The repeal of an expanded definition of "estate" in Medicaid recovery cases has improved financial prospects for the surviving spouses and family members of Medicaid recipients, the president of the New York State Bar Association said today in response to passage of the state budget.

"A 2011 change in the definition of estate would have placed undue financial and legal obstacles on the resolution of an estate," said President Vincent E. Doyle III of Buffalo (Connors & Vilardo). "The decision to repeal it provides greater financial stability and peace of mind for New York families."

Although the expanded Medicaid recovery law took effect April 1, 2011, it was never fully implemented. It gave the state expanded powers to recover assets from the estate of a Medicaid recipient. It also broadened the definition of "estate" to include "any other property in which the individual has any legal title or interest at the time of death," including jointly held property, retained life estates and interests in trusts.

Had it not been repealed, the 2011 measure would have caused confusion over well-established legal rights and triggered lawsuits over the rightful ownership of the real property and other assets of an estate.

"This victory came about through no small effort by the Elder Law, Real Property, and Trusts & Estates sections of the Bar Association," Doyle said. "Through their persistence, dedication and keen analysis, they persuaded policymakers to repeal the measure."

In other action, the Legislature again rejected a proposal to eliminate the "spousal refusal" provision of the state Medicaid program.

"The removal of this vital protection might have forced elderly couples to divorce or separate just to maintain their homes and quality of life," said Doyle. "We are pleased to see that common sense and compassion prevailed."

Governor Cuomo had proposed eliminating the "spousal refusal" protection as a cost-saving measure, retroactive to April 2011. The proposal would have established eligibility for Medicaid home care services based on the financial resources of both spouses.

The 77,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar in the nation. It was founded in 1876.


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