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An Analysis of the Newly-Discovered “Law Review Form for Trusts” Utilized by MassHealth Lawyers

September 13, 2019

The newly-discovered “Law Review Form for Trusts” that is apparently utilized by MassHealth lawyers in their war on trusts gives us insight into what types of provisions in irrevocable trusts they deem attackable. It also shows us how unwilling they are to respect the law as ruled on by Massachusetts appellate courts. Let’s analyze what the MassHealth lawyers are telling us in their form, and look at their recent actions. (By the way, the abbreviation “A/S” used throughout the checklist apparently means Applicant/Spouse.)

____ The Trust is revocable. 130 CMR 520.023(C) or 130 CMR 520.022(A).

This checklist item may seem innocuous, but MassHealth lawyers have long taken positions that indicate they don’t seem to know or care what the word revocable means. See When Is a Trust Considered “Revocable” under Massachusetts Law, and Is It Unethical for a Governmental Lawyer Representing a State Agency to Misrepresent This Basic Information at a Fair Hearing? and also see Do the Lawyers Representing the Office of Medicaid in Massachusetts Know What a Revocable Trust Is?

Recently, MassHealth lawyers have been arguing that every nominee trust is a revocable trust, in part because a typical nominee trust states that “[a]ny trustee may without impropriety become a beneficiary hereunder” and also states that any beneficiary can cause termination of the trust. Apparently, in the minds of the MassHealth lawyers the termination of a trust by distributions to the beneficiaries somehow makes it revocable by the grantor, who may not even have any beneficial interest. Under this flawed analysis, the vested owners of any nominee trust could make any MassHealth applicant a beneficiary at any time, and that something already owned by somebody else is a countable asset because it can be given back to the MassHealth applicant, but under the analysis in Heyn v. Director of the Office of Medicaid, 89 Mass. App. Ct. 312 (2016), which was not appealed by the agency and is binding on the agency, the MassHealth agency cannot make that stretch: “[F]or purposes of computing countable assets, Medicaid does not consider assets held by other family members who might, by reason of love but without legal obligation, voluntarily contribute monies toward the grantor’s support.” Heyn at 318-319.

The Trust is irrevocable but there are circumstances under which Trust principal could be paid to, or for the benefit of A/S, including the following:

____ Under Section _____, Trust principal can be paid to or for the benefit of the A/S. 130 CMR 520.023(C) or 130 CM R 520.022(B)

The focus on this checklist item is on the phrase “for the benefit of.” Great creativity is exercised by MassHealth lawyers to concoct ways through which distributions can be made for the benefit of the MassHealth applicant, but Hearing Officer Susan Burgess-Cox recently blasted these lawyers for doing so; see page 6 of the fair hearing posted at https://irrevocabletrust.files.wordpress.com/2019/07/fair-hearing-decision-1901927-1.pdf.

The ruling in Daley v. Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services,  477 Mass. 188 (2017) states that the Trustee must have the legal authority to make a distribution, and is binding on the agency: “As the United States Supreme Court has declared, “the principle of actual availability . . . has served primarily to prevent the States from conjuring fictional sources of income and resources by imputing financial support from persons who have no obligation to furnish it or by overvaluing assets in a manner that attributes nonexistent resources to recipients.” Heckler v. Turner, 470 U.S. 184, 200 (1985). The “any circumstances” test for trusts requires an additional layer of analysis, but it does not depart from this fundamental purpose. See Guerriero, 433 Mass. at 634 (trust assets not available to applicant where trustee did not have “any legal discretion” to pay any part of trust principal to her).”

The Trust is irrevocable but there are circumstances under which Trust principal could be paid to, or for the benefit of, A/S including the following:

____ Under Section _____, the A/S can appoint direct payment of Trust principal to anyone on any conditions. 130 CMR 520.023(C) or 130 CMR 520.022(B)

This seems to be the two-step type of distribution already dismissed in the case of Heyn. As already mentioned above:  “[F]or purposes of computing countable assets, Medicaid does not consider assets held by other family members who might, by reason of love but without legal obligation, voluntarily contribute monies toward the grantor’s support.” Heyn at 318-319.

The Trust is irrevocable but there are circumstances under which Trust principal could be paid to, or for the benefit of A/S, including the following:

____ Under Section _____, the A/S can appoint direct payment of Trust principal to charitable or nonprofit organizations including nursing facilities to pay for their care. 130 CMR 520.023(C) or 130 CMR 520.022(8)

____ Under Section _____, the A/S can add charitable or nonprofit organizations including nursing facilities to pay for their care. 130 CMR 520.023(C) or 130 CMR 520.022(B)

These two denial reasons come from the remand issue in the Nadeau portion of the case of Daley, with the basic argument being that if you have the power to make a gift from the trust to charitable or non-profit organizations, then you can collude with a non-profit nursing home to apply the gift to your nursing home bill. MassHealth lawyers keep referring to the issue as having been ruled on in Daley, when there would have been no need for a remand if the SJC had actually ruled on the issue; during the Daley case, the Office of the Attorney General (representing the MassHealth agency) even wrote a letter to the SJC stating that the issue needed to be remanded so it could be ruled on by the agency before there was a judicial determination. On remand, the hearing officer approved the MassHealth application for Nadeau, and since that time numerous hearing decisions have reached the same conclusion. See the fair hearings posted at https://irrevocabletrust.info/category/fair-hearing-decisions/approval-at-fair-hearing/issue-power-of-appointment-to-charity/

The Trust is irrevocable but there are circumstances under which Trust principal could be paid to, or for the benefit of A/S, including the following:

____ Under Section _____, the A/S can serve as Trustee and receive Trustee compensation. 130 CMR 520.023(C) or 130 CMR 520.022(B)

This issue has not been ruled on by an appellate court in Massachusetts, but there are several reasons that it should not be problematic. First, there would have to be actual services for which the Trustee would need to issue an invoice, and it would not be reasonable for a Trustee to charge unlimited fees to drain a trust.

Second, if there ever were any such Trustee compensation, it would constitute taxable wages, and be “earned income,” falling under 130 CMR 520.009(C), a regulation that the MassHealth lawyers fail to mention in their legal briefs filed during fair hearings. To be compensated for services is not the same as being a beneficiary. If the grantor of a trust were an electrician and were hired to do some re-wiring at a house owned by the trust, that compensation would similarly be earned income, not a distribution of principal from the trust.

Third, federal Medicaid trust law defers to state law for trust interpretation. Under federal Medicaid trust law, whether a payment from a trust can be made is determined under state law. There are many reported Massachusetts cases where a beneficiary has served as a Trustee or a co-Trustee, and there is no Massachusetts case where compensation to a Trustee was even argued to be a potential asset. One might think that such an argument would have been made in a heated divorce if any lawyer thought the argument was not frivolous, or one might think a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee, whose role is to reel in as many assets as possible into the debtor’s estate for the benefit of creditors, would also have made such an argument if that lawyer thought the argument was not frivolous, but no such case exists.

Fourth, the MassHealth agency cannot utilize a methodology that is more restrictive than that used by SSI. See Lewis v. Alexander, 685 F.3d 325 (3d Cir. 2012), 42 U.S.C. § 1396a(r)(2) and 42 U.S.C. § 1396a(a)(10)(C)(i)(III). The MassHealth fact-finding process and trust law interpretation in this case is more restrictive than Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program procedures and federal law interpretation in the Program Operations Manual System (“POMS”) of the Social Security Administration. The POMS contains extensive sections regarding trusts that are meant to give guidance on how trusts should be treated for SSI (and, concomitantly, Medicaid or MassHealth) purposes, and there is not even the slightest hint anywhere in the POMS that potential Trustee compensation should be treated as a countable asset of the grantor.

Several hearing officer have reached the conclusion that the Trustee compensation issue was not a reason to treat a trust as a countable asset. https://irrevocabletrust.info/category/fair-hearing-decisions/approval-at-fair-hearing/issue-trustee-compensation/ In fact, in one fair hearing, the MassHealth lawyer even waived the argument after the agency had raised it on the MassHealth denial notice. See the fair hearing posted at https://irrevocabletrust.files.wordpress.com/2019/07/fair-hearing-decision-1900215-1905447.pdf  Where the MassHealth agency’s lawyer intentionally waived the issue there, it seems to be a violation of due process, administrative consistency and basic fairness for the agency to try to enforce that same position against other MassHealth applicants.

The Trust is irrevocable but there are circumstances under which Trust principal could be paid to, or for the benefit of A/S, including the following:

____ Under Section _____, the Trustee can use Trust principal to buy annuity, life insurance, long-term care insurance or other similar products for the benefit of the A/S. 130 CMR 520.023(C) or 130 CMR 520.022(B)

To the extent that annuities are mentioned here, and that was the very issue already ruled against in the case of Heyn v. Director of the Office of Medicaid, 89 Mass. App. Ct. 312 (2016), it does not appear that MassHealth lawyers have any respect for case law. “The analysis misapprehends the nature of annuity payments. Annuity payments are comprised of distinct constituent parts. One part is a return of a portion of the principal investment in the annuity itself; the other part is a portion of the investment income earned on the principal investment. … Out of each annuity payment, only the investment income portion would be available for distribution to the grantor from the trust; that portion of each payment representing a return of capital would be required by the trust instrument to be retained in the trust. The income portion available for distribution in such circumstances would be no different in character than interest earned on a certificate of deposit, dividends from stocks purchased and held by the trust, or other income earned on any trust assets. In all events, the trust principal is preserved in the trust, and is not available for distribution to the grantor under the governing provisions of the trust. … In particular, the allocation of annuity payments as between principal and income is governed by G. L. c. 203D, § 18(a), which creates a statutory presumption that any amount received by the trust, not expressly characterized as dividend or interest income, shall be allocated to principal. See also Restatement (Third) of Trusts § 110 (2011).” Heyn at 317-318.

The Trust is irrevocable but there are circumstances under which Trust principal could be paid to, or for the benefit of, A/S including the following:

____ Under Section _____, the Trustee can lend Trust principal to the A/S without adequate interest or security, 130 CMR 520.023(C) or 130 CMR520.022(B)

If the Trustee can make a loan, the Trustee has a fiduciary duty to make sure it can and will be repaid. The MassHealth lawyers are apparently arguing that if a Trustee can make a loan, the Trustee is presumed to have the legal authority to potentially cause great damage to the trust by giving money to the grantor and calling it a loan, yet there is nothing in Medicaid trust law that says Trustees can be presumed to act in foolish ways.

____ The Trust principal has been paid to, or for the benefit of, A/S. 130 CMR 520.023(C) or 130 CMR 520.022(B)

The foolish MassHealth argument often made in this regard is that if a Trustee messes up and makes an incorrect distribution to or for the MassHealth applicant, which would mean that the Trustee would incur liability to the trust beneficiaries for breach of fiduciary duty, the Trustee must continue doing so and incur further liability. This argument has already been shot down at fair hearings. See the fair hearings posted at https://irrevocabletrust.info/category/fair-hearing-decisions/approval-at-fair-hearing/issue-prior-breach-of-fiduciary-duty/

We will eventually come to a point, if we are not already there, where the continuation of many of these legal arguments is unethical governmental lawyering.

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