These two appeals arise from the same set of circumstances. The plaintiffs, Phyllis Marcus and Selma Anderson, are the conservatrices for their mother, Ida Betzes, an incapable person. In the first case they appealed to the Superior Court from a disallowance by the Probate Court for the district of New Haven of an item in their account in which they asked to be allowed a credit for unauthorized gifts of certain property which belonged to their ward and which they gave to themselves and various members of the ward's family. The matter was referred to the Hon.
The facts and procedural history of these cases follow. Phyllis Marcus and Selma Anderson were appointed co-conservatrices for their mother, Ida Betzes, by the Probate Court for the district of New Haven in November, 1976. When they were appointed her conservatrices, Betzes had assets of $596,351.09 and ample income for her comfortable support. Between December, 1976, and December, 1979, the conservatrices made a series of gifts of the ward's property in the amount of $384,060.66. They gave $291,066.66 to themselves, and made gifts in the amount of $12,000 to each of their five children and to Edward L. Marcus and Donald B. Alderman, their spouses. They also gave $9000 to David Shifrin, the son-in-law of Phyllis Marcus. The cumulative effect of these gifts, together with management expenses, was the total depletion of their ward's estate. Betzes, who is over ninety years old, resides at a home for the aged. She is incapacitated due to advanced age and financially unable to pay for her care and maintenance.
On February 6, 1980, Phyllis Marcus, as conservatrix, applied to the department of income maintenance for medicaid benefits on behalf of her ward. After learning of the gifts that had depleted the estate, the department of human resources, as an "interested party" under General Statutes § 45-75, petitioned the Probate Court for an accounting of the estate's
We first address the conservatrices' claim that the Probate Court erred in its determination that the gifts from the assets of their ward's estate were unauthorized under Connecticut law. The Probate Court held that it had no power to authorize the gifts, and on appeal, the Superior Court agreed. At the time these gifts were made, our statutes did not authorize a conservator to make gifts from property of the ward's estate. "A conservator has only such powers as are expressly or impliedly given to him by statute. See Stempel v. Middletown Trust Co., 127 Conn. 206, 221, 222, 15 A.2d 305 . In exercising those powers, he is under the supervision and control of the Probate Court." Elmendorf v. Poprocki, 155 Conn. 115, 118, 230 A.2d 1 (1967). A "`conservator of the estate,'" under our law, is a person "appointed by the court of probate under the provisions of [General Statutes c. 779] to supervise the financial affairs of a person found to be incapable of managing his or her own affairs...." General Statutes § 45-70a(a). The statutory duties of a conservator are to "manage all the property [of the estate] and apply so much of the net income of the property, and, if necessary, any part of the principal of the property, which is required to support the ward and those members of the ward's family whom he has the legal duty to support and to pay his debts, and may sue for and collect all debts due him." General Statutes § 45-75 (a).
"The probate court is a court of limited jurisdiction and has only such powers as are given it by statute or are reasonably to be implied in order to carry out its statutory powers." Prince v. Sheffield, 158 Conn. 286, 293-94, 259 A.2d 621 (1969); Palmer v. Reeves, 120 Conn. 405, 408, 182 A. 138 (1935). "It is a familiar principle
Under our law, it is clear that the conservator acts under the supervision and control of the Probate Court in the care and management of the ward's estate. It is equally clear that the Probate Court is without jurisdiction to approve of any acts by the conservator unless those acts are authorized by statute. "A Probate Court judge is not a chancellor. His only equity powers are those which are incidental to, and connected with, the settlement of a particular estate." Palmer v. Hartford National Bank & Trust Co., 160 Conn. 415, 429, 279 A.2d 726 (1971). The facts of this case present no compelling circumstances for broadening these powers, since the record fails to establish what judgment the ward might have exercised in the face of her own total impoverishment. The power to make such gifts as were made in this case cannot reasonably be implied as necessary or incidental to a conservator's express duties under General Statutes § 45-75 (a). Therefore, the Probate Court correctly determined that it was without jurisdiction to allow them.
The Probate Court correctly held that the doctrine of substituted judgment had not been adopted in this state at the time these gifts were made. As stated above, this court traditionally has strictly construed the statutory powers of a conservator and the Probate Court in the management and administration of an incompetent's estate. In 1983, the legislature codified the doctrine of substituted judgment when it enacted No. 83-62 of the 1983 Public Acts, which sets forth limited conditions under which a conservator may make gifts from the property of the ward's estate. General Statutes § 45-75 (e).
We next address the conservatrices' claim that the department of income maintenance improperly denied their application for medicaid benefits on behalf of the ward. The principal issue in this regard is whether the ruling of the Probate Court disallowing the gifts made by the conservatrices rendered those funds available for purposes of determining the ward's eligibility for medicaid assistance.
Under applicable federal guidelines, the department of income maintenance must determine eligibility for medicaid assistance by "taking into account only such income and resources as are, as determined in accordance with standards prescribed by the Secretary, available to the applicant or recipient...." 42 U.S.C. § 1396a (a) (17) (B). Except in limited circumstances not pertinent here,
The conservatrices contend that the department of income maintenance in considering their application for medicaid assistance should have allowed relitigation of certain issues already decided by the Probate Court. They first argue that the Probate Court judgment was not final, and therefore ineffective, because the conservatrices had filed an appeal with the Superior Court. We disagree. The filing of an appeal from a judgment of the Probate Court does not act as a supersedeas. The
The conservatrices also argue that the department of income maintenance improperly relied on the judgment of the Probate Court in determining the ward's eligibility for medicaid because such reliance, they contend, was contrary to controlling federal law, and hence, invalid under the supremacy clause. The basis of their argument is that prior to the enactment of the Boren-Long amendment to the Social Security Act; Pub. L. No. 96-611, § 5, 94 Stat. 3567-68 (December 28, 1980), effective March 1, 1980, codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 1382b (c), 1396a (j); the act expressly allowed an otherwise qualified applicant whose assets exceeded financial eligibility limits to dispose of the excess assets in order to become eligible for supplemental security income benefits (SSI). 42 U.S.C. § 1382b (b). Furthermore, a state medicaid agency may not add eligibility criteria not expressly authorized by federal law. Philbrook v. Glodgett, 421 U.S. 707, 95 S.Ct. 1893, 44 L. Ed. 2d 525 (1975); Van Lare v. Hurley, 421 U.S. 338, 95 S.Ct. 1741, 44 L. Ed. 2d 208 (1975); Lewis v. Martin, 397 U.S. 552, 90 S.Ct. 1282, 25 L. Ed. 2d 561 (1970). Regulations issued by the secretary of health and human services prohibit a state medicaid agency from imposing eligibility requirements on medicaid applicants that are more restrictive than those imposed on SSI applicants. 42 C.F.R. § 435.401 (c). Federal courts construing these provisions have uniformly held
The conservatrices maintain that the ward could not have been denied medicaid benefits had she been competent and had she, rather than her conservators, made the gifts in these cases. They contend that the application of our probate laws to invalidate the gifts, merely because made by the conservatrices, and thereby to render the ward ineligible for medicaid benefits, effectively imposes an additional eligibility requirement not expressly authorized by federal law. In essence, the conservatrices seek to equate our pre-1983 probate restrictions on gifts by a conservator with transfer-of-assets restrictions generally.
Although the conservatrices' argument carries a superficial appeal, we find it unpersuasive. Transferof-assets restrictions were declared invalid because their essential purpose was to inhibit eligibility for medicaid benefits in direct contravention of then existing federal law. On the other hand, our probate laws are enforced to ensure that the ward, during incompetency, continues to live in the manner to which he or she is accustomed and to preserve the estate for the enjoyment of the ward upon his or her possible return to competency. Although the ward, if competent, might have
There is no error in either case.
In this opinion the other judges concurred.
"(b) For the purpose of this part, the commissioner of income maintenance shall consider parental income and resources as available to a child under twenty-one years of age who is living with his parents."