Probate Court Must Take Medicaid Recipient's Obligations Into Account When Ordering Spousal Support

Reversing two probate court decisions, a Michigan appeals court rules that when a probate court is determining how much spousal support a Medicaid recipient's spouse is entitled to, it must take into account the Medicaid recipient's needs and patient-pay obligations. In re Vansach, Jr., In re Bockes (Mich. Ct. App., Nos. 334732 & 336267, May 22, 2018).

Joseph Vansach, Jr and Jerome Bockes were nursing home residents who began receiving Medicaid benefits. Their wives, Ramona Fenner-Vansuch and Beverly Bockes, each separately petitioned the probate court for a spousal support order, claiming they lacked sufficient income.

The state opposed the petitions, arguing that the wives were asking for an increase in their community spouse monthly income allowance (CSMIA) and that the probate courts lacked jurisdiction to modify the CSMIA. The probate courts granted the petitions and ordered that 100 percent of Mr. Vansach, Jr.'s and Mr. Bockes' income be paid to their wives. The state appealed both cases and the cases were consolidated.

The Michigan Court of Appeals reverses, holding that while a probate court has jurisdiction to enter a spousal support order that increases a community spouse's CSMIA, the court must take the institutionalized spouse into account. According to the court, the probate court's power "does not include the power to enter an order preserving the community spouse’s standard of living without consideration of the institutionalized spouse’s needs and patient-pay obligations under Medicaid."

For the full text of this decision, go to: http://publicdocs.courts.mi.gov/OPINIONS/FINAL/COA/20180522_C334732_59_334732.OPN.PDF

Don Rosenberg of the Troy, Michigan, ElderLawanwers member firm of Barron, Rosenberg, Mayoras & Mayoras, P.C., represented Mr. Vansach's estate.  "The gist of the case is that it is settled law that probate courts now have jurisdiction to enter support orders for the benefit of the community spouse in terms of income and assets," Rosenberg told ElderLawAnswers. "The standard the court used is clear and convincing as opposed to reasonable. The case has significant implications and provides a path to protecting assets and income for the community spouse beyond the statutory formula."

 

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