Monday, November 24, 2014
Several high profile incidents, such as those reported here in our Blog and here by the Philadelphia Inquirer, involving attorneys disciplined or convicted of theft of client funds, have triggered proposed changes in Pennsylvania's Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys. The rule changes proposed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Disciplinary Board include:
- imposing restrictions on an attorney's brokering or offering of "investment products" connected to that lawyer's provision of legal services;
- clarifying the type of financial records that attorneys would be required to maintain and report, regarding their handling of client funds and fiduciary accounts;
- clarifying the obligation of attorneys to cooperate with investigations in a timely fashion;
- clarifying the obligation of suspended, disbarred, or "inactive" attorneys to cease operations and to notify clients "promptly" of the change in their professional status.
The Disciplinary Board called for comments on the proposed rule changes, noting that although individual claims against the Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund for Client Security are confidential, "Fund personnel can attest that from time to time, the number of claims filed against a single attorney will be in double digits and the total compensable loss will amount to millions of dollars." The comment window closed on November 3. 2014.
In recommending changes, the Disciplinary Board noted common threads running through many of the cases, including:
November 24, 2014 in Crimes, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, November 17, 2014
On November 17, 2014, following more than a year of study and consultation, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Elder Law Task Force issued a comprehensive (284 pages!) report and recommendations addressing a host of core concerns, including how better to assure that older Pennsylvanians' rights and needs are recognized under the law. With Justice Debra Todd as the chair, the Task Force organized into three committees, focusing on Guardianships and Legal Counsel, Guardianship Monitoring, and Elder Abuse and Neglect. The Task Force included more than 40 individuals from across the state, reflecting backgrounds in private legal practice, legal service organizations, government service agencies, social care organizations, criminal law, banking, and the courts.
From the 130 recommendations, Justice Todd highlighted several "bold" provisions at a press conference including:
- Recommending the state's so-called "Slayer" law be amended to prevent an individual who has been convicted of abusing or neglecting an elder from inheriting from the elder;
- Recommending changes to court rules to mandate training for all guardians, including, but not limited to, family members serving as guardians;
- Recommending adoption of mandatory reporting by financial institutions who witness suspected elder abuse, including financial abuse.
The full report is available on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court website here. As a consequence of the Task Force study, the Supreme Court has approved the creation of an ongoing "Office of Elder Justice in the Courts" to support implementation of recommendations, and has created an "Advisory Council on Elder Justice to the Courts" to be chaired by Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Paula Francisco Ott.
Friday, November 14, 2014
The November issue of AARP's Bulletin carries a special Medicare cover story, "Inside the Medicare Strike Force" by Rick Schmitt. The article details recent successes by a Justice Department unit formed in 2007:
"The strike force has grown from a single outpost in Miami in 200 to nine cities, with the support of 40 of the 100 attorneys in the fraud section of the Justice Department. . . . Just this September, some 280 prosecutors and agents from around the country attended a Justice Department workshop in Washington, D.C., to learn the finer points of investigating and prosecuting Medicare cases. Increasingly, the crackdown has the look of a major narcotics operation, complete with electronic surveillance and frequent use of informants and cooperating witnesses. Defendants' assets are now routinely seized before trial. Sentences are being measured in decades; even some older beneficiaries are being prosecuted. Agents are backed by forensic accountaints, health care professionals and data acquisition analysts who have a pipeline to Medicare contractors' billing information."
A side bar to the main feature focuses on Peggy Sposato, describing her as a "fraudster's worst enemy," through use of her data analysis skills to create systematic review of billing records. Her methods successfully trace unlawful Medicare payments. Her career as a fraud buster "began in the mid-1990s after a career as a geriatric nurse."
Thursday, November 13, 2014
Does "Unlimited" Gifting Power in POA Protect the Agent from Criminal Liability for Self-Gifting? PA Appellate Court Says "No"
Following a nonjury trial in 2012, David Patton was convicted of 95 counts of statutory theft by unlawful taking, arising out of his use of a power of attorney (POA). The POA named him as agent for his 86 year-old aunt. At issue was more than $200,000. Patton appealed the conviction, alleging the POA that expressly granted him authority to make "limited or unlimited gifts," made it impossible for him to be held liable for theft by cashing checks and making withdrawals from his aunt's accounts for his personal use in 2008, 2009 and 2010. In September 2014, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, an intermediate appellate court, issued a "nonprecedential" written opinion affirming the convictions, concluding:
"Simply stated, we reject Appellant's bold claim that the 'unlimited gift' provision in the power of attorney provided Appellant with a license to steal [his aunt's] assets and use all of her money for Appellant's own benefit. To the contrary, the gifting power was clearly subject to the condition [stated in a statutorily required affidavit signed by Appellant] that Appellant use the power 'for [his aunt's] benefit' - and Appellant clearly violated this condition when he took all of [his aunt's] money and used it as if it was his own. Therefore, since Appellant's actions were not authorized by the power of attorney, Appellant's sufficiency of the evidence claim necessarily fails."
In reaching this decision, the appellate court adopted the trial court's "meticulous" rulings as its own. In the trial court's final order, the judge rejected the defendant's testimony that he had no awareness or notice that using the POA to make the transfers in question was a crime. The trial judge wrote: "He did not need to be notified in writing to know that he could be charged with theft for taking for his own personal use over $200,000 of [his aunt's] savings, using some of it to go gambling in Erie and depriving her of sufficient funds to pay for her nursing home care in her old age."
An additional interesting, and perhaps confusing aspect of the case, is testimony by the attorney who drafted the POA.
When called by the defense to testify as "an expert" on powers of attorney, as well as a fact witness, the attorney testified he "always" included both "limited and unlimited" gifting authority in his POAs. He testified he explained to the aunt that the broadly-worded POA enabled the agent to "do anything that she could do." On direct examination, he testified the gifting language was "completely unconditional."
Sunday, November 2, 2014
Catherine "Kitty" Haughey passed away in 2004, a widow without children of her own. Her godson lived with her the last two years of her life in County Armagh in Northern Ireland. She was leaving behind the lovely sounding "Annie's Cottage" and Larkin's, a family pub, along with a substantial sum of cash. Directions for distribution of her property were contained in a will dated two weeks before her death.
Ten years later, her godson has pled guilty to forgery of that will, although still trying to rationalize his actions by saying the new document that gave him the house and pub "reflected her dying wishes." He was finally compelled to concede he'd gone about "changing the will in the wrong way."
Indeed he did, with help in drafting and "witnessing" the will coming from a surveyor and a local doctor, both of whom earlier pled guilty to assisting in the forgery. They received suspended sentences.
The 53-year-old "godson," Francis Tiernan, tried to avoid prosecution in Northern Ireland by fleeing the court's jurisdiction and fighting extradition after he was discovered in the south of Ireland. His prison sentence is three years.
The actual will, dated 2003, had left Tiernan just £1000, while the reported value of the property was more than £1,000,000. An autopsy was performed following exhumation of Kitty Haughey's body, showing she died of natural causes. Her death came close in time to those of her only two siblings.
Hat tip to Dr. Joe Duffy of Queen's University Belfast for sending me this story. For another tale of misuse of legal documents to gain control over a pub in Ireland, see "The Lesson of the Irish Family Pub" that I wrote for Stetson Law Review in 2010. That time the "help" came from a lawyer who contended he was representing the "family" in preparing deeds. For more on Francis Tiernan's woes and indications of his colorful past, see links below.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Via The Telegraph:
Doctors and nurses who help severely disabled or terminally ill people to take their own lives are less likely to face criminal charges after Britain's most senior prosecutor yesterday amended guidelines on assisted suicide. Until now all health care professionals faced a greater chance than others of being prosecuted for helping people to die because of the trust their patients placed in them. Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said this special deterrent would now only apply to those directly involved in a person's care. Anti–euthanasia campaigners accused Ms Saunders of "decriminalising" assisted suicide by health care professionals "at a stroke of her pen". Dr Michael Irwin, the former GP nicknamed "Dr Death" for helping several people kill themselves, said the change was a "wonderful softening" that would "make life easier" for people like him. He said he and many other retired doctors would now feel able to help people travel to Switzerland's Dignitas centre "without worrying". But campaigners for legalisation of assisted dying said the amendment did not go far enough. Ms Saunders insisted the change was simply a clarification and would not offer anyone "immunity" against prosecution for assisted suicide, which is punishable by up to 14 years in jail. Guidelines published by the former DPP, Sir Keir Starmer, in 2010 say people acting "wholly out of compassion" could avoid prosecution for helping people end their lives. But the guidelines also list circumstances that would make prosecution more likely. They include where someone is "acting in his or her capacity" as a medical doctor.
Source/more: The Telegraph
Monday, September 29, 2014
The NYC Elder Abuse Center ran a post last week that listed the 10 top blogs from the past year. 10 Elder Justice Blogs to Inform & Inspire includes summaries as well as links to "ten great blogs from the July 2013 – June 2014 stellar blog collection that collectively discuss myriad elder justice issues – from elder abuse in popular culture to podcast interviews with leaders in the field." Check it out and make sure you haven't missed anything!
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
The U.S. Department of Justice recently established an on-line Elder Justice Initiative, intended to assist the public, practitioners, and prosecutors with identifying and responding to all types of elder abuse. Here are some of the highlighted resource links from the website:
|Here, victims and family members will find information about how to report elder abuse and financial exploitation in all 50 states and the territories. Simply enter your zipcode to find local resources to assist you.|
|Federal, State, and local prosecutors will find three different databases containing sample pleadings and statutes.|
|Researchers in the elder abuse field may access a database containing bibliographic information for thousands of elder abuse and financial exploitation articles and reviews.|
Practitioners -- including professionals of all types who work with elder abuse and its consequences -- will find information about resources available to help them prevent elder abuse and assist those who have already been abused, neglected or exploited.
Monday, September 8, 2014
We all know how prevalent financial scams are, and that they are becoming more and more sophisticated. One of my colleagues, and dear friend, forwarded an email to me purportedly from his financial institution-and the email had the correct last 4 #s of his credit card! He promptly contacted the financial institution because it looked so authentic, only to find out it was a scam. The institution insisted there was no data breach. He promptly closed that account. I'm sure you have had similar experiences, or know someone who has (every semester I ask my students whether any of them have been victims of identity theft. Unfortunately, there is always at least one).
Governing ran a story a couple of weeks ago about state efforts to combat financial scams that target elders. The article, States Fight Financial Scams Aimed at Seniors, quotes Mary Twomey of the National Center on Elder Abuse, that the advancement in fighting scams is happening at the state level. For example, the article indicates that in 2014 "lawmakers in at least 28 states and the District of Columbia introduced legislation addressing the issue. Some measures focus on enhancing criminal penalties. Others target caregivers who exploit elderly charges. Some require financial institutions to report suspected exploitation."
We all know the dearth of statistics makes it a challenge to really understand the magnitude of the problem. The article quotes some studies with statistics, including a recent one from the Journal of General Internal Medicine "that found that one in 20 older adults in New York state reported that they had been financially exploited, usually by a family member, but sometimes by a friend or home-care aide."
The article also reviews some of the innovations in certain states, such as Colorado which requires training of law enforcement to recognize exploitation and abuse, with each department required to have a minimum of 1 trained officer by 01/01/2015; and North Carolina, which allows "courts ... to freeze the assets of a defendant charged with financial exploitation of a senior or disabled adult, if the victim has lost more than $5,000."
Sunday, August 24, 2014
We've reported several times, including here and here, on recent academic and professional publications that address the sensitive topic of "consent" to sexual relations for individuals residing in nursing homes.
The Huffington Post and other media reports now bring the topic into the general public realm with coverage of a complicated case emerging in Iowa, where a husband has been arrested on charges connected to sexual relations with his wife, a resident with Alzheimer's, in her nursing home room.
Two items that may be critical to the outcome of the case: Alleged "notice" to the husband by the facility that his wife was no longer legally able to give consent to sexual relations, and the identity of the husband as a public figure. The fact that the husband is a state legislator is a reason why the case may get wide news coverage. But that wider coverage could also generate important discussion and debate about the deeper legal, personal and public issues. From one article:
"An Iowa legislator who allegedly had sex with his mentally incapacitated late wife has been charged with sexual abuse. Henry Rayhons, 78, a Republican state representative from Iowa House District 8, was told by medical staff on May 15 that his wife, 78-year-old Donna Rayhons, no longer had the mental ability to consent to sexual activity, according to a criminal complaint obtained by WHO-TV. Donna Rayhons, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, had been living in Concord Care Center in Garner, Iowa, since March, according to the Des Moines Register....
In an interview with law enforcement in June,Rayhons allegedly confessed to 'having sexual contact' with his wife, according to KCCI. He also allegedly admitted that he had a copy of the document that stated his wife did not have the cognitive ability to give consent. Rayhons was charged with third-degree sexual abuse on Friday.
Elizabeth Barnhill, executive director of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, told the Des Moines Register that even though spousal rape has been illegal in Iowa for about 25 years, arrests for the crime are rare and 'convictions are even rarer.' Barnhill also noted that sexual assault between spouses is not considered a 'forcible felony' in Iowa."
According to new sources, the family has also made a statement.
August 24, 2014 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, August 21, 2014
Pennsylvania has had its share of tragic recent stories connected to the death of older persons under circumstances that raise a question of suicide or murder.
Sadly, New Mexico now provides another example, where an 89-year old woman was found dead in the basement of her rural ranch home in early January. Her 69- year old daughter was charged with murder -- and at first the facts seemed to fit, given the very unusual manner of death. But this week the District Attorney dropped the charges, citing the lack of DNA or fingerprints to tie the daughter to the death, as well as expert analysis concluding the mother had written both "suicide notes" explaining her choice.
The notes suggested the older woman "did not want to be a burden to others." That history has led the family, now that the charges have been dropped, to encourage wider "exploration" of options that could prevent future tragedies, especially for older adults. Albuquerque Journal writer Leslie Linthicum, who first encountered both women 24 years before while working on a story about women ranchers in New Mexico, provides a balanced, thoughtful account of this latest tragedy.
As one saying goes, "there has to be a better way," but in most states the law does not currently recognize "better" choices. We're tackling important societal issues on many fronts right now, including same-gender marriage and legalized use of marijuana. Certainly we can also do a better job with laws affecting end-of-life decisions.
Sunday, August 17, 2014
The Washington Post ran a fascinating article on a particular Medicare scam. A Medicare Scam That Just Kept Rolling was published August 16, 2014 and focuses on power wheelchairs. The article offers a detailed look at how this particular scam worked.
The wheelchair scam was designed to exploit blind spots in Medicare, which often pays insurance claims without checking them first. Criminals disguised themselves as medical-supply companies. They ginned up bogus bills, saying they’d provided expensive wheelchairs to Medicare patients — who, in reality, didn’t need wheelchairs at all. Then the scammers asked Medicare to pay them back, so they could pocket the huge markup that the government paid on each chair.
This eye-opening article points out that the depth and breadth of the scam remains largely unknown, but is on its way out.
But, while it lasted, the scam illuminated a critical failure point in the federal bureaucracy: Medicare’s weak defenses against fraud. The government knew how the wheelchair scheme worked in 1998. But it wasn’t until 15 years later that officials finally did enough to significantly curb the practice.
The article is accompanied by a video that shows in "four easy steps" how to perpetrate a Medicare scam as well as a sidebar with slides showing how the power wheelchair scam works. Variations of the scam are more than 40 years old and have morphed with the times.
If you aren't shaking your head in wonder now, consider why these scams can happen:
[F]or Medicare officials at headquarters, seeing the problem and stopping it were two different things.
That’s because Medicare is an enormous system, doing one of the most difficult jobs in the federal government. It receives about 4.9 million claims per day, each of them reflecting the nuances of a particular patient’s condition and particular doctor’s treatment decisions.
By law, Medicare must pay most of those claims within 30 days. In that short window, it is supposed to filter out the frauds, finding bills where the diagnosis or the prescription seem bogus.
The way the system copes is with a procedure called “pay and chase.” Only a small fraction of claims 3 percent or less — are reviewed by a live person before they are paid. The rest are reviewed only after the money is spent. If at all.
The whole thing is set up as a kind of honor system, built at the heart of a system so rich that it made it easy for people to be dishonorable.
The article talks about comparisons--the amount of money spent on power wheelchairs as compared to the total amount of dollars spent in the Medicare universe and although the amount spent on wheelchairs is a lot, it's a small amount in that universe. The article mentions the steps the government has taken to end the motorized wheelchair scam such as competitive bidding and rent-to-own. So if the wheelchair scam is on the decline, what's the next one? According to the article, orthotics and prosthetics. Stay tuned...
Thursday, August 14, 2014
University of Memphis Law Professor Andrew Jay McClurg's article, "Preying on the Graying: A Statutory Presumption to Prosecute Elder Financial Exploitation," appears in May 2014 issue of the Hastings Law Journal. Professor McClurg proposes that states adopt "state criminal statutes that create a permissive presumption of exploitation with regard to certain financial transfers from elders." In correspondence, Professor McClurg points to the fact that on the surface it may appear that older persons -- victims -- are "voluntarily" parting with assets, when "in fact [the transactions] occur because of undue influence, psychological manipulation and misrepresentation."
Professor McClurg stresses the need for a statutory presumption to give prosecutors an effective tool to hold offenders accountable. His proposal has already had direct impact, in the form of Florida legislation, Fla. Stat. 825.103(2) signed into law June 20, 2014 and effective on October 1, 2014. Key language from the provision includes:
"Any inter vivos transfer of money or property valued in excess of $10,000 at the time of the transfer, whether in a single transfer or multiple transactions, by a person age 65 or older to a nonrelative whom the transferor knew for fewer than 2 years before the first transfer and for which the transferor did not receive the reasonably equivalent financial value in goods or services creates a permissive presumption that the transfer was the result of exploitation."
The Florida provision applies "regardless of whether the transfer or transfers are denoted by the parties as a gift or loan, except that it does not apply to a valid loan evidenced in writing that includes definite repayment dates...." Further, the new Florida provision does not apply to "persons who are in the business of making loans" or "bona fide charitable donations to nonprofit organizations that qualify for tax exempt status."
In cases tried to a jury under the Florida statute, the law provides that jurors "shall be instructed that they may, but are not required to, draw an inference of exploitation upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of the facts listed in this subsection." The law's presumption "imposes no burden of proof on the defendant."
UPDATE: Professor McClurg wrote again to explain that he worked directly with the Florida Elder Exploitation Task Force and with Florida Representative Kathleen Passidomo to secure passage of the new law. Professor McClurg's presumption proposal was introduced as part of H.B. 409, which passed unanimously through the two houses of the state legislature. According to Professor McClurg, the statute is the only one of its type in the nation. Thanks for the clarification, Andrew!
Friday, July 25, 2014
The Consumer Rights Litigation Conference, put on by the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), is set for November 6-9 in Tampa Florida. This is the preeminent program for consumer rights advocates and there are several sessions with a special focus on protection of older persons. Sessions include:
"Reverse Mortages: New Changes and Old Challenges to Foreclosure," with Odette Williamson and Margot Saunders, NCLC, focusing on "emerging issues in reverse mortgages, including the new 'ability to pay' determinations and protections for dispossessed spouses." (Friday morning, Nov. 7)
"Retirement Benefits and Bankruptcy, Do they Mix?" by Tara Twomey (NCLC), asking whether a "fresh start jeopardizes the debtor's ability to receive social security benefits" and to what extent are "retirement savings off the table for nonsecured creditors." (Saturday morning, Nov. 8)
"Challenging Financial Fraud and Scams Aimed at Older Adults," by David Kirman (North Carolina Department of Justice) and Stephan A. Weisbrod (Weisbrod, Mattis & Coply PLLC), examining legal tools that can be used to challenge these practices, including private actions and suits brought under state statutes, such as California's Financial Elder Abuse Act. (Saturday afternoon, Nov. 8)
Thursday, July 24, 2014
The CarTalk Guys on National Public Radio have a crazy tradition of breaking their one hour radio program into "three halves" (okay, they have a lot of crazy traditions -- I'm focusing on just one). In that tradition, I'd been thinking about how the practice of "elder law" might also have three halves, but then I realized that perhaps it really has five halves. See what you think.
- In the United States, private practitioners who call themselves "Elder Law Attorneys" usually focus on helping individuals or families plan for legal issues that tend to occur between retirement and death. Many of the longer-serving attorneys with expertise in this area started to specialize after confronting the needs of their own parents or aging family members. They learned -- sometimes the hard way -- about the need for special knowledge of Medicare, Medicaid, health insurance and the significance of frailty or incapacity for aging adults. They trained the next generations of Elder Law Attorneys, thereby reducing the need to learn exclusively from mistakes.
- Closely aligned with the private bar are Elder Law Attorneys who work for legal service organizations or other nonprofit law firms. They have critical skills and knowledge of health-related benefits under federal and state programs. They also have sophisticaed information about the availability of income-related benefits under Social Security. They often serve the most needy of elders. Their commitment to obtain solutions not just for one client, but often for a whole class of older clients, gives them a vital role to play.
- At the state and federal levels, core decisions are made about how to interpret laws affecting older adults. Key decisions are made by attorneys who are hired by a government agency. Their decisions impact real people -- and they keep a close eye on the financial consequences of permitting access to benefits, even if is often elected officials making the decisions about funding priorities. I would also put prosecutors in this same public servant "Elder Law" category, especially prosecutors who have taken on the challenge of responding to elder abuse.
- A whole host of companies, both for-profit and nonprofit, are in the business of providing care to older adults, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, group homes, home-care agencies and so on -- and they too have attorneys with deep expertise in the provider-side of "Elder Law," including knowledge of contracts, insurance and public benefit programs that pay for such services.
- Last, but definitely not least, attorneys are involved at policy levels, looking not only to the present statutes and regulations affecting older adults, but to the future of what should be the legal framework for protection of rights, or imposition of obligations, on older adults and their families. My understanding and appreciation of this sector has increased greatly over the last few years, particularly as I have come to know human rights experts who specialize in the rights of older persons.
Of course, lawyers are not the only persons who work in "Elder Law" fields and it truly takes a village -- including paralegals, social workers, case workers, health care professionals, and law clerks -- to find ways to use the law effectively and wisely. Ironically, at times it can seem as if the different halves of "elder law" specialists are working in opposition to each other, rather than together.
My reason for trying to identify these "Five Halves" of Elder Law is that, as with most of us who teach courses on elder law or aging, I have come to realize I have former students working in all of these divisions, who began their appreciation for the legal needs of older adults while still in law school. Organizing these "halves" may also help in organizing course materials.
I strongly suspect I'm could be missing one or more sectors of those with special expertise in Elder Law. What am I forgetting?
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.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
One of the effects of "devolution" in the United Kingdom has been opportunities for Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland to consider afresh their domestic laws and policy guidelines, separate from the mandates of Parliament in London. As those following recent UK news will know, Scotland this has gone beyond mere "home rule." A referendum vote on full independence is scheduled in Scotland for September 18, 2014.
Northern Ireland has not moved as quickly on adoption of domestic laws and policies. In part because of interruptions in efforts to fully establish home rule following disruptions of violence and the "Troubles," the process of enacting NI domestic laws has been slower paced than in Wales or Scotland, even after the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
Nonetheless, high on the domestic agenda in NI have been laws and policies related to older people. One of the first modern era laws passed by Stormont was domestic legislation that established an independent Commissioner of Older People for NI. The discussions on that law overlapped with my Fulbright year and sabbatical in NI in 2009-10, and resulted in passage in January 2011.
The first Commissioner, Claire Keatinge, was appointed to a four year term in November of 2011. In my observation, Claire is a force of nature and if anyone can create a clear path to establish ageing as a priority matter for action in NI, it will be this dynamo.
On June 25, Commissioner Keatinge presented her call for fresh adult safeguarding legislation in NI. With emerging data suggesting significant increases in the number of cases of alleged abuse of older people, Commissioner Keatinge commissioned an evaluation of existing laws and comparative approaches in other nations. She asked whether and how NI can better protect adults from abuse, including physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse. After receipt of the academics' report, her in-house legal team responded, helping her present a clear written call for action, a template for legislation.
As explained in her launch on June 25, the Commissioner advocates for:
- Clear definition of "adult at risk," the target term for safeguarding measures and not limited to older adults, as well as enhanced definitions of abuse or harm, and especially of financial abuse;
- Establishment of an adult safeguarding board, with statutory powers;
- Specific duties for relevant bodies and organizations within NI to report, investigate, provide services and cooperate with other agencies to order to better protect "adults at risk;"
- Specific powers of access to an individual believed to be at risk of harm or abuse, to defuse the potential for the abuser to influence the investigation process; and
- Protection from civil liability for those making reports of suspected abuse.
Further, Commissioner Keatinge recommends additional consideration be given to whether an Adult Safeguarding Bill -- as a single piece of legislation -- should grant specific powers to authorities to remove an individual at risk or ban a suspected abuse from contact. Her call for action recommends consideration of a specific grant of power to access financial records, often deemed crucial to investigation of financial risk and proof of abuse. Also on the Commissioner's radar screen is the potential adoption of specific criminal charges for "elder abuse" or "corporate neglect."
It has been exciting for me to see the evolution of the Commissioner's role and her use of the Queens University Belfast and University of Ulster academic reviews (on which I consulted). Professor John Williams (depicted on the far left, next to Claire Keatinge in yellow), head of the department of law and criminology at Aberystwyth University in Wales provided forceful support for the proposed legislation in Northern Ireland during his commentary at the launch, saying the status quo cannot be justified.
I'd like to say I see an easy path for a comprehensive Adult Safeguarding Law to emerge in the near future for Northern Ireland, thus serving as a role model for other jurisdictions facing similar issue.
I have to admit, however, that I was discouraged by what sounded -- at least to me -- like vacillation coming from key government leaders. The Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in the Northern Ireland Executive, Edwin Poots (above, in the blue tie). spoke at the Commissioner's launch, expressing his own concern for older people as victims of abuse, especially financial abuse; however, I was disappointed when Minister Poots predicted that it would not be possible for Stormont to reach the issue of safeguarding legislation in the next 21 months. (Of course, coming from the political gridlock of Congress in the U.S., and as a witness to the snail's pace for protective legislation in my home state of Pennsylvania, I guess I should not be too surprised.)
Still, the good news is that the first major steps have been taken by Commissioner Keatinge and her capable staff including Catherine Hewitt and Emer Boyle, with strong support at the launch from social and health care professionals who have seen first hand the potential for subtle and not-so-subtle abuse of elder, disabled or frail adults in Northern Ireland.
And by the way, Professor Williams from Wales will be one of the presenters at the 2014 International Elder Law and Policy Conference at John Marshall Law in Chicago, speaking on older persons' access to justice as a key component of international human rights on Friday, July 11. It is a small world at times and one with a growing commitment to tackle key topics in ageing.
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
The Spring 2014 issue of the ABA magazine "Experience" has a very interesting article on "Senior Drivers," written from the perspective of a traffic judge. It is the final article in a issue devoted to the theme of "Courts and the Elderly." (I reported on elder abuse articles yesterday.) Here's how Cook County, Illinois Judge Freddrenna M. Lyle opens:
"As the prosecutor and defense argued aggravation and mitigation in the trial I was conducting, I flashed back to the signs I had missed. I remembered the little dings and scratches on my dad’s car that he never wanted to discuss. At first, it was “that other driver” in the parking lot causing the damage. He then feigned ignorance as to how and when that dent appeared in the rear quarter panel. I realized I could no longer ignore the signs and began to research how to initiate 'the conversation.' Looking at the daughter accompanying her elderly dad to my courtroom that day, I knew that she, too, was about to have this talk. In fact, after I entered the sentence in her dad’s case, she asked me to have 'the conversation' because she frankly did not know what to say."
I suspect that having a copy of this article available as a family "conversation" tool -- perhaps to show your concern as a loving family member is part of a larger public concern -- might be useful.
Many thanks to Frances Del Duca, Esq., in Carlisle Pennsyvlania for sharing a hard copy of the recent issue of Experience magazine, published by the American Bar Association. It's a jam-packed issue for those concerned with elder justice, bringing to bear multiple perspectives. I just wish the articles were fully available to the public on the ABA website!
Monday, June 2, 2014
We've written here about the high profile Mancini case of alleged assisted suicide here in Pennsylvania, that was resolved in 2014 when the trial court dismissed the charges pending against the daughter, a nurse, who was alleged to have facilitated her ill, elderly father's death by a morphine overdose.
Charges have now been filed in another Pennsylvania case that is, perhaps even more troubling, although probably less likely to attract support from "death with dignity" movements. The case does, however, raise important questions about both mental health and income supports for persons at risk, including those facing poverty.
Last week, Koustantinos "Gus" Yiambilisis, age 30, from Bucks County, PA, was charged both with assisted suicide and homicide for the death of his 59 year old mother by carbon monoxide, following his alleged use of a borrowed generator to accomplish a mutual suicide pact. News reports, including articles by Jo Ciavaglia for the Bucks County Courier Times, suggest that the son had recently lost his job and needed surgery for a brain tumor, while both mother and son are reported to have left suicide notes behind. The son survived, revived after emergency workers summoned to the house found the mother and son unconscious in the home. The mother later died in the hospital.
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
The May 2014 issue of Series B (Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences) of the Journals of Gerontology includes three articles addressing a "relatively understudied area for the psychological science of aging: older adults interacting the legal system." An editorial introducing the articles explains (minus the footnotes):
"In [this issue] the focus is on how aging affects what is known about cognition and eyewitness testimony. The first article by West suggests that, based on cognitive aging alone, age differences do not contribute to worsened eyewitness accounts. In fact, older adults may be less likely than young adults to interpolate details based on memory enhancement strategies. The second article by Henkel, however, provides evidence that when negative feedback about memory is provided and also with misleading questions, changes in eye witness accounts are more likely for both age groups. Among older adults, older ages were associated with lower accuracy and more changing of responses. The third article by Dukala and Pocyzk adds the effects of an abrupt interviewing style, misleading questions, and negative feedback as factors associated with age differences in inaccurate eyewitness descriptions of what occurred, with older adults more vulnerable to changes rooted in suggestibility. These effects were related to poorer memory rather than advanced age alone."
In his essay, Bob Knight, Ph.D. from University of Southern California, Davis School of Gerontology in Los Angeles, observes the range of results reported in the three articles demonstrates a need for "more work in this area." He concludes, "Care should be taken to make the legal system interviewers aware of potential distortions in eyewitness accounts due to memory changes that are more common in later life while also discouraging the stereotyping of all older adults as less reliable witnesses."