If you have a loved one in a nursing home, there's a fairly good chance that they will receive Medicaid benefits at some point to help pay for their care. You probably know that Medicaid is also entitled to recover assets from your loved one's estate. The estate, for purposes of Medicaid estate recovery, includes all assets that a Medicaid recipient owned at death, regardless of whether it passed through probate. (This includes assets conveyed to a survivor, heir, or assign through joint tenancy, tenancy in common, survivorship, life estate, living trust, or other arrangement.)
What are the mechanics of the recovery process? How long does the state Department of Medicaid have to act in order to recover assets from an estate? Can Medicaid recover assets from an estate after it has gone through the probate process and assets have been distributed to the heirs or beneficiaries of the deceased?
The Medicaid estate recovery process is addressed in Ohio Revised Code §2117.061, §5162.21, and §5162.211. Under Ohio law, the person responsible for a deceased person's (decedent's) estate must submit a properly completed Medicaid estate recovery notice form to the administrator of the Medicaid estate recovery program, which is administered by the Ohio Department of Medicaid. This notice must be provided within thirty days of either the granting of letters of administration or letters testamentary, or the filing of an application for release from administration or summary release from administration.
The person responsible for the estate must also be sure to check the appropriate box on a probate form that will notify the administrator of the Medicaid estate recovery program that he or she has complied with the notice requirements.
Once the person responsible for the estate, typically the executor or administrator, has complied with all notice requirements, the administrator of the Medicaid estate recovery program must present a claim for estate recovery to the person responsible for the estate within 90 days after the date on which the Medicaid estate recovery notice form is received or one year after the decedent's death, whichever is later.
Based on these requirements set forth in Ohio statute, it might appear that the very latest the Ohio Medicaid estate recovery program can make a claim on property of the deceased would be one year after that person's death. But what happens if the person responsible for the estate doesn't give proper notice?
The Ohio Supreme Court has addressed the question of what happens if an executor, administrator, or other person responsible for an estate fails to give proper notice that Medicaid estate recovery might be called for. In the case of In re: Estate of Centorbi, Diane Fiorille, the sister of Josephine Centorbi, a deceased Medicaid beneficiary applied for summary release from administration in her sister's estate. She failed, however, to take the proper steps to notify the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS) that Centorbi had been a Medicaid recipient.
ODJFS ultimately learned of the death and filed a claim against Centorbi's estate, but did so outside of the one-year window after the death. The Cuyahoga County Probate Court and the Eighth District Court of Appeals ruled that the claim was impermissible for that reason.
The Ohio Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court held that because Fiorille had failed to give ODJFS proper notice of Centorbi's death, the 90 day period for ODJFS to file a claim had never begun. The statute states that a claim must be presented within 90 days after notice is received, or within a year after the death, whichever is later (emphasis added). Fiorille's failure to notify ODJFS meant that the Medicaid estate recovery claim was not barred.
So, what is the answer to the question in the title of this post? Unfortunately for heirs and beneficiaries, Medicaid can make a valid claim on property that has gone through probate, IF the person in charge of the estate has not given proper notice of the death. If proper notice is given in a timely fashion, and no claim is made for Medicaid estate recovery within 90 days after receiving notice, any claim will be barred.
Executors, administrators, or anyone who is deemed to be in charge of the estate of a deceased Medicaid recipient may want to have the assistance of an experienced probate attorney to ensure that they provide the proper notice.
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