Tuesday, June 21, 2016

New Concepts from Authorities Who Investigate and Prosecute Scammers and Financial Abusers

On June 15,  I logged into the National Consumer Law Center's webinar on Financial Frauds and Scams Against Elders.  It was very good.  Both David Kirkman, who is with the Consumer Protection Division for North Carolina Department of Justice, and Naomi Karp, who is with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, had the latest information on scamming trends, enforcement issues, and best practices to avoid financial exploitation.  Here were some of the "take away" messages I heard:

  • "Age 78" -- why might that be important?  Apparently many of the organized scammers, such as the off-shore sweepstakes and lottery scams, know that by the time the average consumer reaches the age 78, there a significant chance that the consumer will have cognitive changes that make him or her more susceptible to the scammer's "pitch."  As David explained, based on 5 years of enforcement data from North Carolina, "mild cognitive impairment"  creates the "happy hunting ground" for the scammer.
  • "I make 'em feel like they are Somebody again."  That's how one scammer explained and rationalized his approach to older adults.  By offering them that chance to make "the deal," to invest in theoretically profitable ventures, to be engaged in important financial transactions, he's making them feel important once again.  That "reaction" by the older  consumer also complicates efforts to terminate the scamming relationship. David played a brief excerpt of an interview with an older woman, who once confronted with the reality of a so-called Jamaican sweepstakes lottery, seemed to make a firm promise "not to send any more money."  Yet, three days later, she sent off another $800, and lost a total of some $92k to the scammers in two years.
  • "Psychological reactives."   That's what David described as a phenomenon that can occur where the victim of the scam continues to play into the scam because the scammer is offering the victim praise and validation, while a family member or law enforcement official trying to dissuade the victim from continuing with the scam makes him or her feel "at fault" or "foolish."   An indirect, oblique approach may be necessary to help the victim understand.  One strategy to offset the unhelpful psychological reaction was to show the victim how he or she may help others to avoid serious financial losses. 
  • "Financial Institutions are increasingly part of the solution."  According to Naomi, about half of all states now mandate reporting of suspected financial abuse, either by making banks and credit unions mandatory reporters or  by making "all individuals" who suspect such fraud mandatory reporters.  Both David and Naomi said they are starting to see real results from mandatory reporters who have helped to thwart fraudsters and thereby have prevented additional losses.

The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has several publications that offer educational materials to targeted audiences about financial abuse.  One example was the CFPB's 44-page manual for assisted living and nursing facilities, titled "Protecting Residents from Financial Exploitation." 

June 21, 2016 in Books, Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Webinars | Permalink | Comments (2)

Estate Planning Lessons from the Redstone Saga?

We've previously blogged about the happenings in the case and life of Sumner Redstone. Although one lawsuit was dismissed, it doesn't appear that is the end of the matter. The New York Times ran an article on June 2, 2016, In Sumner Redstone Affair, His Decline Upends Estate Planning. Although the focus of the story is Mr. Redstone's situation, the story notes that this happens perhaps more than we think.

As Americans live longer and more families are forced to cope with common late-in-life issues like dementia, the problem is getting worse. “It’s a huge issue nationally as the elderly population grows and their minds start to falter,” [one attorney interviewed for the story] said. “I’ve seen charities coming after people for multiple gifts: Sometimes these donors don’t remember that they already gave the previous week. Romantic partners, caregivers who take advantage of the elderly — we’re seeing it all.”

Elderly people may be especially susceptible to the influence of people who happen to be around them during their waning days.

Professor David English (full disclosure, co-author and friend) "a professor of trusts and estates at the University of Missouri School of Law and former chairman of the American Bar Association’s commission on law and aging" said

This is an issue for lots of people of even modest wealth... [and] the most common approach is the creation of a trust, either revocable (which means it can later be changed) or irrevocable, that anticipates such a problem and defines what the creator of the trust means by incapacity. This could be a much less rigorous standard than is typically applied by courts... The document should define the meaning of incapacity and, more importantly, indicate who determines incapacity....

The article goes on to examine the importance of trusts that are carefully well-drafted to address issues such as those faced in this case.  However, "sometimes no amount of legal advice can save people from an unwillingness to face their own mortality and cede control while still in full control of their faculties."

June 21, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Health Care/Long Term Care, Property Management | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Window on a "Small" Case of Exploitation in New York

A recent court decision in New York details the extraordinary efforts made by an individual to take advantage of a former co-worker as she aged and became affected by dementia.  One of the tools of abuse was a Power of Attorney, dated 2010, that he reportedly used as his authority to isolate her from family members.  The court found that he  was able to then manipulate her as he controlled her finances, having the woman sign checks he later claimed were "gifts," for purposes such as to "defray costs of his visit to France to see his daughter," "to help him buy a house in Normandy," or to cover "the costs of his art exhibit in Paris."  Ultimately, the court concluded that the respondent/defendant, who under New York law was in the role of fiduciary as an appointed agent, could not satisfy his burden of proof to show the alleged gifts were free from undue influence.  

The trial level court entered an order finding him liable for $122,000 plus costs and interest, and restraining him from "transferring, using, spending or hypothecating any of his assets" until the judgment was paid.  See Matter of Mitchell, 2016 NY Slip Opinion 50853(U), decided June 3, 2016 by the New York Supreme court, Kings County.  

That is the "befriender" side of the issues.  However, the court also addressed the possibility of a will executed in 2013.  The discussion of the will brings into play the role of an attorney who was called by the defendant to testify at the hearing on the gift transactions, apparently in an attempt to bolster his arguments about the woman's capacity.  That plan backfired.

The way it all plays out through the testimony, as recounted by the judge in his opinion, raises important questions about what could or should the lawyer have done differently.  

The court wrote:

Continue reading

June 16, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Elder Abuse in Florida

The Orlando Sentinel ran a story about elder abuse increasing in Florida. Although the data is hard to come by, Elder Abuse on the Rise in Florida explains that:

In Florida, the number of verified cases of elder abuse and neglect has climbed 74 percent since 2011, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families. In 2015, the statewide total was 2,525.

More than 800 people have been charged with elder abuse and neglect in Florida in the past five years, according to the Office of State Courts Administrator. More than 370 have been convicted or sentenced.

The story also offers data on a nationwide basis and discusses the difficulties in prosecuting elder abuse cases, such as the victim's close ties to the perpetrator or cognition issues of the victim

The accompanying sidebar provides statistics, Elder Abuse in Florida by the Numbers for the past 5 years, broken down by verified cases of elder abuse or neglect and criminal elder abuse or neglect.

June 14, 2016 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 10, 2016

Filial Friday: Georgia Supreme Court Rules that No Equitable "Right of Access" is Created by Filial Support Law

Georgia Supreme CourtAdult daughter Tamara Williford filed a petition for equitable relief in February 2015, seeking a Georgia court's order that her father's current wife must allow her access to her father.  Williford alleged that her father,  Tommy Brown, was in poor physical health, unable to leave his home, but in good mental condition.  She said she had talked with him regularly by telephone and in person, until his wife prevented her from doing so.

Apparently Mrs. Brown, Tommy's wife, was named as the only defendant in the lawsuit, and responded by denying Williford was a biological child, denying her husband was in poor health, and denying that he wanted to see Williford.

In June 2016, the trial court dismissed Williford's petition, and she took a timely appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court. Oral argument was held in February 2016.

In Williford v. Brown decided May 9, 2016, the Georgia Supreme Court (pictured above) unanimously affirmed the dismissal, finding that there was no statutory or other legal grounds alleged that would support the "equitable remedy" sought by Ms. Williford.  Specifically, the court rejected the argument made on appeal that Georgia's version of a filial support law, OCGA Section 36-12-3, provided grounds for relief.  That statute says:

The father, mother, or child of any pauper contemplated by Code Section 36-12-2, if sufficiently able, shall support the pauper. Any county having provided for such pauper upon the failure of such relatives to do so may bring an action against such relatives of full age and recover for the provisions so furnished. The certificate of the judge of the probate court that the person was poor and was unable to sustain himself and that he was maintained at the expense of the county shall be presumptive evidence of such maintenance and the costs thereof.

The court concluded that this section "does not purport to confer on adult children a right to unrestrained visitation" with  parents.  "Moreover, Ms. Williford did not allege in her petition that Mr. Brown is a 'pauper,' much less that she believes that Hart County has or will ever have to maintain him at county expenses and then pursue an action against her."

In a footnote to the ruling, the court observes that the daughter "did not alleged and does not claim on appeal" that the wife prevented her husband "from leaving his home or communicate with persons other than Ms. Williford." Therefore, the court said it was not necessary to address whether a theory of "general habeas corpus" where a person was allegedly held "incommunicado illegally and against his will." 

This seems like a very sad case. One Georgia elder law attorney suggests that "if the ruling in this case disturbs you, then perhaps it is a good time to call your local legislator."  

June 10, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Florida Health Care Agency Revokes Nursing Home License at CCRC

We've reported earlier, including here and here, about recent financial and management issues at a Tampa, Florida continuing care retirement community that operates under the name of University Village. The latest event is the May 31, 2016 order of an administrative law judge that would uphold the decision of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration to  revoke the license for operation of a skilled nursing facility at University Village..  

Many of the concerns appear to focus on the alleged action (or inaction) of an individual, John Bartle, who is described as holding various titles in the company that controls the CCRC's operations. At one point, the Administrative Law Judge made clear his view on Bartle's testimony:

The letter and the email reveal Mr. Bartle’s view that deadlines established by regulatory authorities performing the duties imposed on them for the protection of the public by the Legislature are not significant. This disregard, if not disdain, for the statutes and rules governing nursing home services and the enforcement of them is patent in the letter and e-mail, Mr. Bartle’s dismissive testimony about the shifting relationships of the various entities, his demeanor when testifying, and his evasive manner of answering questions when testifying. For these reasons, Mr. Bartle’s denial of the March 3 letter and much of his uncorroborated testimony are not accepted as credible.

My thanks to Karen Miller, Esq. for sharing this unusual ruling.  

June 7, 2016 in Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Property Management | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 6, 2016

Free Webinar on June 15: Financial Frauds & Scams Against Elders

The National Consumer Law Center, working in cooperation with the Administration for Community Living and the National Legal Resource Center will host a free webinar on Financial Frauds and Scams Against Elders: Government Responses and Resources on Wednesday, June 15, 2016 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. (Eastern Time).  The presenters are Naomi Karp, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and David Kirkman, Consumer Protection Division for the North Carolina Department of Justice.

This webinar will examine the fraud and scams aimed at elders, the traits that make elders vulnerable, and state and local government responses. This webinar will also discuss the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) recent Advisory and Recommendations to financial institutions on preventing and responding to financial exploitation, as well as other CFPB resources available to attorneys, advocates and service providers.

On-line registration is required, but it looks like you can register at the last minute, although there is a maximum limit on the webinar -- 3,000 attendees!  

June 6, 2016 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Webinars | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

American Society on Aging Call for Proposals

The annual American Society on Aging (ASA) conference is scheduled for March 20-24, 2017 in Chicago. The planning committee is now accepting proposals to present at the conference.  For more information or to submit a proposal, click here. The deadline for submitting a proposal is June 30, 2017.

May 31, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Health Care/Long Term Care, Programs/CLEs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 23, 2016

California Supreme Court Clarifies Parties Potentially Liable for "Neglect" Under State's Elder Abuse Law

I think it is safe to say that California has one of the most significant -- and for some, controversial -- "elder protection" laws in the U.S.  For example, while all states permit state authorities to investigate and intervene in instances of elder abuse, California's statute recognizes a victim's private right of action for damages, arising from physical abuse, neglect, or fiduciary abuse of an elderly or dependent adult. There are certain proof requirements and limitations on the damages that can be awarded under California's Elder Abuse Act, but, where the plaintiff shows clear and convincing evidence of recklessness, oppression, fraud or malice, the prevailing party can also obtain "heightened remedies," including "reasonable attorneys fees" and costs.  At the same time, the history of the California law also reflects a legislative tension between a determination to address elder abuse and concern about the potential impact of the broader remedy in so-called traditional "medical malpractice" claims.  This tension plays out in a ruling by the California Supreme Court in the long-running case of Winn v. Pioneer Medical Group Inc.  In the unanimous decision published May 19. 2016, the court helpfully summarizes its own holding:

We granted review to determine whether the definition of neglect under the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act (Welf. & Inst. Code Section 15600 et seq.; the Elder Abuse Act or Act) applies when a health care provider -- delivering care on an outpatient basis -- failed to refer an elder patient to a specialist.  What we conclude is that the Act does not apply unless the defendant health care provider had a substantial caretaking or custodial relationship, involving ongoing responsibility for one or more basic needs, with the elder patient. 

The court further explains, "It is the nature of the elder or dependent adult's relationship with the defendant -- not the defendant's professional standing -- that makes the defendant potentially liable for neglect.  Because defendants did not have a caretaking or custodial relationship with the decedent, we find that plaintiffs cannot adequately allege neglect under the Elder Abuse Act."

The California Supreme Court concluded that the Winn plaintiffs cannot bring a claim for statutory "elder neglect" arising out of allegations that treating physicians failed  for two years to refer an 83 year-old woman to a vascular specialist. The suit dates back to 2007-2009, with the patient alleged to have died from complications associated with chronic ulcers of her lower extremities.  The unanimous ruling reverses the California Court of Appeals' 2 to 1 ruling in favor of the statutory claim, issued in May 2013.  

This ruling does seem to leave nursing homes and similar "custodial" care providers potentially subject to the enhanced remedies of California's Elder Abuse Act. 

May 23, 2016 in Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 9, 2016

New Article-Preventing DPOA Abuses

The May 2016 issue of the South Carolina Bar Journal, SC Lawyer contains the article, Quick and Dirty Tips to Prevent Power of Attorney AbuseThe author offers several tips, starting with meeting with the client alone, determine if the client has capacity to sign the DPOA, ascertain the client's goals and expectations, "name an honest, trustworthy and trusted agent" (the author suggests the attorney "[google the agent and check your local court judgment index"); consider co-agents; use a springing POA; include an accounting provision to require the agent "to account in some fashion to a family member(s) or other trusted individual. It can be as formal or as informal as the principal desires. In that way there is another person informed about the principal’s financial situation" and even using a "cooling off" period for the client to think further before signing the DPOA.

The article also covers actions when the agent misuses the DPOA. The article concludes

There is no easy answer to the problem of elder financial abuse. There is no silver bullet. Elder financial abuse is a problem that is only going to get worse. We as attorneys can’t prevent all financial abuse, but we need to be aware of, and adopt, measures that reduce the risk of durable power of attorney abuse. The threat can never be eliminated, but with communication and education, it can be minimized.

 

Thanks to the article's author, Michael J. Polk, for sending me the link to the article.

 

May 9, 2016 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Health Care/Long Term Care, Property Management, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 29, 2016

Is Nursing Home Operator Entitled to Bar Plaintiff Firm's Use of Finger-Pointing Ads?

It seems nursing home operators are calling upon some of the same "trade practice" laws they are sometimes accused of violating, in an effort to thwart what the operators see as misleading advertising by personal injury attorneys.  

One of the latest suits has reached the Georgia Supreme court, where the Mississippi-based law firm of McHugh Fuller Group is seeking to overturn a lower court's injunction preventing it from running a statewide ad campaign, including full-page color ads, seeking potential clients who "suspect that a loved one was NEGLECTED or ABUSED" by a nursing home run by PruittHealth, Inc.  From an April 27, 2016  Georgia Courts' summary of parties' arguments before the high court

PruittHealth sued the law firm under the Georgia Deceptive Trade Practices Act, which authorizes a court to issue an injunction (a court order requiring a certain action be halted) against anyone who uses someone’s trade name without permission if there is even a “likelihood” that the use will injure the business reputation of the owner or dilute its trade name or mark. The trial court entered a temporary restraining order against the law group, scheduled a hearing and notified the parties that it intended to consider PruittHealth’s request for a permanent injunction. The trial court issued another order on June 1, 2015, permanently stopping the law group from running ads that used PruittHealth’s trade names, service marks, or other trade styles. The law group filed a motion for reconsideration, which the trial court denied. The law firm is now appealing to the Georgia Supreme Court....

 

The law group argues, among other things, that the court erred in determining the ads violated Georgia Code section 10-1-451(b), which is called Georgia’s “antidilution statute.” That statute says dilution occurs “where the use of the trademark by the subsequent user will lessen the uniqueness of the prior user’s mark with the possible future result that a strong mark may become a weak mark.” The law firm argues that it is not eroding the strength of PruittHealth’s mark, but is only identifying specific nursing homes against which it is accepting cases, and that PruittHealth failed to demonstrate that actual injury occurred as a result of the ads.

This isn't the first time that the McHugh Fuller Law Group has been on the receiving end of a lawsuit by a nursing home company.  In February 2015, Heartland of Portsmouth in Ohio and McHugh Fuller Law Group were in federal court arguing about diversity jurisdiction over Heartland's claim the law firm was using "false and misleading advertising in order to encourage tort litigation" against the nursing home's operations in Ohio.  Similar litigation, seeking injunctive relief, was underway by Genesis Healthcare Corporation against the McHugh Fuller firm in West Virginia in 2007, although it is unclear from my research whether either of those cases reached a final resolutions.  

My thanks to Professor Laurel Terry, Dickinson Law, for pointing me to this ABA Journal post that encouraged my search for more about these cases.

April 29, 2016 in Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Health Care/Long Term Care, Legal Practice/Practice Management | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

"It's Always About the Money" - One Man's Work to Change Oversight of Guardianships

Here's is a new podcast of an interview with Rick Black on All Talk Radio (about 15 minutes, starting at the 3:25  minute mark), who has strong words about elder abuse based on his family's experiences with a guardianship in Clark County Nevada, plus his own additional research about guardianship systems in Nevada and beyond.  (You may have to give this time to load, as it is an embedded video file).  

 

 

For more, read the April 4, 2016 Editorial from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, entitled "Elder Abuse." 

 

April 24, 2016 in Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The "Unbefriended" Need Trustworthy Representatives, including Rep Payees

Someone asked me recently about "alternatives" for law students interested in helping older persons or disabled adults.   I said, in essence, "figure out how to start and operate a cost-effective, soundly-managed, and reliable, nonprofit rep-payee organization in your community."  (And understand that you won't make a fortune, but you can make a good living with a well-run nonprofit!)   

Coinciding with my off-the-cuff advice is a white paper recently released by Justice in Aging, with the assistance of funding through the Borchard Center Foundation on Law & Aging.

In "Ways to Meet the Growing Need for Representative Payees," Justice in Aging recommends that the Social Security System partner with organizations, including attorney organizations, to establish a "sustainable program to help recruit representative payees who are reliable and suitable to perform all of the required duties" of a rep-payee for those receiving federal program benefits but who often are unable to manage the money soundly. In some instances they may have no easy access to reliable family or friends.  The "unbefriended," who, in turn, may be vulnerable to those with bad intentions:

Aging demographics and the predicted increase in cognitive deficits and other chronic conditions are expected to create a dramatic need for representative payees. For many of these seniors, family members and friends may be unavailable to serve in this capacity. SSA should think broadly about the groups of people eligible to serve as payees and then create standards for appointment, require a more in-depth level of training, and increased accountability.

Justice in Aging closes by urging that SSA's "recruitment efforts should be geared towards eligible individuals with legal experience as well as other fields with relevant backgrounds, such as social workers and religious community leaders."

April 21, 2016 in Consumer Information, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 4, 2016

Accountability in Guardianship & Conservator Cases: Latest from Nevada

Under most state laws governing guardians and conservators, appointed fiduciaries are required to make reports to the court at regular intervals, usually beginning with the initial inventory of the ward's assets, followed by distribution reports on at least an annual basis.   As part of the ongoing investigation into accountability for guardianships under the jurisdiction of the district court in Clark County (Las Vegas) Nevada, an internal court review apparently demonstrated key weaknesses.  As reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal in an April 1, 2016 article:

An internal review of guardianship cases in Clark County showed that less than half are in compliance with state laws and that most vulnerable adults are stripped of rights without an attorney.

 

District Court Judge Diane Steele provided an in-depth overview of the county’s guardianship caseload during a presentation to the Nevada Supreme Court commission studying guardianship. The panel has been meeting since last summer in an effort to fix the state’s troubled system. The commission was formed following a Review-Journal series highlighting the flaws and lack of oversight of county’s guardianship system that watches over thousands of at-risk adults, called wards.

 

Most compliance issues stemmed from family members not knowing they needed to file annual reports for their incapacitated family member, according to the report.

 

But the study showed that about 850 of the 3,800 active cases have not filed the required annual accountings that show how a ward’s money was distributed and spent over a 12-month period. In 975 cases, the initial inventory — which lists the assets of the ward such as real estate, vehicles and liquid assets — was also missing, the report said.

For an interesting national perspective on the need to establish more effective court systems, from the perspective of the National Association for Court Management (NACM), see this well-presented recording of a webinar on "How to Protect Our National's Most Vulnerable Adults through Effective Guardianship Practices."  The webinar, with excellent slides and lasting about 50 minutes (plus another 10 minutes of Q & A), is undated but appears to be fairly recent, as one of the slides features news reports from Las Vegas.

April 4, 2016 in Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, March 21, 2016

Florida Governor Signs Second Wave of Reform Laws for Public and Private Guardians

On March 10, 2016, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law additional rules for the state's use of guardians. The move comes on the heels of a first wave of reforms enacted in 2015

The two waves of legislation follow media reports and public protests in specific locations in Florida, including Palm Beach and Sarasota. The latest law establishes a new state-wide Office of Public and Professional Guardians, and includes directions that the Office establish a system for appointment and monitoring of trained professionals, to serve where necessary as limited guardians, guardian advocates or plenary guardians.  Such "public" guardians are intended to be a last option, when family members are inappropriate, unable or unwilling to serve. 

In addition to the legislative actions, there are reports of court-directed changes to address potential conflicts of interest that could reduce the incentive for critical review and oversight.  For example, in Palm Beach, media reports put a spotlight on relationships between judges and lawyers in that county and especially on one judge's spouse, a lawyer who often received court-appointments and who was criticized for billing and accounting practices in some cases where she was the court-appointed guardian. 

For earlier reports on Florida's guardianship history, see this Blog's report on "Florida to Consider Establishment of Office of Public and Professional Guardians."

For a longer perspective on the recognized need for more effective state systems for guardianship review, see the GAO report (11-678), released in 2011, that warns that "Given limited funding for monitoring, [state] courts may be reluctant to invest in [better] practices without evidence of their feasibility and effectiveness."  See also GAO 2006 report (06-1086(T)), titled "Guardianships: Little Progress in Ensuring Protection for Incapacitated Elderly People."

Further, for findings and recommendations made to the Uniform Law Commission following a summit in 2011, see University of Missouri Law Professor David M. English's report, "Amending the UGPPA to Implement the 3rd National Guardianship Summit."

March 21, 2016 in Consumer Information, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 18, 2016

Does California's New "Revocable Transfer on Death (TOD) Deed" Increase Risk of Elder Abuse and Estate Costs?

Colleagues in California recently shared with me information on California's adoption of statutory recognition of "Transfer on Death Deeds" or TODs under AB 139.  The law was signed by the Governor on September 21, 2015 and became effective on January 1, 2016.  The law includes "simple" forms, both for establishing the "revocable" transfer of title, and for any "revocation" of such a deed.  Proponents of the legislation cite simplicity and low cost as advantages of using such deeds. The legislative history for the law explains:

The bill would provide, among other things, that the deed, during the owner’s life, does not affect his or her ownership rights and, specifically, is part of the owner’s estate for the purpose of Medi-Cal eligibility and reimbursement. The bill would void a revocable TOD deed if, at the time of the owner’s death, the property is titled in joint tenancy or as community property with right of survivorship. The bill would establish priorities for creditor claims against the owner and the beneficiary of the deed in connection with the property transferred and limits on the liability of the beneficiary. The bill would establish a process for contesting the transfer of real property by a revocable TOD deed. The bill would make other conforming and technical changes. The bill would require the California Law Revision Commission to study and make recommendations regarding the revocable TOD deed to the Legislature by January 1, 2020.

Critics of the law, including California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR), warn that despite the "simple" label, the appropriate use of such transfers in estate planning is anything but simple, and such deeds pose another opportunity for undue influence and manipulation of elders.  

The spring issue of CANHR's Advocate newsletter (available via subscription, following a "donation" to the organization) further comments:

It is important to note that thousands of California citizens who are 55 years of age or older and who have recently signed up for health care under California's Medic-Cal expansion program will now have their estates subject to Medi-Cal recovery when they die. If their homes were transferred before their deaths, transferred to an irrevocable trust or if they transferred the property and retained an irrevocable life estate (another cheap, but effective way to transfer property) there will be no estate claim on the home.  But, because the [new law's] TOD is revocable and the transfer and the transfer of the property under a TOD does not occur until the death of the owner, these TODs are subject to estate recovery, which means that those same low-income elders, who are likely to execute TODs will also be more likely to be on Medi-Cal and thus [inadvertently] subject their estates to recovery.

CANHR is "embarking on a campaign to educate consumers about the impact" of the new California law.

March 18, 2016 in Consumer Information, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Housing, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Los Angeles Times: "Visitation Rights" Bills Under Consideration in Ten States

To follow up on an earlier Elder Law Prof Blog post about recently enacted "visitation rights bills," we note that the Los Angeles Times has reported on advocacy efforts by high-profile children such as Catherine Falk, daughter of actor Peter Falk, and Kerri Kasem, daughter of Casey Kasem, in support of similar legislation in other states: 

Though Falk and Kasem work independently, they've become a powerful one-two punch for reforming visitation laws, stumping for change in more than 30 states. Falk says her proposed legislation is now being considered in 10 states; Kasem's bill has already been adopted in three — California, Iowa and Texas.

 

The two agree their efforts are getting notice because of their celebrity fathers, and have little problem with such an advantage. "This isn't the Casey Kasem Bill, or the Mickey Rooney Bill, or the B.B. King Bill," Kasem said, referring to other personalities who went through similar elder battles. "It's the Visitation Rights Bill, and it affects thousands in the U.S."

The comments posted in reaction to the article are also interesting, with some pointing out that in both the Kasem and Falk families, the disputes involved women married for decades to the celebrities in question.   Others point to the question of how ordinary families cope with these kinds of access issues, especially without the money or time to pursue rulings by courts.

For more read "These Children of Celebrity Dads Are Taking Their Stepmoms to Court."

March 17, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Window Into New York Legal Fees For Guardianship Proceedings

A recent opinion in Matter of L.H (M. H.), a contested guardianship matter that was eventually settled, provides a window into legal fees.  In this New York case, following a settlement, the court was asked by the parties to determine reasonable fees to be paid to the attorney who served as the "court evaluator" and the attorney who successfully represented the Alleged Incapacitated Person (AIP) in resisting the guardianship.  

The court noted the guardianship was part of larger family disputes following a divorce.  As part of the settlement, the petitioner, a family member of the AIP, withdrew the petition for appointment of a guardian.   The parties stipulated that the fees could not exceed $50,000.  That amount was set aside for any payments ordered by the court, funded by a trust held by the petitioner (not the AIP). 

The court considered this withdrawal to be the "functional equivalent" of a dismissal, giving the court discretion under the statute to allocate fees in such proportions as it deemed just. 

As required by New York Law, the court made detailed findings.  The court concluded:

  • "[The evaluator] performed in an extraordinary manner under difficult circumstances ... [and her] report focused a spotlight on the amended petition's lack of merit, and was instrumental in resolving this proceeding."  The court awarded the evaluator $22,748 for 82.75 hours of professional services at $275 per hour.
  • "[T]he efforts [of the attorney for the AIP] led to a positive outcome for the AIP, with her civil liberties fully intact, there being no need for a guardian for her. Attorneys who have similar experience and status within the guardianship bar charge between $400 and $600 dollars per hour for their services.  However, in view of the agreed upon $50,000 cap on the possible awards for the feeds incurred... [the attorney for the AIP] is awarded $27,051.25... as reasonable compensation (at $335.00 per hour) for 80.75 hours of legal services."

The court observed that the lawyer for the AIP "is one of the preeminent guardianship and elder law attorneys [in] New York State."

March 16, 2016 in Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 14, 2016

Al Jazeera America Reports on "Guardianship Fears" in Nevada

Here is a 12 minute account of two families involved in older person guardianships, where the court appointed a single, non-family member as guardian in Clark County, Nevada.  The presentation is by Al Jazeera America, aired for the first time in March 2016:

 

The events in Nevada have sparked larger concerns about "guardianship abuse."  The video is both disturbing and frustrating, especially as we hear primarily from family members in the presentation. There are hints of important, underlying legal issues, including:

  • adequacy of notice to alleged incapacitated persons (AIP) prior to any court proceeding;
  • adequacy of notice to family members of the AIP
  • proper use of guardians ad litem
  • availability of legal counsel to the AIP
  • what procedural requirements exist for a finding of incapacity
  • what definition is used for incapacity
  • whether limited guardianships are used, and if not, why not
  • what training, if any, is given to guardians
  • what accounting methods are used for review of conserved funds

The important topics revealed in the news reports seem ripe for in-depth research by objective academics, including law school academics. Anyone looking for that "hot" topic for next summer's project?  

For earlier Elder Law Prof Blog posts on this topic see:

If the Issue is Accountability, Which is Better? Power of Attorney or Guardianships?

WSJ: Are Guardianship Systems Under Critical Review? 

Removal of Private Guardian is Latest News in Challenge to Nevada Elder Guardianships

March 14, 2016 in Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Featured Articles from ABA Commission on Law & Aging's Bifocal

From the most recent issue (issue No. 3) of Bifocal, the electronic journal published by the ABA Commission on Law and Aging, links to several interesting feature articles:

Creating Effective Agreements for Payment of Family Caregivers


When lapses in memory or physical issues start to affect activities of a loved one's daily living, such as cooking, eating, bathing, or paying bills, it's time to evaluate their needs and living situation. As the affected loved one's care needs increase, attorneys can assist with drafting caregiving/personal care agreements.

The Social Security Administration’s Representative Payee Program


To ensure that all beneficiaries can receive their payments and make proper use of funds, Congress has granted the Social Security Administration (SSA) the authority to appoint third parties, known as representative payees, to receive and manage payments when the beneficiary is unable to do so. With Alzheimer's disease and other cognitive impairments on the rise, more seniors find themselves unable to manage their own benefits. SSA is currently exploring additional ways to identify seniors who may be in need of a representative payee. When working with seniors or caring for loved ones, please be aware of the following information about the rep payee program to help identify seniors in need.

Performance Data on Emeritus Pro Bono Practice Rules


Emeritus pro bono practice rules can be effective tools for recruiting volunteer attorneys. Specifically, by reducing some of the licensing burdens for attorneys who agree to limit practice to pro bono only, these rules are designed to encourage pro bono service. Whether these rules are actually effective in encouraging pro bono service, however, is an empirical question. To answer that question, a short online survey was done in 2014 returning modest data. In 2015 the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service--in collaboration with the ABA Commission on Law and Aging--launched a project to collect more complete data on participation, the number of hours, and what recruitment methods appear to be most successful.

March 11, 2016 in Consumer Information, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0)