Linda Ershow-Levenberg, Esq.

About Linda Ershow-Levenberg, Esq.

Linda is the managing partner at Fink Rosner Ershow-Levenberg, LLC. She takes care of legal problems involving people who are aged or who have disabilities, by protecting access to government benefits and helping them make the necessary arrangements for life-long assistance or care. Linda has been certified in Elder Law (C.E.L.A.) by the National Elder Law Foundation since 1999. She strives to provide her clients with responsive representation delivered with personal attention, compassion, and commitment. Find out more about Linda Ershow-Levenberg

Tenancy by the Entirety – a form of ownership with special protections

In the recent case of  Jimenez v. Jimenez, N.J. Super. App. Div.(MAY 8, 2018) (approved for publication), the NJ Superior Court, Appellate Division rebuffed the efforts of a creditor to force the sale of a home owned by the debtor and his spouse as tenants by the entireties. Relying upon a New Jersey statute, the Court held that the legislature has prohibited spouses from severing their tenancy without the written consent of the other spouse, and therefore, the creditor of one spouse may not force such a severance in order to satisfy the debt. The statute is NJ Rev Stat § 46:3-17.4 (2013), which says: “Neither spouse may sever, alienate, or otherwise affect their interest in the tenancy by entirety during the marriage or upon separation without the written consent of both spouses. ” Before that statute was adopted in 2013, the Courts had discretion as an equitable matter to order a partition under certain circumstances. Newman v. Chase, 70 N.J. 254, 262 (1976).  The Jimenez Court did make a cautionary point: “That said, we do not preclude a remedy by a creditor against property held by tenants by the entirety when the title was deeded as a fraudulent conveyance in order to avoid known debts to creditors.”

What is Tenancy by the entireties? This  is a form of real property ownership reserved for lawfully married couples. The Deed normally uses language such as “X and Y, husband and wife,” or “X, married and Y his wife,” or perhaps “X and Y, wife and wife.” It must designate the marital relationship. In New Jersey, a couple who reside together but are not married cannot own property by the entireties. They may own the property jointly with survivorship, or they may own it together as “tenants in common” without survivorship. If the property is owned by a married couple by the entireties, then they each own 100% of all rights in the property, as neither spouse can transfer his/her interest without consent of the other spouse.  State law presumes that if a married couple acquire property, it is held by the entireties unless the Deed expressly states that they have a different form of ownership.

There are times that a married couple will choose to “sever” their ownership by transferring the property from entireties to tenants in common. However, all angles should be considered, since certain creditor protections could be lost while other objectives are accomplished.

Call for advice about senior care planning and property transfers ……… 732-382-6070

 

 

 

 

Who’s doing that Medicaid application?

An application for Medicaid to pay for nursing home care can be filed by the individual himself, his spouse, another relative by blood or marriage, a staff member of an agency of which the person is a client, the person’s physician, the person’s attorney, or a designated staff member at the nursing home. Of course, a court-appointed Guardian or Agent under Power of Attorney could also act on behalf of the applicant. Anyone other than the applicant him/herself is referred to as the “authorized agent.”  Whoever takes on that task should also accept the responsibility to monitor the file, collect the necessary verifications, take any necessary action to compel a third party to release records, file the application on time, and file appeals in a timely way. Potential legal hazards are lurking around every corner. There have been a series of cases recently involving authorized representatives which had disastrous results.

Sometimes the individual or family member appointed the nursing home or its affiliated application preparers to assemble and file the application, expecting to be relieved of any obligation to collect records. Sometimes it was the Agent under Power of Attorney or family member who started the application, but didn’t follow through due to difficulties collecting records and their own busy life. Sometimes the family member was led to believe that the County Board of Social Services would “assist with the application” by reaching out to get verifications that the family member couldn’t produce. In other cases, there were communications breakdowns between the affiliated authorized representative and the nursing home, or the representative and the family member. Either way, Medicaid eligibility is denied again and again for “failure to produce required verifications” or “failure to cooperate” with the application process. The individual is left holding the bag — with a huge debt and no source of ongoing payment — and the nursing home discovers that it has provided services without compensation.

Several recent cases illustrate the problem. The decisions are “not approved for publication,” which means they are not precedential and not binding on lower courts, but they do provide a window into what can go wrong in these situations.

In P.B. vs DMAHS and Atlantic County, a daughter of the applicant took on the obligation to file the application. The documentation was incomplete and after multiple communications to the daughter, the application was denied for failure to provide required documents.

In A.D. vs DMAHS and Cape May County, Future Care Consultants was the designated representative. The caseworker was sending his/her requests for more documentation to the nursing home, and the decision does not say anything about the communications between those two. However, the representative failed to investigate the questions at hand and therefore, did not provide the available verifications.

In V.S. vs DMAHS, (Passaic County), the Agent under Power of Attorney designated the nursing home as the Authorized Representative. The necessary documents weren’t all provided, and the application was denied. The nursing home neglected to appeal within the 20 day window, and filed the request for hearing 7 months later. DMAHS refused to grant a waiver of the 20-day appeal deadline, and this denial was upheld.

In W.S. vs DMAHS and Atlantic County Board of Social Services, the individual’s authorized representative  was the nursing home. It applied four times and each application was denied for failure to provide the necessary proofs. The Court held that the county agency had no affirmative duty to acquire the needed documents.

In J.H. vs. DMAHS and Ocean County Bd. of Social Services, the authorized representative was Future Care Associates. They failed to procure all of the necessary verifications, with the result that the application was denied.

An application for Medicaid in New Jersey requires copious financial records for every single asset owned by the individual or spouse during the 5 year look-back. Copies of cancelled checks, deposit slips, credit card statements, explanations for ATM withdrawals … everything is being scrutinized. Once the county board asks for more records, the turnaround time is pretty short.  The applicant probably doesn’t have those records lying around, and it can take months for the Authorized Representative to get the records. The Authorized Representative may not even know where to start looking, and may need help from immediate family members. It could become necessary to file a court petition to compel third parties to produce documentation.

What’s the solution? Advance preparation is vital. We encourage our clients to come in three to six months before the date they plan to apply, so there is time to gather up the necessary proofs. Also, if a family member or POA  is appointing somebody as the representative, s/he should make sure that it is crystal clear as to who is doing what, and that all necessary authorizations have been provided so that the  representative can do their job. The family member should certainly insist that the representative keep them informed of the status, including any threatened denials. And the contract with the representative should spell out the representative’s responsibilities.

Call us for advice about Medicaid eligibility, asset preservation and the application process .. 732-382-6070

 

 

 

 

Questions the Executor should ask the Estate’s Accountant

The house is sold, the estate’s debts and bills have all been paid, the accounting has been presented to the beneficiaries, they have signed off on the Release & Refunding Bonds, and now it’s time for the estate’s Executor or Administrator to distribute the estate to the beneficiaries according to the Will or according to the requirements of the law. The estate may have acquired dividends or interest or rents on which income tax must be paid. An income tax return has to be filed for the Estate if more than $600 in gross income was received, and in fulfilling his/her fiduciary duty, the Executor/ Administrator wants to be sure to investigate all available income-tax saving opportunities.

Here are a few of the questions to ask when you call the estate’s accountant: :

  1. What is the estate’s expected marginal tax bracket?
  2. Is it beneficial to pass the estate’s income and losses (if there is a loss on sale of assets such as stock or real property) through to the beneficiaries?
  3. Can income or loss be passed through in a year that the property isn’t actually distributed?
  4. If assets have to be distributed out in order to pass thru the tax liability, which plan saves the most taxes — distributing or holding?
  5. Is there any limit on the amount of losses that can be passed through to the beneficiaries?

Serving as Executor or Administrator is a job with many responsibilities. It’s vital that the fiduciary get advice on all of the steps required so that the interests of the beneficiaries are protected, and so that the fiduciary can be protected as well.

Call us for complete advice “A to Z” about the estate administration for decedents’ estates … 732-382-6070

CMS confirms that transfer penalty for Medicaid home care applicants starts to run at time of application

Followers of this blog know that when a person applies for Medicaid under the New Jersey MLTSS program or other state programs that pay for nursing homes, assisted living or home health care services, there is a 5-year look-back that is done by the agency to determine if a transfer penalty should be imposed for gifts made during the 5 years preceding the application. The penalty is a period of time in which the State won’t pay for the care. The greater the amount that was gifted, the longer the penalty period.

There has been a problem for years that was inadvertently created when the Medicaid law was amended by the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (“the DRA”). The problem was caused by an interpretive guidance memo called State Medicaid Director Letter (SMDL #06-018) published on July 27, 2006 by CMS. The DRA itself specified that the start date of the penalty was to be “the later of (1) the month during or after which a transfer is made or (2) the date on which the individual is eligible for medical assistance under the State plan and would otherwise be receiving institutional level care services.” See Secn. 1917(c)(1)(D) of the Act. However, the 2006 explanatory SMDL stated that the start date was “…the date on which the individual is eligible for Medicaid and is receiving institutional level of care services.” (emphasis added). The problem was obvious — it created a catch-22 in which the penalty wouldn’t start to run until the individual was receiving services, yet no services could be provided until a penalty period had ended! Also, the memo was at odds with prior positions that applied resource rules and transfer penalty rules uniformly to people applying for Medicaid in different settings.

Well it only took 12 years, but the good news is that CMS has just published SMD # 18-004 which clarifies the point once and for all: the start date for applicants for home and community services is the date on which they’d be receiving services were it not for the penalty period. Here it is: CMS SMD # 18-004

Asset protection is feasible even when a person is right on the verge of applying for Medicaid. Houses and other assets can be protected with proper senior care planning. Call us first, to advise you and prepare your Medicaid application…. 732-382-6070

Trustee of Special Needs Trust must be cautious in making reimbursements

A person who is receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) from the Social Security Administration must report changes in his income or resources (assets) to SSI, because this can affect his eligibility or the amount of benefits. If countable resources exceed $2,000 on the first of a month, eligibility can be lost. If the issue is detected after the fact, there can be a resulting overpayment than can take months to straighten out. If assets are placed into, or are being held in, a Trust, there might be an impact on eligibility depending on the terms of the Trust, how those assets are distributed by the Trustee, and how much control the SSI recipient has (if any) over the assets in the trust.

A Trust established with assets of the SSI recipient or applicant might be excluded from the $2,000 resource limit if it meets the many requirements  for a Special Needs Trust. Particular problems come up when somebody has been spending money on the beneficiary and needs to be reimbursed by the Trustee. The payments out of the Trust to that third party may be viewed by the Agency as improper disbursements that violate this “sole benefit” requirement if the trustee can’t produce satisfactory proof to justify the reimbursement. If the payments are made out of a first party trust, the entire corpus (principal; value) of the Trust may be treated as an available resource because the payments to the third party are “not for sole benefit” of the Trust beneficiary. If cash is just transferred out of the Trust to the third party’s account to use for the beneficiary, this can create problems as well.  The standards are explained by the Social Security Administration in this section 01120.201.2.b of of the procedure manual called the “POMS,”  where it says, ” …do not consider a trust that provides for the trust corpus or income to be paid to or for a beneficiary other than the SSI applicant/recipient to be established for the sole benefit of the individual.” The POMS continues:

. ” Exceptions to the sole benefit rule for third party payments

“Consider the following disbursements or distributions to be for the sole benefit of the trust beneficiary:

  • Payments to a third party that result in the receipt of goods or services by the trust beneficiary;
  • Payment of third party travel expenses which are necessary in order for the trust beneficiary to obtain medical treatment; and
  • Payment of third party travel expenses to visit a trust beneficiary who resides in an institution, nursing home, or other long-term care facility (e.g., group homes and assisted living facilities) or other supported living arrangement in which a non-family member or entity is being paid to provide or oversee the individual’s living arrangement. The travel must be for the purpose of ensuring the safety and/or medical well-being of the individual.”

These are limited exceptions. If the Trustee is issuing payments to individuals under the guise that it is a reimbursement for expenditures that aren’t within these narrow categories, there will be a presumption that the trust is giving out money to third parties unless the Trustee can prove otherwise. The Trustee of any Trust for benefit of a person on SSI needs to assume that s/he will have to provide accountings and receipts in exquisite detail for scrutiny by the Social Security Administration. Great care should be exercised once a trustee takes on this major responsibility.

For advice on establishing and administering Special Needs Trusts, call ….. 732-382-6070