Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Representatives from some 16 countries participated in the 2014 International Elder Law and Policy Conference at John Marshall Law School on July 10-11. There was impressive participation -- especially given the distances for travel to attend the short and intense conference -- by faculty members from Australia, including Dean Wendy Lacey from the University of South Australia School of Law, Associate Dean Meredith Blake from the University of Western Australia School of Law, Lisa Barry from Macquarie University Law School in Australia, and Eileen Webb from the University of Western Australia School of Law.
I learned that there is a strong research network on law and ageing topics in Australia, ARNLA. Many of the issues they are addressing mirror issues recognized elsewhere in the world, even as the laws and standards may differ between the countries. Several of the Australian participants reported on recent research or works in progress.
For example, Meredith Blake addressed the challenge of using advance directives to honor the directions or wishes of a principal after the individual develops dementia. She pointed out that unlike some U.S. states that require agents to follow the principal's known wishes or directions, in Queensland the use of a "best interest" standard for agents acting under health care directives may frustrate the wishes of the principal. Using a detailed and realistic hypothetical to illustrate concerns, Professor Blake urged adoption of a more flexible approach.
Eileen Webb's presentation focused on how property law concepts in Australia may help or hinder efforts to respond to instances of potential financial abuse, as where an older individual allows or directs transfer of property interests to other family members or unrelated individuals "without adequate protection or for consideration which is illusory."
Professor Webb introduced me to a new but useful label,"family accommodation arrangements," which she reported was one of the most frequent sources of concern for elder abuse in Victoria. I was particularly impressed by graphs she created to illustrate and organize potentially applicable legal theories, including fraud, undue influence, estoppel, failed joint ventures, common intention and contributions to purchase price for third parties. The theory of law used to pursue a claim may affect the relief available. Professor Webb urged adoption of specific legislation in Australia to better address the potential for abuse through property transfers.