State Cannot Seek Recovery from Medicaid Recipient’s Estate After Three Years

Massachusetts’ highest court rules that Medicaid may not recover from the estate of a deceased Medicaid recipient more than three after the recipient died. Matter of Estate of Kendall (Mass., No. SJC-12881, Dec. 28, 2020).

Jacqueline Ann Kendall received MassHealth (Medicaid) benefits before she died intestate in 2014. At her death, she had a half interest a house, a portion of which was recoverable by MassHealth. In 2018, one of Ms. Kendall’s heirs filed a petition for late and limited testacy and notified MassHealth. MassHealth filed a claim against the estate, but the personal representative denied the claim.

The personal representative argued that the MassHealth claim was time barred under Massachusetts law. State law provides that that creditors cannot file an action to recover more than one year after death and that formal probate cannot be opened more than three years after a decedent’s death. State law also allows MassHealth to file a claim within four months of the appointment of a personal representative or after the one-year deadline if probate has not been filed. Both parties moved for summary judgment. The probate court sent the case to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court grants summary judgment to the estate, holding that MassHealth is time barred from filing a claim. According to the court, the three-year deadline is an “ultimate time limit” for creditors. The court rules that the strict language of the law “limiting the personal representative's powers and explicitly barring claims, reflects a strict rule against any possibility of creditor recovery from an estate in late and limited testacy” and there is not an exception for MassHealth recovery. The court notes that MassHealth still has the “robust” ability to recoup benefits in a “system [that] provides distinct advantages to [MassHealth] over other creditors.” 

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