it, click here.

Consumer Reports’ findings accord with ElderLawAnswers’ own evaluation of online estate planning programs. For their White Paper on these programs, click here.

For a FREE DOWNLOAD : GUIDE TO ESTATE PLANNING click here.

WHY IRREVOCABLE TRUSTS VS OUTRIGHT GIFTING

People often wonder about the value of using irrevocable trusts in Medicaid planning. Certainly gifting of assets can be done outright, not involving an irrevocable trust. Outright gifts have the advantages of being simple to do with minimal costs involved.

Brian Raphan, P.C.

So, why complicate things with a trust? Why not just keep the planning as simple and inexpensive as possible?

The short answer is that gift transaction costs are only part of what needs to be considered. Many important benefits that can result from gifting in trust are forfeited by outright gifting. These benefits are what give value to using irrevocable trusts in Medicaid planning.

Key benefits of gifting in trust are:

  1. -Asset protection from future creditors of beneficiaries. Preservation of the exclusion of capital gain upon sale of the Settlors’ principal residence (the Settlor is the person making the trust).
  2. -Preservation of step-up of basis upon death of the trust Settlors o Ability to select whether the Settlors or the beneficiaries of the trust will be taxable as to trust income.
  3. -Ability to design who will receive the net distributable income generated in the trust.
  4. -Ability to make assets in the trust non-countable in regard to the beneficiaries’ eligibility for means-based governmental benefits, such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
  5. -Ability to specify certain terms and incentives for beneficiaries’ use of trust assets.
  6. -Ability to decide (through the settlors’ other estate planning documents) which beneficiaries will receive what share, if any, of remaining trust assets after the settlers die.
  7. -Ability to determine who will receive any trust assets after the deaths of the initial beneficiaries.
  8. -Possible avoidance of need to file a federal gift tax return due to asset transfer to the trust.

If you have questions about any of the above items, please call me, Brian A. Raphan, Esq at 212-268-8200 or 800-278-2960. There are additional measures available and your individual situation should be assessed before making any financial decision.

%d bloggers like this: