Making a Claim in a Decedent’s Estate

When making a claim in a decedent’s estate, may the claimant rely on information provided by the Register of Wills through it’s online website? Or is such reliance risky?

It is important that one who seeks to make a claim in a decedent’s estate do so within 6 months following the decedent’s death, and that the claimant follow all the rules for making such a claim. Unfortunately, there is a risk in relying on the information provided by the online estate docket for a particular estate published by the Registers of Wills in Maryland. A recent case handled by William M. Gatesman illustrates this point.

In that case, the State of Maryland filed a $120,000 claim in a decedent’s estate for Medicaid benefits paid by the State of Maryland for the nursing home costs of the decedent before she died. The rules of court governing such claims require that, if the claim is filed with the Register of Wills, it must also be sent to the Personal Representative of the estate.

In this particular case, however, the Personal Representative never received a copy of the claim, and so, she denied the claim. Maryland petitioned the probate court for allowance of the claim. During the court hearing, evidence was presented that the State of Maryland had relied on the Register of Wills web page which, at the time the claim was made, listed a particular post office box address as the address of the Personal Representative. However, that address was incorrect – apparently the Register of Wills clerk made a typographical error when entering the address on the online docket page.

The question boiled down to this: even though the State of Maryland as claimant did not send a copy of the claim to the Personal Representative at the Personal Representative’s actual address, could the claim nevertheless be valid under the rules governing claims in a decedent’s estate because Maryland sent a copy of the claim to the address of the Personal Representative shown on the Register of Wills web page pertaining to the particular estate? In other words, could the claimant rely on the information set forth on the online estate listing published by the Register of Wills?

The resolution of that question depended on a thorough analysis of the statute and rules applicable to claims in an estate, and to a review of case law regarding statutory requirements of delivery of claims in contexts other than decedent’s estates (there being no law directly on point with respect to such estates). At the probate court hearing, William M. Gatesman was prepared to present such an analysis.

In the end, the probate court ruled that Maryland failed to meet the requirement that it deliver a copy of the claim on the Personal Representative of the estate, and the Personal Representative’s denial of the $120,000 claim was upheld (i.e. Maryland was not allowed to collect on its claim).

What this story reveals is that there are technical requirements a claimant must meet in order for such claimant to collect funds owed to the claimant from a decedent’s estate, and that reliance on information published by the Register of Wills may lead to the claimant losing its opportunity to collect on its claim.

William M. Gatesman stands ready to assist clients, either as claimants in an estate, or as Personal Representatives seeking to defend an estate against claims that are not properly submitted.

Obtaining Estate Information

Any person can obtain information relating to a decedent’s estate in Maryland through an internet search. The Maryland Register of Wills website allows anyone with an internet connection to search for the estate by the decedent’s name or by the name of the Personal Representative or executor of the estate.

The result of such search will be a listing of the estate docket. The docket list will show all documents filed in the estate, including the Will (if any), the petition for probate, the list of interested persons, the Inventory, and the estate administration accounts. One may order copies of any of these documents for a small fee. Some counties even provide for online ordering with online delivery of the documents.

A new feature of this online process allows people to search for claims against the estate, searching either by the decedent’s name or the name of the claimant or creditor of the estate.

This process can provide useful information to any person interested in the estate. While such process of obtaining information regarding decedent’s estates is simple, William M. Gatesman can assist individuals in obtaining information relating to a decedent’s estate if the process seems cumbersome or counter-intuitive.

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

“Keep your eye on the ball,” and “don’t drop the ball” are two oft used phrases to warn people that bad things can happen if they do not pay attention and take prompt action. Such is the case when someone dies.

I have known of circumstances where a parent died owning real estate, and due to inaction by family members, the property was foreclosed upon by the mortgage lender thereby costing the family more money than was necessary. Indeed, even with distressed properties, with prompt action one may open an estate and sell the property at better terms than what one might recover after a foreclosure.

Another example is from a recent court case. In that case, it did not come to light until years after death that a disabled person’s guardian improperly transferred the disabled person’s house to himself, and the court, by means of an internal oversight, did not take action to protect the disabled person’s property. By the time the heir who was rightfully entitled to inherit such property became aware of the matter, it was too late to recover the asset. Again, prompt action would have resulted in a more favorable outcome.

It is important that you keep your eye on the ball to ensure that proper steps are being taken to administer the affairs of a loved one after that person dies. Even if someone else had been designated to take charge of your loved one’s affairs, if that person has done nothing, then you need to step up to take charge of the situation yourself.

The penalties for inaction can be harsh. Rightful heirs and those intended to inherit a deceased person’s property could lose out on the opportunity to inherit if prompt action is not taken to protect one’s rights.

William Gatesman stands ready to assist clients in taking such prompt action, and is prepared to assist clients to protect their interests even when much time has passed since the death of a loved one.

What is Medicaid Planning?

Our website has a new look! I hope that you enjoy the refreshing update to the Maryland Elder Law website. As part of our website update, we have added a new page that answers the question, “What is Medicaid planning?”

 

To find out the answer to that question, you may click on that question in the black bar at the top of this page if you are viewing this page from your computer. Or you may simply click on the question that follows: “What is Medicaid Planning?” and the page that answers that question will open in a new browser window. Call us at 301-260-0095 for more information.

 

Applying for Medicaid Gives State Access to Bank Records

In order to combat fraud and abuse, Congress passed a law in 2008 (referred to in this article as the “Asset Verification Statute”), which law just now is being implemented in Maryland, directing States to impose an electronic asset verification process to facilitate asset disclosure relating to Medicaid applications for long term care.

When Disclosure is allowed.  In most instances, under Federal law, banks may not disclose one’s financial records to the government except where there is a valid law enforcement or judicial subpoena or summons, or a search warrant.  However, that same federal law allows the account holders themselves to authorize such disclosure through a written instrument.

The Asset Verification Statute directs that States that provide Medicaid benefits to aged, blind or disabled persons to cover the costs of long term care in a nursing home, or care in assisted living or at home, require the applicants for such benefit programs to provide written authorization to the State to obtain documentation from banks and other financial institutions for accounts owned by the applicant or by any other person (such as the applicant’s spouse) whose assets are considered when one applies for such benefits. Continue reading “Applying for Medicaid Gives State Access to Bank Records”

Trustee’s Liability for Contractor’s Work

Whether you are a Trustee of a trust that owns real property, a Personal Representative of a decedent’s estate that holds real property, or simply a homeowner, it is important for you to know your potential liability when you engage a contractor to perform work on the property if an employee of the contractor gets hurt on the job.

Many home service contractors do not carry worker’s compensation insurance coverage for their employees.  This is especially notable with tree service contractors.  The same men who climb trees with powerful chain saws to cut limbs and tree trunks while hanging from a rope around their waists in one of the most dangerous home service professions often find it prohibitively expensive to pay the premiums for worker’s compensation insurance, and therefore do not obtain such coverage.

The problem with that is, if one of the workers is injured on the job, even if that person is an employee of the contractor, then the law may treat such injured worker as your employee for liability purposes.  And, unless you, as Trustee or homeowner, have worker’s compensation insurance to cover this particular type of worker – and obtaining such coverage for the once in a blue moon tree cutter or other home service contractor likely is not possible – then the potential liability is unlimited. Continue reading “Trustee’s Liability for Contractor’s Work”

Are You Paying Too Much to Apply for Medicaid?

The requirements imposed upon individuals seeking Medicaid benefits to pay nursing home costs have become less onerous in recent years.  For many years, Medicaid applicants were required to submit monthly statements for every bank and investment account for every one of the 60 months preceding the filing of the Medicaid application.  Under that regime, someone with only 4 bank accounts would have to submit 240 individual account statements.  Then, once those statements were submitted, they were reviewed by a Medicaid caseworker who was on the lookout for any “questionable” transactions.

“Questionable” transactions include unexplained deposits and substantial expenditures.  Therefore, unless the source is obvious from the account statement, any deposit showing up on those 240 statements would be questioned by the Medicaid caseworker seeking to ascertain the source of the funds deposited, and any payment of $1,000 or more likewise would be called into question.  The problem is magnified if the applicant or the applicant’s spouse had any additional bank or investment accounts.

That being the case, in order to be prepared to address a Medicaid caseworker’s questions, lawyers assisting Medicaid applicants under the old system would review all of the bank statements and seek explanations from the applicant or applicant’s family for any transactions that likely would be questioned.  That process could be time consuming, and, if the law firm performing such review billed the client on an hourly basis, then the legal fees to pursue the Medicaid application would be high.

In recent years, however, the Medicaid application process has been streamlined.  No longer is a Medicaid applicant required to submit 60 individual account statements for each of the 60 months preceding the month the Medicaid application is filed.  Now, applicants need only submit a few statements for the most recent months, and then a single statement for a particular month for each of the preceding five years.  Hence, under current practice, rather than submitting 60 statements for each account, an applicant only has to submit 8 statements, and it is only those 8 statements that will be scrutinized by the Medicaid caseworker.   Thus, for a Medicaid applicant with four accounts, the number of statements needed to be submitted for scrutiny was reduced from 240 to 32.

If one were to continue to operate under the old system and submit 60 monthly statements for each account, and then spend the time to closely scrutinize each of those statements and any transactions that might be called into question, then such person would  be doing extra work for little or no added benefit.

Continue reading “Are You Paying Too Much to Apply for Medicaid?”

The Steps to Selling Your House Quickly

I often work with people who, in the administration of the estate of a deceased loved one, find themselves in the position of having to sell the deceased person’s house. Useful to such clients, and to anyone else who is selling a house, are these tips, the Steps to Selling Your House Quickly, which tips one of my mentors, who has much experience investing in and selling homes, shared with me.

Continue reading “The Steps to Selling Your House Quickly”

The Fox is Guarding the Hen House in a Maryland Guardianship

In Maryland, if one asks a Court to appoint a guardian for a person who is alleged to be disabled (the “alleged disabled person”) where such alleged disabled person is believed to be unable to manage his or her own affairs, the Court will appoint a lawyer to represent the alleged disabled person (the “court appointed counsel”). Sometimes, if there is a need to take immediate action to protect the alleged disabled person, the Court might, on the strength of a petition alone, appoint a temporary guardian for the alleged disabled person, which temporary guardian often is a lawyer chosen by the court.

In theory, the court appointed counsel and the temporary guardian are fiduciaries whose job it is to protect the interests of the alleged disabled person. Sometimes, however, it appears that such court appointed fiduciaries do not fulfill that responsibility.

Consider the following circumstance.

A health care facility is caring for Husband. Wife is unhappy with the facility’s treatment and wants husband to come home, and for the moment is withholding payment. Wife holds a financial power of attorney and a medical power of attorney for her husband, meaning that she has authority to manage his personal, medical, and financial affairs.

Continue reading “The Fox is Guarding the Hen House in a Maryland Guardianship”

Medicaid Updates Transfer Penalty Rule

If one applies for Medicaid to pay for long term care in a nursing home, the state will look to see if the applicant made any gifts in the five years preceding the Medicaid application. If so, then (with some exceptions addressed in various articles on this website) a period of Medicaid ineligibility will be imposed.

For many years before 2014, the period of ineligibility was determined by dividing the amount of the gift by $6,800, which amount was supposed to be the average monthly cost of care in a nursing home. In July, 2014, that number was changed to $7,940. Medicaid has again updated the divisor to take into account Nursing Home care cost inflation.

Effective July 1, 2016, the divisor to determine the number of months of Medicaid ineligibility for gift transfers is $8,684, which means that one would be ineligible for one month for every $8,684 in gifts made during the five years preceding the Medicaid application. Please be aware that this number is revised from time to time. Please contact us to find out the current divisor amount.

Bear in mind that the term “gift” means any transfer of resources with respect to which the transferor did not receive full value. Thus, if a person sold her house for less than it’s fair market value (Medicaid uses assessed value or an appraisal to determine fair market value), then Medicaid will treat the difference between the sales price and the deemed fair market value to be a gift transfer even if such sale was made to a third party in a bona fide arms length transaction.

We at the Gatesman Law Office endeavor to stay at the cutting edge of new developments in Medicaid law and policy.

Should you have any questions as to how this new policy might affect you or a loved one, please contact us by clicking the Contact link on this website.

Bill Gatesman