Federal Medicaid law allows states to place a lien on real estate that is not sold during the Medicaid application process.

The state Medicaid agency has the right to recoup what it spent on the Medicair recipient if the real estate is sold during the Medicaid recipient’s lifetime, and that is the point of the lien.

Even if a person applying for MassHealth in Massachusetts has a less than full ownership interest, such as a life estate, the MassHealth agency can place a lien on that ownership interest, with the understanding that, under Section (d) of Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 118E, Section 31, the agency can collect what is owed to it as of the date of sale.

After the MassHealth recipient’s death, however, the provisions of Sections (b) and (c) apply, and the agency is required to file an estate recovery cliam against the decedent’s probate estate in order to collect this debt. The actual procedures for making the estate recovery claim against the decedent’s probate estate in order to collect this debt. The actual procedures for making the estate recovery claim arelaid out in great detail in Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 118E, Section 32, and no reference is even made to the lifetime lien.

It is my understanding that the MassHealth agency has recently claimed in court cases that the lien survives the Meeicaid recipient’s death, but has glossed over the distinction between the lifetime lien and the post-death creditor claim which is filed against the deceased Medicaid recipient’s probate estate.

The MassHealth agency, which is part of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is required to implement federal Medicaid law, and is answerable to the federal government under the funding scheme of Medicaid known as cooperative federalism.

The federal agency that directly oversees the MassHealth agency in the federal-state structure, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. As the “single state agency” designated to deal with the federal government, the massHealth agency is charged with ensuring that all federal laws that govern the Medicaid program are followed. The state agency cannot do anything that is contrary to the directions it has received from the federal government, and cannot take any actions that go beyond theMassachusetts laws that have implemented federal Medicaid law.

In determining whether the lifetime lien survives the death of the Medicaid recipient, we need to look first and foremost at federal law, regulations and guidance, followed by state law establishing the MassHealth agency’s powers and duties, followed last by MassHealth regulations.

Thomas R. Mullen
Thomas R. Mullen has been an attorney since 1977 and has devoted his practice exclusively to elderlaw since 1988. He is nationally recognized as one of the foremost experts on Medicaid planning. His additional Practice areas include estate planning and trusts for disabled people, as well as assisting attorneys with Medicaid lien allocations and the Medicare Secondary Payer Act. In the Spring 2013 issue of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) Journal, Attorney Thomas R. Mullen of Quincy, Mass. was described by the Academy’s Massachusetts past president and law professor William J.Brisk as being “a prominent and innovative elderlaw attorney.”