What Happens After I Die If I Received Medi-Cal?
After the Medi-Cal beneficiary's death, the State can make a claim against the estate of an individual who was 55 years of age or older at the time he or she received Medi-Cal benefits or who (at any age) received benefits in a nursing home, unless there is a surviving spouse or a minor, blind or disabled child. Thus, if there are any assets left in the estate of the deceased beneficiary, Medi-Cal will seek to be reimbursed for benefits paid. It is important to note that, even if you received Medi-Cal at home, any benefits paid while you were 55 years of age or older will be subject to Medi-Cal recovery.
How Much Can the State Recover?
California's definition of "estate" includes such assets as living trusts, joint tenancies, tenancies in common and life estates, although claims on the remainder interest in life estates are limited to those that were revocable. Many consumers place their property into living trusts, thinking that this will protect it from an estate claim. It does not. The State can still make a claim against property held in a living trust, joint tenancy or tenancies in common, as long as the beneficiary's name is still on the property at the time of death.
However, the amount of recovery is limited to the amount of benefits paid or the value of the beneficiary's estate, whichever is less.
When the State files an estate claim, they are also required to send an itemized billing of benefits paid over the deceased's lifetime. It is important to review the billing to see if there are any errors. Payments made for personal care services under the In Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program, the cost of premiums, co-payments and deductibles paid on behalf of either Qualified Medicare Beneficiaries or Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiaries (QMB/SLMB) are exempt from recovery. Thus, if payments for these services are included in the itemized billing, the collection representative should delete this from the billing.
How Do I Avoid an Estate Claim?
The best way to avoid an estate claim is to leave nothing in the estate. Most Medi-Cal beneficiaries leave nothing but a home. If the property is transferred out of the beneficiary's name during life, the state cannot place a claim. Any transfer of real property can have tax consequences that may outweigh a Medi-Cal estate claim. Currently, there are a number of legal options (irrevocable life estates, occupancy agreements, certain types of trusts) available to avoid probate, avoid tax consequences and avoid estate claims. Anyone considering a transfer of real property should consult an attorney experienced in the Medi-Cal rules and regulations.