Justia Government & Administrative Law 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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Petitioner Estate of Peter Dodier, appealed a New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) order denying the estate’s claim for workers’ compensation and death benefits following Peter Dodier’s death. The CAB denied the estate’s claim based on its determination that Dodier’s anxiety and depression were not a compensable injury. It therefore did not reach the issue of death benefits. Because the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that Dodier’s anxiety and depression were compensable, it reversed the CAB’s decision and remanded for its consideration of whether the estate was entitled to death benefits. View "Appeal of Estate of Peter Dodier" 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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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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Nora D. was an 82-year-old woman residing in an assisted living facility. She suffered a stroke in April 2016, and she reportedly continued to suffer resulting physical and mental limitations. In 2017 Nora gave her son, Cliff, a general power of attorney. In 2018 Adult Protective Services petitioned for a conservatorship to protect Nora’s finances and property after the office received reports of harm alleging that Cliff had made decisions not in Nora’s best interests. The Office of Public Advocacy (OPA) was appointed as Nora’s conservator in 2018. In September 2019 Nora’s daughter Naomi petitioned for a full guardianship for Nora. Naomi alleged that a guardianship was necessary because Nora was unable to attend to her own physical needs and Cliff was unable to care for Nora. A day later Naomi’s son Kevin petitioned for review of the conservatorship, and sought appointment as Nora’s guardian, which could replace OPA’s conservatorship. The superior court ordered a Nora attend a psychiatric evaluation and answer all questions posed to her by Kevin’s retained expert. But the guardianship statute provided that a respondent may refuse to answer questions during examinations and evaluations. The only exception to that statute applied in an interview to determine whether the respondent has capacity to make informed decisions about care and treatment services. The Alaska Supreme Court granted the Nora’s petition for review to consider the scope of the statute’s protection, and the Supreme Court concluded that Nora could refuse to answer any questions other than those directed at determining her capacity to make personal medical decisions. The Supreme Court therefore vacated the superior court’s order and remanded for further proceedings. View "In the Matter of the Protective Proceeings of Nora D." on Justia Law

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Wife Becky Baldauf, in both her personal capacity and as administrator of her deceased husband’s estate, appealed the superior court’s order dismissing her claims against the Vermont State Treasurer and the Vermont State Employees’ Retirement System (VSERS) (collectively, the State). Wife argued she was entitled to receive a retirement allowance on account of her husband’s death while in active service under 3 V.S.A. 465. She also argued the State failed to adequately inform husband about his retirement allowance before his death, and accordingly, husband’s estate was entitled to relief under breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and negligent misrepresentation theories. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded Wife failed to state claims for which relief can be granted, and affirmed. View "Estate of Ronald Baldauf v. Vermont State Treasurer et al." on Justia Law

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Daughter Deborah George appealed the civil division’s determination that her father, decedent Theodore George, was the sole owner of a vehicle at the time of his death and that the vehicle was properly included in his estate. Decedent purchased the vehicle at issue, a 1979 Cadillac Eldorado, in 1992. The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) issued a Certificate of Title to decedent in 1994 in his name only. The copy of the title in the record contained no assignment of ownership to daughter. In 2006, decedent submitted a Vermont Registration, Tax, and Title Application to the DMV. Decedent’s name was listed in the space provided for the owner, and daughter’s name was listed in the adjacent space provided for a co-owner. Next to daughter’s name, a handwritten annotation said, “add co-owner.” The form directed applicants to select rights of survivorship if more than one owner was listed and provides that “if no box is checked joint tenants will be selected.” Decedent made no indication. At the bottom of the form, decedent signed the application; the line for the co-owner’s signature was left blank. No bill of sale accompanied the 2006 Registration Application. The DMV issued registration certificates naming both decedent and daughter for 2012-2013, 2014-2015, and 2017-2018. On appeal of the civil division's determination, daughter argued that decedent’s act in changing the registration to reflect joint ownership effectively transferred an interest in the vehicle to her. Alternatively, she argued that decedent’s act demonstrated his intent to make a gift of joint ownership. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded there was insufficient evidence that decedent transferred an interest in the vehicle to daughter under either theory and affirmed. View "In re Estate of Theodore George" on Justia Law

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Defendants below, Sam Smith, director of the Calhoun County Department of Human Resources ("CCDHR"); Pamela McClellan, an adult-protective-services caseworker with CCDHR; and Teresa Ellis, McClellan's supervisor (referred to collectively as "petitioners"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the circuit court to vacate its order denying their motion for a summary judgment in a wrongful-death action filed by William David Streip ("David"), as the personal representative of the estate of his sister, Jerrie Leeann Streip ("Leeann"), and to enter a summary judgment in their favor on the basis of immunity. Leeann suffered from numerous serious physical, mental, and emotional conditions since birth; those conditions were exacerbated by brain surgery in 2013. Following that surgery, Leeann was released to a nursing-home facility before being discharged into the care of her father. Leeann subsequently reported to a CCDHR social worker that her father had raped her. As a result, an adult-protective-services case was opened under Alabama's Adult Protective Services Act ("the APSA"), and McClellan was assigned as Leeann's caseworker. Upon the conclusion of the ensuing investigation, CCDHR removed Leeann from her father's care. Leeann was placed at a Leviticus Place, a boarding home where she remained for approximately one week. There were no concerns about Leeann's well being, but McClellan was notified Leann had left Leviticus Place and did not return. A body located in Birmingham was later identified as Leeann's; her cause of death remains "undetermined." After review, the Alabama Supreme Court determined petitioners established they were entitled to statutory immunity. They had a clear legal right to a summary judgment in their favor on that ground. The trial court was accordingly directed to vacate its order denying the petitioners' motion for a summary judgment and to enter a summary judgment in the petitioners' favor. View "Ex parte Sam Smith" on Justia Law

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Daniel Tewksbury and Bobbie Young were previously married and were the parents of two minor children, Lane and Emma. They divorced in May 2006, and Daniel was ordered to pay child support. Daniel stopped making child-support payments in 2008. Bobbie later married Gerald Young, Jr. Gerald filed a petition to adopt Lane and Emma. In the adoption, Daniel’s parental rights were terminated. As of the termination of his parental rights, Daniel owed Bobbie $34,759 for child support. On April 5, 2015, Daniel died in an automobile accident. The accident occurred while Daniel was in the course and scope of his employment with Air Masters Mechanical, Inc. Bobbie then filed a petition with the Workers’ Compensation Commission on behalf of Lane and Emma, claiming that the children were entitled to Daniel’s workers’ compensation death-benefit proceeds and sought the payment of the $34,759 in outstanding child support. The Workers’ Compensation Commission Administrative Judge (AJ) determined that the child-support lien of $34,759 was valid and payable under Section 71-3-129. Air Masters and Associated General Contractors filed a petition for review with the Commission. The Commission concluded that Lane and Emma were not entitled to Daniel’s death benefits because they were not his statutory dependents under Mississippi Code Section 71-3-25 (Supp. 2019). The Commission reversed the AJ’s order and dismissed Bobbie’s petition. On appeal, a divided Court of Appeals reversed the Commission’s decision, concluding the child-support lien was valid. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed, finding Section 71-3-129 did not authorize a lien on death benefits payable directly to the deceased employee’s statutory dependents. Accordingly, the child-support lien did not apply to Daniel’s death benefits. Further, because Daniel had no statutory dependents, there were simply no benefits to which the lien can attach in this case. As a result, the Commission properly dismissed the claim. The judgment of the Court of Appeals was reversed. The judgment of the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission was reinstated and affirmed. View "Young v. Air Masters Mechanical Inc." on Justia Law

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The Attorney General sought an accounting relating to the Trust, alleging that Shine, a trustee, failed to fulfill his duties and failed to create a charitable organization, the “Livewire Lindskog Foundation.” The court removed without prejudice Shine and the other trustees. The other trustees were later dismissed from the case. During his trial, Shine agreed to permanently step down. Addressing whether Shine should be disgorged of fees he was paid as trustee, the court found “that Shine violated most, if not all of his fiduciary responsibilities and duties.” The court nonetheless entered judgment in favor of Shine on many of the examples of his alleged breaches because the Attorney General either failed to prove that Shine was grossly negligent or failed to prove specific damages. Based on instances in which the Attorney General met its burden of proof, the court ordered Shine to reimburse the Trust for $1,421,598. The Attorney General sought (Government Code section 12598) reasonable attorney fees and costs of $1,929,757.50. The court of appeal affirmed an award of $1,654,083.65, finding that Shine is precluded from seeking indemnification from the Trust. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by declining to reduce the award based on the difference between the Attorney General’s goals and its results. View "Becerra v. Shine" on Justia Law