New York State Funeral Directors Association

The months following the death of my mother-in-law were difficult enough before an official-looking letter came in the mail, addressed to my wife.

She opened it up and just stared at the cold, bureaucratic text for a while. Her face was turning red as I asked “what’s going on?”

Her beloved Mom had received help paying for doctor appointments and prescriptions from Medicaid – and it appeared the government wanted her offspring to pay that money back.

Thankfully, it wasn’t what we thought.

It’s not something many hear about, but it’s so alarming when it arrives in the mail after the death of a loved one that people should know about it.

It’s Medicaid’s Estate Recovery program – an effort by the government to recoup what it can from the possessions of those who pass away after having been assisted by the Medicaid program.

If your elderly parent or other relative received Medicaid assistance for their healthcare and you’re the next-closest relative, you can expect a letter from your local social services office not long after the funeral.

Well, to be honest it was quite a while after my mother-in-law’s funeral when it arrived.

It was about the time when I thought the mailbox had stopped delivering periodic reminders of my mother-in-law’s passing.

You can’t avoid these triggers of bouts of grief, but I understand folks dreading them. It hurts to see others cry.


This probably won’t be a surprise to people: letters from government offices read like they’ve been written by the Borg or some emotionless curmudgeon unconcerned with the impact words have on people who are struggling with grief after loss.An example of the cold language used to communicate with relatives of the recently deceased

If there’s any chance some of these government types who write these letters might read this Blog post, this is for them: These letters you send out are being opened by the next-of-kin of people who passed away – so try to squeeze some compassion and decency into them. Please.

The general theme of the letter went something like this: your beloved received this much assistance from Medicaid and, now that they’ve passed away, we want that money back.

The government was calling for a “hold” on any of my mother-in-law’s possessions – in case they might be worth some money that could be used to pay those medical bills.

It’s the type of letter that you have to sit down to read if you haven’t heard about Medicaid’s Estate Recovery program.

It’s a bit shocking because most folks consider Medicaid to be one of those programs that’s paid for out of all the tax money the government collects from our paychecks, property and sales taxes and all the other money bled out of us each year.

Don’t get too upset when you see this letter – the government won’t be knocking on your door looking to sell your car to pay for your parent’s medical bills.

As it turns out, every state in the U.S. is required by the federal government to seek out and recover money spent on nursing home and other services, medical bills and prescriptions.

They send it out to the next of kin or closest relative they can find.

The government wants you to list all the assets your loved one left behind with the goal of getting reimbursed for these medical expenses.

In the event your loved one died without leaving a will, it’s likely you’ll be administrator for their affairs through the local Surrogate Court – at least in New York State outside of the Big Apple.

According to, however, states are not allowed to pursue recovery of Medicaid costs if the person who died has a living spouse or a child who is less than 21 years old, blind or disabled.

Helpful Links to Learn More about Medicaid Estate Recovery

New York State Medicaid Estate Recovery webpage from the NYS Health Department:

Article: “How Medicaid Recovers the Cost of Long-Term Care From Your Estate After You Die” on

New York State Court System’s Do It Yourself Forms Webpage


EdsPhotoEdward Munger Jr.
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association