The following is ElderLawAnswers’ annual roundup of the top 10 elder law decisions from the past year, as measured by the number of unique pageviews each case summary received. Decisions appear in chronological order.
Most popular in 2023 among ELA members was Estate of Donald L. Demuth v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, which highlighted the potential negative impacts of last-minute estate planning. In this decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a ruling by the Tax Court that checks cashed after the death of the decedent were not completed gifts.
- Son Cannot Benefit From Trust Requiring His Specific Appointment in an Additional Testamentary Instrument Father Never Executed
The Supreme Court of South Dakota interprets an irrevocable trust agreement to benefit the settlor’s brother only. The settlor never executed a valid testamentary instrument designating his children as beneficiaries, which the terms of the trust required. In the Matter of Michael J. Tharaldson Irrevocable Trust II (N.D., No. 20220182, January 5, 2023).
- Massachusetts Supreme Court Limits Medicaid Planning
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court determines that the Executive Office of Health and Human Services is the beneficiary of an annuity a husband purchased to make his wife eligible for Medicaid. In Dermody v. Executive Office of Health and Human Services (Mass. SJC-13199, January 27, 2023).
- Ohio Court of Appeals Affirms Probate Court Decision Removing Administrator of Estate
An Ohio Court of Appeals affirms a probate court’s judgment removing an administrator of an estate and appointing a successor administrator. The trial court did not err in removing Ashley Thompson as the administrator of the Estate of George W. Nugent, nor did it err in finding that she committed a “per se violation” of her fiduciary duty of loyalty. In re Estate of George W. Nugent (2023-Ohio-700, Case No. 22AP-296, March 7, 2023).
- Court Invalidates Nursing Home Arbitration Agreement Resident’s Daughter Signed
The Supreme Court of Mississippi finds no valid arbitration agreement existed between a nursing home and a resident, as the resident’s daughter signed it without the authority to act as her mother’s health care surrogate. In Belhaven Senior Care v. Smith (Miss. No. 2022-CA-00050-SCT, April 6, 2023).
- Court Affirms Decision Finding Granddaughter Engaged in Financial Elder Abuse
A California Court of Appeals affirms a Los Angeles County Superior Court’s judgment finding Lisa Guillen liable for the financial elder abuse of her grandmother, Josephine De Anda. In De Anda v. Guillen (Cal. Ct. App., No. B318392, April 21, 2023).
- U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Homeowner in Tyler v. Hennepin
The United States Supreme Court has handed down a decision ruling in favor of an elderly homeowner who lost her real property to a tax foreclosure action. The homeowner, 94-year-old Geraldine Tyler, failed to pay property taxes on her condominium for several years. Hennepin County, Minnesota seized the property through tax foreclosure. The county then sold it for $40,000, reimbursed itself for the approximate $15,000 she owed, and kept the $25,000 excess. A unanimous SCOTUS court ruled that this violates the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution. It declines to rule on whether it also violates the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment. See Geraldine Tyler v. Hennepin County, Minnesota, et al., (U.S., No. 22–166, May 25, 2023).
- SCOTUS Rules Residents Can Sue Publicly Owned Nursing Homes
SCOTUS, in a 7-2 opinion, held that private persons can sue public nursing homes under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for violations of patient rights set forth in the Federal Nursing Home Amendments Act of 1987 (FNHRA). Justices Thomas and Alito dissented. See Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County, Indiana v. Talevski (No. 21-806, June 8, 2023).
- Divorce Stops In-Laws’ Inheritance
The Minnesota Supreme Court holds that a marriage dissolution prevents ex-inlaws from inheriting under the divorced husband’s will. In re Tomczik (Minn. No. A21-1420, Jul 5, 2023).
- Checks Cashed After Death Are Part of Estate
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit holds that checks cashed after the decedent’s death are still part of the taxable estate. In Estate of Demuth v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue (3rd Cir. No. 22-3032, July 12, 2023).
- Trustee Need Not Inform Remainder Beneficiaries
The Massachusetts Appeals Court holds that a trustee does not have a common law duty to provide information to the remainder beneficiaries. In Schwalm v. Schwalm (Mass. App. Ct. No. 22-P-783, July 7, 2023).