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State Dep’t of Human Res. v. Estate of Ullmer, 87 P.3d 1045 (Nev. 2004)

Prior to his death, Harold Ullmer was on Medicaid. At his death, Harold and his wife, Agnes, owned their home in joint tenancy. Agnes continued to reside in the home. The State recorded a notice of lis pendens against the property, and filed a petition seeking to impose a lien in the amount of $144,475.76 to protect its future estate recovery claim. The lien did not indicate that it applied only against Harold’s interest in the home existing at the time of his death. The lien also failed to state that the lien would be released if Agnes sought to sell the home or encumber it. Agnes filed a counterclaim seeking to enjoin the State from imposing the lien and seeking class status for other surviving spouses. The district court granted the injunction. On appeal, the Court reversed. The court initially found that anyone who takes property upon the death of a Medicaid recipient, through inheritance, assignment, joint tenancy, etc., takes it subject to the government’s estate recovery claim. However, in the case of a surviving spouse, that claim may only be made after the surviving spouse’s death. The court held that the State may impose a lien on the property prior to the surviving spouse’s death, but the government’s right to impose a lien is not absolute. State must release the lien if the surviving spouse demands its release in connection with a bona fide sale. “It is clear that Congress intended that a surviving spouse be free to utilize the estate property during the spouse’s lifetime.”

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