Monday, May 19, 2014
Casey Kasem, Mickey Rooney, Brooke Astor. High profile, recent examples of tough times for aging individuals. For lawyers, their histories demonstrate the challenges of planning. Lawyers juggle tough questions about how to handle waning capacity and respect an individual's preferences, while recognizing the probable need for safety and quality care. Add to this the reality that family members are often involved directly and indirectly. We hope everyone agrees and is well intentioned, but, there are no guarantees.
Texas Elder Law Attorney Renee Lovelace has a very good article from a few years ago, using another high profile example of the challenges of planning. She writes about economist and statistician Mollie Orshansky who passed away in 2006 at the age of 91. Orshanky's name has been in the news again recently because of renewed discussion of the "poverty thresholds" she articulated in the 1960s and which are still used (probably irrationally) as a measurement tool for public benefits.
In her later years, Orshansky was at the center of a dispute about care that might be in her "best interest" but that also might be inconsistent with her expressed wishes. In "Working with Elder Clients Who Refuse Help," (Texas Bar Journal, February 2008, available as downloadable PDF from archives), Renee writes:
"But when Ms. Orshansky needed assistance, she rejected help from family. She was hospitalized, and the court, critical of the family for not preventing her decline, appointed a nonfamily guardian. The resulting saga included an interstate guardianship battle, allegations of family kidnapping, a riveting series of Washington Post articles and Senate Committee hearings. While Mollie's story may be movie-worthy, it is alarming to realize that she did everything that we suggest clients do to plan ahead — and her case still had a disastrous result."
Lovelace identifies several key points to keep in mind when helping clients to plan ahead, including the importance of "the talk" with family members. She discusses the possibility of building in monitoring options, while also recognizing the potential for even the best intentioned caretaker or agent to make mistakes. She talks realistically about the need for balance between "people, paper and money."
What are other techniques and approaches -- more than just documents and legal advice -- that seasoned lawyers use to avoid these kinds of disputes? Feel free to add your "comments."