Tuesday, October 6, 2015

"Over the Hill" as an Evolving History Lesson

We have mentioned Hendrik Hartog's book, Someday All This Will Be Yours: A History of Inheritance and Old Age, (Harvard Press 2012) on this Blog as we did on this post outlining a recent symposium law review with articles inspired by the book.  I've been remiss, however, in not recommending the book directly. 

So let me correct that oversight now.  If you haven't read Princeton Professor Hartog's book, or if (as was true for me for too long) you have allowed the book to sit on your "to read" stack, it's time to get to it.  The book is a treasure of analysis, commentary, legal history, critique and provocation arising from the simple proposition that in many relationships, someone often utters (or thinks they have heard) words to the effect, "when I'm gone, someday, all this will be yours."  The underlying legal question is what happens when no document (such as a will, a trust, or a contract) puts that pledge into writing.

I find much to talk about when reading Hartog's words.  One curious item he describes is a poem, "Over the Hill to the Poor House," published by Will Carleton in 1872.  Hartog explains that the poem is the source for the now common saying "over the hill" to refer to persons of a certain age.  But Hartog points out that the poem's poignancy comes from its all-too-true narrative by one woman about what it can be like to grow old, frail and widowed, even if you have a large family of loving children.

From the closing lines of the poem:

An’ then I went to Thomas, the oldest son I’ve got,
For Thomas’s buildings’d cover the half of an acre lot;
But all the child’rn was on me—I couldn’t stand their sauce—
And Thomas said I needn’t think I was comin’ there to boss.

An’ then I wrote to Rebecca, my girl who lives out West,
And to Isaac, not far from her—some twenty miles at best;
And one of’em said’twas too warm there for any one so old,
And t’other had an opinion the climate was too cold.

So they have shirked and slighted me,an' shifted me about-
So they have well-nigh soured me,an' wore my old heart out;
But still I've borne up pretty well, an' wasn't much put down,
Till Charley went to the poor-master, an' put me on the town.

Over the hill to the poor-house--my chil'rn dear, good-by!
Many a night I've watched you when only God was nigh;
And God 'll judge between us; but I will al'ays pray
That you shall never suffer the half I do to-day.

And for a colorful "sung" version of the poem, with a change in gender for point-of-view, go to Lester Flatt and Earl Scrugg's version of Over the Hills to the Poorhouse

Over 140 years later, we still hear the phrase "over the hill" in less-than-kind contexts, but one hopes the prospects for care and assistance are not quite as grim as described in these verses. 

October 6, 2015 in Books, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

New York Ethics Opinion Addresses Potential Conflicts in Elder Law Practice

A New York ethics opinion issued July 27, 2015 is a useful reminder of the possibility -- indeed probability -- that law firms well known for specializing in elder law or estate planning may be approached by successive generations of family members, thus creating potential issues of confidentiality (and more). 

In the matter under consideration, involving a small law firm that practiced "primarily in the fields of estate planning and administration, trusts  and elder law," two of the lawyers had a long relationship with a "father," including representation of the father in a contested adult guardianship case. 

Later, a different lawyer in the firm met with a "son" of the father to discuss personal estate planning following a "public seminar" hosted by the firm.  That lawyer did not conduct a "conflict check" before a first meeting, one on-one, with the son.  (One can see how a law firm might be tempted to skip or delay a step in conflict-checking when organizing these kinds of business-generating efforts, a potential not directly addressed in the New York opinion. Would disclaimers or warnings about "client relationships" not forming immediately remedy potential problems -- or perhaps make them even more complicated?)

The law firm, upon discovering the potential for concerns, made the decision not to go forward with representation of the son, and then asked the New York State Bar Association's Committee on Professional Ethics for guidance on whether rules either "required" or "permitted" the law firm to disclose to the father the son's request for representation, or whether the firm was prohibited from further representation of the father.

For the New York ethics committee's interesting analysis,  see New York Ethics Opinion 1067.  For a contrasting "multi-generational" representation problem involving a husband's undisclosed "heir," see A. v. B., decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1999, a case that is a good springboard for discussion of professional responsibilities for attorneys in the course on Wills, Trust & Estates (as I discovered in the Dukeminer/Sitkoff textbook). 

September 10, 2015 in Books, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

"Sixty-five is the New Sixty-four!"

Recently I was listening to satellite radio while on the road, and caught a Fresh Air interview with Robert Price, celebrated author of hardscrabble crime fiction, including Clockers (2008)and his most recent novel The Whites (2015).  Is it my imagination, or are "older adults" appearing more and more often in mainstream fiction and movies?  Apparently a central character in The Whites is just such an "senior."  In Price's interview, I was struck by the humor of his observations about how growing older himself has influenced his writing, but also about much his grandparents' lives affected his fiction.  And I couldn't help but laugh when he observed that no one likes the "math" as you get older, although he is now the first to admit that "65 is the new 64."  Here's a link to the 44 minute podcast with Terry Gross. 

August 26, 2015 in Books, Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

AARP & ABA Join Forces on "Checklist for Family Caregivers"

Sally Hurme, J.D., adds another useful book to her long list of consumer-friendly publications.  In Checklist for Family Caregivers, published and marketed jointly by AARP and the American Bar Association, offers "to do" and "action" checklists to guide family members as key providers of care and assistance for seniors.  Each topic is introduced by brief narratives of explanation, often with an emphasis on legal implications of decision-making.  For example Chapter 6 is on "Deciphering Contracts," and describes different components of family caregiver agreements, home care service agreements (whether directly or through an agency), assisted living agreements, and skilled nursing care contracts, plus a few points about long-term care insurance policies. 

Think of this book as the starting place -- and a wonderful opportunity to organize thoughts for meetings with doctors, agencies, social workers or lawyers.  More information about the book is available on the ABA webpages (with a member discount, and "bulk discounts are available"), on AARP's webpage, or directly through Amazon. 

July 29, 2015 in Books, Consumer Information, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Property Management | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Where There's a "Will," There's a Way....

I'm visiting family in the Southwest as I type this entry.  To say that I come from a family of pack rat readers is an understatement.  Every room in my parents' three story old house has stashes of books, even the bathrooms.  In one room, I think the bed is entirely supported by books stacked neatly underneath it.  (And this is a looooong family tradition; I can remember vacations in Wisconsin where the prized activity was digging through old books and ancient Saturday Evening Posts in a cousin's attic, to find the perfect text for reading on the screened- in porch on a rainy summer day).

This week's discovery was an article in the Winter issue of the Journal of the Southwest, a refereed journal  published quarterly at the University of Arizona.  "The Eclipse of the Century," tells the story of married scientists Cecile DeWitt-Morette and  Bryce Seligman Dewitt, who pursued greater understanding of Einstein's theory of relativity. A goal was to observe one of the longest total eclipses of the sun, taking the highest-quality possible photographs in order to measure and document "bending" of light caused by the pull of gravity.  The opening paragraph of the article by University of Texas PhD candidate David Conrad hooked me:

 Cécile DeWitt-Morette sat on a roof in a sandstorm in the Sahara Desert. It was 10:30 a.m. on June 30, 1973, and nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If the storm did not let up soon, all was lost. A year and a half of preparation and approximately $100,000 in grants would be for naught, and a similar opportunity would not come for another 18 years. But Cécile had no power over the wind or sand or time. She could only wait. Beneath her feet, inside the structure she and her colleagues from the University of Texas (UT) McDonald Observatory built, her husband Bryce DeWitt—head of the expedition—and five other men waited for the storm to abate. The clock ticked off the seconds, and still the sand blew. All the money and effort spent to send these people here, to the oasis of Chinguetti in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, could not alter the forces of nature.

You may be asking, "How on earth is this a topic for the Elder Law Prof Blog," right?  The answer comes from the fascinating start to UT's decision to develop a top-flight team of academic researchers.  It began with a "will."  The article continues...

Continue reading

July 28, 2015 in Books, Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, International, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

New Book: Dry Bones in the Valley

With just a few weeks left before law school classes start again, I hope your summer writing and research projects are well underway, giving you time to relax a bit with a good beach read.  I've got one to recommend, too.  It's Dry Bones in the Valley by Tom Bouman

The mystery is set in northeastern Pennsylvania, where old time music haunts the air, mixing with the off and on whine of modern day fracking.  One of my favorite authors is Tana French, whose Dublin-based "police procedural mysteries" are an excuse for deep exploration of the human condition. Tom's debut novel is in that tradition, even bringing to bear an Irish spirit or two. I like it best when I can see, hear and "feel" the settings in a novel, as in this passage, where bone-tired Henry Farrell struggles to find balance while carrying out his official duties as the rural township's investigator:

I knew I wouldn't sleep and likely shouldn't with my head the way it was.  Went back inside, got out my fiddle, and rosined the bow....


I needed something I could rip into. "Bonaparte's Retreat" found me. . . . By the time I got to the modified part B Copland had made so famous, I had to stop and breathe.  I thought of George Ellis.  Got a piece of paper and curled it into a funnel, poured the rest of my whiskey back into the bottle, and went to bed, but never to sleep.


It's not hard to get up if you never go down.  Dawn brought a hint that the weather might get clearer.  With enough pain pills, my head would too.  The eastern sky was bright as a wild rose as I walked stiff-backed from my woodpile with an armload for the stove.  The snow had melted, and my boots left prints on a field that, newly bared, crackled underfoot and shimmered silver; it was a beauty that would not last another ten minutes, so I dropped the firewood and stood and watched the night's frost dissolve into morning mist.  Somewhere in the tree line, a bluebird burbled a tune, but I couldn't pick him out.  It was the first songbird I'd heard that spring....

Strong writing, yes? But, how does this particular book relate to the Elder Law Prof Blog?  Well, as you may have come to expect from me by now, one reason is a central character in the mystery, ol' Aub, may -- or may not -- be too old to remember the truths of what happened.

Another reason is the author is a current Penn State Dickinson law student, and his new book has already earned a 2015 Edgar Award for best first novel and a 2015 Los Angeles Times Book Award for best mystery/thriller. 

Congratulations, Tom! 

July 26, 2015 in Books, Cognitive Impairment, Crimes | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 24, 2015

From SSRN: "Abuse of Elders with Mental Illness" by Prof. James T.R. Jones

Professor James T.R. Jones continues to bring his unique and important perspective to bear in his latest work available on SSRN.  In Abuse of Elders with Mental Illness: Generally an International and Specifically a United States Perspective, he highlights the ways in which various types of mental illness may contribute to unique vulnerability to abuse as the individuals age.  This is a chapter from a new book, International and Comparative Law on the Rights of Older Persons edited by Ralph Ruebner, Teresa Do and Amy Taylor published by Vandeplas Publishing in May 2015. From the SSRN abstract on Professor Jones' chapter:

Elder abuse is a major international problem, and scandal.  It is so important that both the United Nations (“UN”) and the World Health Organization (“WHO”) have focused on it.  Elder abuse occurs in a variety of ways.  It can be physical abuse due to either active injury or passive neglect.  It can be psychological abuse through fear and intimidation.  It can be financial abuse due to theft or fraud.  Abusers can be strangers; healthcare workers, too often in nursing home settings; and spouses, partners, children, grandchildren, or other relatives.  Abusers may be motivated by cruelty, laziness, or greed for quick profit or a premature inheritance.

While all elders can be abused, those with mental illness are particularly vulnerable.  This group can encompass both those with longstanding mental illnesses such as major depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder and those psychiatrically debilitated by age, notably including those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.  Victims may be living in private residential settings both alone and with family or friends or in institutions such as nursing homes.

This chapter gives a brief overview of elder abuse and then focuses on the victim population of those vulnerable because of mental illness and how they face abuse.  It discusses possible ways to reduce the incidence of abuse of those with psychiatric conditions including, among other things, mandatory abuse reporting and enhanced focus on the problem by government, in particular law enforcement, authorities and primary care and mental health care providers.

The book is another important product from John Marshall Law's summer 2014 forum examining the rights of older persons, leading to the summer' "Chicago Declaration on the Rights of Older Persons" presented before the United Nations' working session on aging.   


July 24, 2015 in Books, Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Discrimination, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, International | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Book: One-Stop Guide to Dementia

A new book from the U.K. by June Andrews is titled Dementia: The One-Stop Guide, and it offers practical advice for families, professionals, and people living with dementia and Alzheimer's Disease. The Table of Contents suggests the scope:

  1. What is dementia?
  2. Getting a diagnosis
  3. Adjusting to the news: for carers
  4. Adjusting to the news: for people with dementia
  5. What are friends for?
  6. Managing care at home
  7. Disturbing Behaviours
  8. Your dementia-friendly home
  9. What you should expect from the social care system
  10. What you should expect from the NHS
  11. The dangers of a hospital admission and how to avoid them
  12. Some important legal issues
  13. What to look for in a care home
  14. Advice on complaints and sample letter

I wonder how Chapters  9 and 10 would be written from a U.S. perspective?


July 21, 2015 in Books, Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, International | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

What If Harper Lee Published a Third Novel...?

George Washington Law Professor Naomi Cahn observes that it is hard to find humor in the drama that appears to underlay the publication of Harper Lee's second novel.  Professor Cahn passes along The Onion's ability to do just that with a satirical prediction of Harper Lee's third novel:  "Shocking the literary world once again, acclaimed author Harper Lee announced through her publisher Tuesday the surprise release of her third novel, My Excellent Caretaker Deserves My Entire Fortune...."

A rueful smile here... 

July 16, 2015 in Books, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 6, 2015

California State Bar Offers On-Line Guide for "Seniors and the Law"

SeniorsEnglish2015COVERThe State Bar of California offers an on-line "guide for maturing Californians," available in PDF format.  This is an updated, 2015 version. At first I was a bit dubious, as the length is just 12 pages and the print is small. However, on closer look (and with the help of that little built-in magnifying class for reading PDF documents on line), I found it fairly comprehensive and a good starting place. It works not just for seniors but the whole family. 

Written in a logical Q & A format, often starting with "yes or no" answers before offering a more detailed explanation and suggested resources, the brochure covers topics such as:


  • What is Supplemental Security Income?
  • Can my landlord evict me for any reason at all?
  • Can I install grab bars, lower my counters or make other needed modifications over my landlord's objections?
  • How is Medi-Cal different from Medicare?
  • How can I help ensure that my affairs will be handled my way if I become incapacitated?
  • If my elderly mother gives away her assets, will Medi-Cal pay for a nursing home?

In addition, the brochure describes more subtle topics such as how "assisted living communities," may differ (and be covered by different regulations ) than "continuing care retirement communities," or why "living trust mills" are something to avoid.  It warns that insurance brokers and agents other investment advisors are prohibited in California from using "senior specific" certificates or designations to mislead consumers. 

According to the July 215 issue of the California Bar Journal, the senior guide is available in both Spanish and English, although I could only find the English version on-line.  Free print copies are available for order (although donations to offset costs are accepted!)  

Thank you to Professor Laurel Terry for sharing this resource! 

July 6, 2015 in Books, Consumer Information, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, Social Security, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Washington Post Op-Ed: Summer Reading Suggestions for Law-Students-To-Be

George Mason University Law School Michael Krauss offers an list of books for newly admitted law students to read over their summer vacation.  Interesting selections, both expected and unexpected.  Here are a few of his recommendations from his recent Washington Post Op-Ed:

1. Truman Capote, “In Cold Blood,” 1966. Capote’s masterful account of the 1959 murders of Herbert Clutter and his family in Holcomb, Kan., “In Cold Blood” is a study in evil. It is also a provocative examination of our criminal justice system and capital punishment.


2. Brooke Goldstein and Aaron Eitan Meyer, “Lawfare: The War Against Free Speech,” 2011. “Lawfare,” the use of litigation as a weapon to silence and punish an opponent, is a significant challenge to free speech and rule of law today. Bad lawyers created lawfare; good lawyers must combat this subversion of the goals of our profession.


3. Harper Lee, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” 1960. Read this high school favorite again, and this time focus on the jurists: the judge, the prosecutor and defense attorney Atticus Finch himself. Did Atticus react ethically to the racism of the system? How should you behave, as a lawyer, when presented with a case of flagrant injustice?

At least a couple of the selections, including the Federalist Papers and the reasons for suggesting B.F. Skinner's Walden Two, strike me as uniquely consistent with George Mason Law's approach to "law and economics."   But I also suspect that even seasoned law professors could benefit from any of these relevant, if perhaps unusual, summer "beach" reads. 

July 6, 2015 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 19, 2015

Symposium Issue Responds to Hartog's "Someday All This Will Be Yours"

The Spring 2015 issue of the ABA publication Law & Social Inquiry has a great symposium review section offering a broad array of essays, commenting on Hendrik Hartog's important book Someday All this Will Be Yours: A History of Inheritance and Old Age (Harvard University Press: 2012). 

The impressive list of contributors includes:

Plus, historian Hendrik Hartog provides his own commentary and response! 

Suffice it to say if you appreciated Hartog's book, you will thoroughly enjoy his additional musings on how he came to write it and what it might mean for the future. 

The comments are engaging and relatively brief -- but should still keep you busy on a summer weekend.

June 19, 2015 in Books, Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Discrimination, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 15, 2015

On the Importance of "Being Mortal"

During the last six months, the book most often recommended to me has been Being Mortal, written by Boston surgeon (he's more than that...) Atul Gawande.  Now I too can recommend this book to others.

What is unusual about this book is that it reminds us how deeply doctors themselves are affected by the strengths and limits of their profession, while also helping everyone think more deeply about key issues of living and dying.  The author is a candid, persuasive writer.  Early in the book, Dr. Gawande explains:

"You become a doctor for what you imagine to be the satisfaction of the work, and that turns out to be the satisfaction of competence.  It is a deep satisfaction very much like the one that a carpenter experiences in restoring a fragile antique chest or that a science teacher experiences in bringing a fifth grader to that sudden, mind-shifting recognition of what atoms are.  It comes partly from being helpful to others.  But it also comes from being technically skilled and able to solve difficult, intricate problems.   Your competence give you a secure sense of identity.  For a clinician, therefore, nothing is more threatening to who you think you are than a patient with a problem you cannot solve.


There's no escaping the tragedy of life, which is that we are all aging from the day we are born.  One may even come to understand and accept this fact.  My dead and dying patients don't haunt my dreams anymore.  But that's not the same as saying one knows how to cope with what cannot be mended.  I am in a profession that has succeeded because of its ability to fix.  If your problem is fixable, we know just what to do.  But if it's not?  The fact that we have no adequate answers to this question is troubling and has caused callousness, inhumanity, and extraordinary suffering. 


This experiment of making mortality a medical experiment is just decades old.  It is young.  And the evidence is it is failing...."

Pretty potent stuff, right? 

June 15, 2015 in Books, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Science | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Time for Heart to Heart Conversations With Family and Caregivers

An essay I read when it was first published in the New York Times Magazine in 2010, "What Broke My Father's Heart," has stayed with me.  It is the deeply personal tale of a journalist-daughter's observation of her father's last years, as his pacemaker kept his heart pumping while dementia destroyed his quality of life.  The daughter, Katy Butler, later turned the story, supplemented by impressive research, into a book, Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death. 

In the essay, one of the key moments in the chronology was when Katy's father faced the prospect of surgery for a painful inguinal hernia, which doctors were not willing to perform unless his weak heart was first aided by implementation of a pacemaker.  Earlier, his father, while still competent, had rejected a pacemaker, but the decision was now in the hands of his wife because of his dementia:

"When [Dr.] Rogan suggested the pacemaker for the second time, my father was too stroke-damaged to discuss, and perhaps even to weigh, his trade­offs. The decision fell to my mother — anxious to relieve my father’s pain, exhausted with caregiving, deferential to doctors and no expert on high-tech medicine. She said yes. One of the most important medical decisions of my father’s life was over in minutes."

Ms. Butler makes it pretty clear that if the decision had been hers alone, she would not have made the same choice as her mother.  Additional research demonstrates the medical, moral and legal dilemmas faced by all parties in considering the use of pacemakers for the elderly.  For example, in "Pacing Extremely Old Patients: Who decides -- the doctor, the patient, or the relatives?," two physicians in the U.K. report on a three-case study where individuals, family members and doctors were not in agreement about implantation of pacemakers for patients aged 101, 90, and 87.

Continue reading

June 10, 2015 in Books, Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Thinking About Fiduciary Duty As A Core Concept for "Elder Law"

I tend to think of "Elder Law" as a subset of "Laws and Policies of Aging."  Given what appears to me to be a steady increase in public concern about ways in which some older persons are exploited financially, it occurs to me that we may be at a point where "fiduciary duty" is becoming a central -- perhaps even the central -- concept for the future practice of Elder Law, overtaking even Medicaid planning and end-of-life health care planning. Seasoned practitioners already know that the "million dollar question" in Elder Law is "who is my client?" -- a question intimately tied to carrying out fiduciary duties as an attorney.

Along that line, I've been digging into my stack of "must read" books, a stack that is always a threat to my safety as it gets taller and taller no matter how fast and furiously I read. I'm very much enjoying a book by Boston University Law Professor Tamar Frankel titled, simply enough, Fiduciary Law (Oxford University Press, 2011). 

Early in the book, the author, whose teaching and research interests include corporation governance and regulation of financial systems, proposes a definition of "fiduciary relationships," which I find both intriguing and conducive to discussion.  I don't think it is taking too much away from her full book, to repeat the four features Professor Frankel proposes as triggering fiduciary duties.  She writes:

Continue reading

April 30, 2015 in Books, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Retirement | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Importance of Memory and Storytelling: Looking Back at Integration in the North

Leonard Alexander It Takes a VillageImagine publishing your first book at age 86

Leonard M. Alexander, in conjunction with his son, my good friend and former Dickinson School of Law faculty colleague, Peter Alexander, is the author of It Takes A Village: The Integration of the Hillburn School System. The brief, inspiring book provides another timely look at the challenges of desegregation and demonstrates the important roles played by persistent local leaders in moving towards integration. Leonard Alexander also reminds us that opposition to change was not solely a "southern" problem:

"Hillburn, New York, has always been a simple, quiet community.  Part of its charm was the appearance that people of different races lived in harmony. The harmony, unfortunately, was attributable only to the social norms of the time.  The white men in the village controlled everything -- jobs, banks, land -- and the colored people, as we were known and referred to, would be taken care of as along as we stayed in our place.


'Our place' meant we should not be too vocal or too uppity.  Also, 'our place' meant that we would live on the colored side of town (with the dividing line being Route 17).  'Our place' also meant that we would attend a separate school from the main grammar school in the village.  Since 1889, four years before the village of Hillburn was chartered, the colored children attended grammar school that was set aside for us.  The school was situated alongside a babbling brook and it was known as Brook School.  Unofficially, it was the colored school." 

The book describes the efforts of Leonard Alexander's father, working with others in "the village," to obtain a key NAACP investigation and report in 1931 about the so-called "separate but equal" treatment of the town's two grammar schools. The evidence included the fact that new classroom texts were purchased only for the white school; the white school's old books might then be sent to Brook School.  

Leonard's book is also a testament to the importance of memory and storytelling.  This is the story of multiple generations of the Alexander family's involvement with community action, education and civil rights.  

In reading the book in one sitting, I was intrigued by the role that jobs played in the ability -- or understandable reluctance -- of community members to challenge inequality.  Leonard's father worked for the New York City General Post Office, and that gave him the financial independence from the local factory owners to challenge their "Jim Crow" system. A small, poignant detail suggests the consequences of activism, as a white business owner and politico would attempt to curry favor (and, probably, votes) by passing out candy to local black children, unless he learned their last name was Alexander. 

Congratulations to Leonard Alexander, and to proud son and co-author, Peter. And, by the way, how many of us have parents with "unheard" stories to share? 

March 29, 2015 in Books, Discrimination, Ethical Issues, Housing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

How Well Do You Understand Social Security? Here's a Book to Help.

A new book about Social Security has been getting some buzz since its release last month. Get What's Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out  Social Security is published by Simon & Schuster and authored by Laurence J. Kotlikoff, Phillip Moeler & Paul Solman. Here is an excerpt from the publisher's website

Learn the secrets to maximizing your Social Security benefits and earn up to thousands of dollars more each year with expert advice that you can’t get anywhere else. Want to know how to navigate the forbidding maze of Social Security and emerge with the highest possible benefits? You could try reading all 2,728 rules of the Social Security system (and the thousands of explanations of these rules), but Kotlikoff, Moeller, and Solman explain Social Security benefits in an easy to understand and user-friendly style. What you don’t know can seriously hurt you: wrong decisions about which Social Security benefits to apply for cost some individual retirees tens of thousands of dollars in lost income every year.  How many retirees or those nearing retirement know about such Social Security options as file and suspend (apply for benefits and then don’t take them)? Or start stop start (start benefits, stop them, then re-start them)? Or—just as important—when and how to use these techniques? ...

The New York Times ran an article about this book on March 13, 2015. The Social Security Maze and Other U.S. Mysteries discusses the book as well as the intricacies of Social Security. Those of us elder law profs who cover Social Security in our classes know how complex it can be.  As the article illustrates, it is more complicated than even we thought.

Given that there are 2,728 core rules and thousands more supplements to them according to the authors, it pays, literally, to seek out a guide...

The book’s success is also, however, symptomatic of something that we take for granted but should actually disgust us: The complexity of our financial lives is so extreme that we must painstakingly manage each and every aspect of it, from government programs to investing to loyalty programs. Mr. Kotlikoff’s game has yielded large winnings for his friends and readers (and several dinners of gratitude), but the fact that gamesmanship is even necessary in the first place with our national safety net is shameful.

The lead author explained how he came to this point "[s]oon, Mr. Kotlikoff was developing a computer model for various payouts from the government program and realized that consumers might actually pay to use it....From that instinct, a service called Maximize My Social Security was born, though it wasn’t easy to do and get it right. 'We had to develop very detailed code, and the whole Social Security rule book is written in geek,” he said. “It’s impossible to understand.'” The article goes on to illustrate some complexity by using as example health savings accounts and discuss why a well-intentioned law has become so complicated.

We all know it is a complicated program, so it's great to have another resource available to help explain everything. The book is available in hard copy or as an e-book either from the publisher or other book sellers.

March 25, 2015 in Books, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Retirement, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 23, 2015

On Being - With Alzhemier's

On Being, a program broadcast on NPR and via podcast, has an new episode on "Alzheimer's and the Spiritual Terrain of Memory" with many touching moments.  The summary is as follows:

"Alzheimer's disease has been described as 'the great unlearning.' But what does it reveal about the nature of human identity? What remains when memory unravels? Alan Dienstag is a psychologist who has led support groups with early Alzheimer's patients, as well as a writing group he co-designed with the novelist Don DeLillo. He's experienced the early stages of Alzheimer's as a time for giving memories away rather than losing them."

The website offers poems and essays from the writing group.

March 23, 2015 in Books, Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Promises of Confidentiality in Academic Research? Potential Lessons from The Belfast Project

Today is St. Patrick's Day, celebrated with greater fervor in many U.S. communities than it is in Ireland.  Indeed, as I learned during my 2010 sabbatical in Northern Ireland, while Belfast is home to a variety of dramatic "historical" parades and holidays, events on St. Patrick's Day are low key and mostly for children.  Signs of the Times in Belfast Candidate Gerry Adams

In the March 16 issue of The New Yorker magazine, writer (and Yale-educated lawyer) Patrick Radden Keefe digs into the history of Northern Ireland, looking at the late stages of the Troubles.  He examines possible roles played by Gerry Adams as an acknowledged leader of political party Sinn Fein versus his long-denied authority for certain violent actions of the IRA. 

Keefe provides a comprehensive analysis of the events before and after the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, offering details that are devastating if true about how violence was often at its most problematic when perpetrated within the ranks of extreme republican and loyalist factions. Central to the history is the lingering question of who was responsible for the December 1972 abduction and execution of Jean McConville, the widowed mother of 10 children, suspected of informing against the IRA.

In the article, Gerry Adams comes across as determined to be both charismatic and enigmatic, as hero and anti-hero, as deeply devoted to a "United Ireland," while also oddly enamored with trivial self-promotion. I came away from the article thinking it was a good reminder of how dangerous it can be -- in any country -- to believe absolutely in any single leader.

The article also presents ethical questions associated with efforts to document the Troubles through oral histories recorded under the auspices of Boston College:

Continue reading

March 17, 2015 in Books, Ethical Issues, International, Other | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Family Dynamics are Complicated, Particularly When We're Talking End-of-Life "Wealth" Transfers

GW Law Professor Naomi Cahn and Amy Zeittlow, affiliate scholar with the Institute of American Values, have collaborated on a new article that is fascinating.  In "Making Things Fair: An Empirical Study of How People Approach the Wealth Transmission System," to be published in a forthcoming issue of the Elder Law Journal, they ask fundamental questions about whether traditional laws governing testate and intestate wealth transmission reflect and serve the wishes of most Americans.  Professor Cahn previews the article as follows:

Based on an empirical study of intergenerational care for Baby Boomers, the article shows how the inheritance process actually works for many Americans.  Two fundamental questions about the wealth transfer system guided our analysis  of the data: 1) does the contemporary inheritance process respond to the changing structure of American families; and 2) does it reflect the needs of the non-elite, who have not traditionally been the focus of the system?    

Our study shows that the formal laws of the inheritance system are largely irrelevant to how property is  transferred at death. While the contemporary trusts and estates canon focuses on the importance of planning for  traditional forms of wealth in nuclear families, this study focuses on the transmission of wealth that has high emotional, but low financial, value. We illustrate how the logic of “making things fair” structured how families navigated the distribution process and accessed the law. Consequently, the article recommends that law reform should be guided by the needs of contemporary  families, where not only is wealth defined broadly but also family is defined broadly, through ties that are both formal and functional.  This means establishing default rules that maximize planning while also protecting familial relationships.

The article is part of a new book by the authors titled "Homeward Bound," with planned publication in 2016, and the authors welcome comments and suggestions. 

March 16, 2015 in Books, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)