Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts
Perhaps it’s a phrase you’ve heard before but aren’t aware of the history behind it. (More on that in a minute.) A recent New Jersey court case brought the statement to mind and left me shaking my head because it just reinforces why clients so need my services. Allow me to explain.
The case involved I.M., a 79 year old grandmother who is the primary caregiver for her 21 year old mentally disabled grandson, J.M. (The court used initials to protect the family’s privacy.) Their sole source of income consisted of I.M.’s Social Security and J.M.’s disability benefits. They also both were Medicaid recipients.
One day the State of New Jersey’s Department of Developmental Disabilities sent I.M. a grant of $2000 to be used for J.M.’s benefit. She spent $500 and put the rest in the bank for later use, in a savings account payable on death to J.M. She later changed the account to show that I.M. held it as representative for J.M.
Well, maybe, if you are a frequent reader of my blog, you can guess what happened. That account, combined with another account I.M. owned, pushed her over the $2000 limit for Medicaid eligibility, or so said the government. The State demanded the money back on the threat that they would take away her Medicaid benefits. I.M. refused and the case went to court.
On appeal I.M. was victorious. The court said that the money wasn’t hers simply because she had physical access to it. She was merely acting in a fiduciary capacity, on J.M.’s behalf, as his representative. Of course the State gave her the money with that understanding in the first place, but that didn’t seem to stop it from taking action against her for accepting it.
And that’s what reminded me of the oft repeated phrase “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”. The saying is a reference to the story of how the ancient Greeks defeated the Trojans in a long war that lasted 10 years. Cities at that time were surrounded by walls to protect against invading armies. The Greeks couldn’t penetrate the walls of the City of Troy so they devised a clever plan. They pretended to “give up” by offering the Trojans a peace offering of sorts, a wooden horse. They left the gift outside the city gates and sailed away. The Trojans saw this and brought the gift inside and proceeded to celebrate their “victory”. In actuality, the gift was a trick to gain access to the city. Hidden inside the horse were 30 Greek soldiers. At night, while the city inhabitants slept, they opened the gates for the Greek army which had surreptitiously returned. Victory was theirs.
I am sure that I.M. would agree with my thoughts. Accept the government grant to help her son but beware, because the same government will try to take away her Medicaid benefits. It sure sounds sneaky and just reinforces to me why I do what I do as an elder law attorney, on behalf of my clients.