Medicaid, guardianship become issues in Ohio woman’s estate

Death may resolve caregiver’s claim on house
Rita Price
February 15, 2011
The Columbus Dispatch

A 74-year-old man fighting a Medicaid-related eviction order might not have to move, because the homeowner died yesterday and willed her house to him, an attorney said.

Ruth O’Brien, 94, had shared her Northwest Side home with Murrell Lewis for nearly 38 years and planned to leave him her entire estate.

But because she went into a nursing home in 2009, O’Brien’s court-appointed guardian said Lewis had to buy the house, pay rent or leave so that it could be sold to comply with Medicaid asset rules.

O’Brien’s death changes the debate, said Lewis’ attorney, David Belinky.

“They’re going to have to close the guardianship, and I assume (Lewis will) be named executor,” Belinky said. “It’s a little weird right now.”

The guardian, Columbus lawyer Amy Himmelrick, couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday.

She has said that Lewis made matters worse by refusing to cooperate with her and with adult protective services, which started an investigation after a doctor said that O’Brien’s health was deteriorating under Lewis’ care.

Belinky said he isn’t sure how much money is owed to Medicaid, the program that pays for health and nursing-home care for the poor and disabled. He and Lewis say it might not be much; O’Brien had a monthly income of about $5,000 in retirement and insurance benefits and so barely needed Medicaid.

Attorney fees and other costs from the guardianship likely would need to be paid from the estate.

“We would try to negotiate all debts and try to carry out Alma’s wishes from the beginning, which were that Murrell stay in the house,” Belinky said. “If not, and the house had to be sold, he’d wind up with the net assets anyway.”

Lewis had argued last week in Franklin County Probate Court that he had a right to remain in the house because he and O’Brien – a widow who had no children – were like mother and son. They had joint belongings and accounts, he said, and he became her caregiver.

Lewis said he’s glad he visited O’Brien often at the nursing home.

“I told her, ‘Even if I’m not here, I’m here in spirit,’” he said yesterday. “I made sure each visit was like it might be the last.”