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Wrong Advice From Eligibility Worker Leads to Loss of Home

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APRIL 25, 2005  VOLUME 12, NUMBER 43

The Medicaid worker was helpful, seemed to understand the question and knew the answer. The applicant’s guardian/conservator asked the right question. Unfortunately, the worker’s answer was just plain wrong. When the guardian/conservator relied on that wrong information, he lost out—and lost the Medicaid recipient’s home after her death.

Richard Knori was his grandmother’s guardian (of the person) and conservator (of the estate) because she could not handle her own affairs. He knew that he would have to place her in a nursing facility of some kind, and so he contacted the local Medicaid office about assistance with the cost of her care. Eligibility worker Hazel Staley assured Mr. Knori that his grandmother could qualify for Medicaid while retaining her home, and that the state would not take the home after her death.

Mr. Knori did apply for Medicaid for his grandmother, and she was picked up by the program in April, 1995. By the time of her death in 2001 she had received $259,446.38 in Medicaid assistance. After her death, Mr. Knori moved to probate her estate and dispose of her home, the only significant asset she had been allowed to retain.

The Medicaid agency promptly made a claim against the estate for the value of its services—effectively demanding her home or the entire proceeds from any sale. Mr. Knori objected, pointing out that he had relied on the misinformation he had gotten from Ms. Staley. He maintained that the state should be bound by what he had been told (what in the law is called “equitable estoppel”).

The Wyoming Supreme Court disagreed. Although the state high court did not condone the Medicaid worker’s mistake, it held that Mr. Knori had not shown “affirmative misconduct” on the part of the eligibility worker. In the absence of such a showing, Mr. Knori could not rely on what he had been told by a state employee. Knori v. State Department of Health, Office of Medicaid, April 14, 2005.

What might Mr. Knori have done differently if he had gotten accurate information? He might have been able to sell the home, apply a portion of the proceeds to his grandmother’s nursing home care and use the rest for care needs that would not be provided by Medicaid. He might even (with court approval) have been able to make a gift to family members—especially if any one of them suffered from a disability. He could have purchased an interest in the home himself (again with court approval) in a manner that preserved it after his grandmother’s death.

The moral: you rely on government workers for an explanation of Medicaid and other complicated programs at your own peril. No matter how helpful, friendly and well-informed they are, it makes sense to seek complete information.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

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Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.