A power of attorney does not have to return money she took from her now deceased principal because the power of attorney removed the money for Medicaid planning purposes. In re Estate of Hirnyk (Pa. Super. Ct., No. 84 WDA 2018, April 16, 2019).

Maria Hirnyk, a Ukrainian immigrant, did not drive and required assistance with transportation to doctors’ appointments, administering her medicine, organizing and paying her bills, banking and corresponding with family.

In 2009, Marjorie Weiblinger met Hirnyk at church. Weiblinger began to assist Hirnyk in meeting her needs. Thereafter, Hirnyk appointed Weiblinger as her agent under a power of attorney.

In 2012, a joint bank account was opened in Weiblinger and Hirnyk’s names with deposits solely from Hirnyk’s funds totaling over $90,000. At Hirnyk’s direction, Weiblinger contacted Attorney Carol Sikov Gross, a certified elder law attorney, to prepare legal documents. Later, Weiblinger transferred $60,720 from the joint account to a savings account in Weiblinger’s sole name. Subsequently, Weiblinger removed Hirnyk from the joint bank account. At that time, there was $30,078 remaining in the account. Hirnyk died on October 31, 2012.

The executor of Hirnyk’s estate filed a complaint claiming that Weiblinger engaged in self-dealing by transferring the funds in the joint account to herself, and asked the court to order Weiblinger to return the funds. In response, Weiblinger testified that Hirnyk directed her to take the funds out of Hirnyk’s name in an effort to reduce her assets to achieve Medicaid eligibility. Weiblinger testified that she did so, and never treated the funds as her own. Rather, she always believed that Hirnyk owned and controlled the funds. After conducting a hearing, the court denied the executor’s petition for a return of the funds. The executor filed an appeal.

The appeals court affirmed, finding the evidence substantiated the trial court’s conclusion that Weiblinger did not engage in self-dealing. Rather, according to the court, the evidence showed that “throughout her life, even near its end, Hirnyk was consistently strong-willed, independent, and always in control of her own decisions. In particular, Hirnyk was aware of, and in control, of her financial affairs.” And, the court held that “Weiblinger credibly testified that she removed the money only in an effort to reduce Ms. Hirnyk’s assets for Medicaid eligibility.”

For the full text of this decision, go to: In re Estate of Hirnyk

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