Thursday, October 19, 2017
Every day I fight with my email in-box, trying to delete the stuff that just isn't necessary to open, much less read. For example, I know more or less which emails -- no matter how tempting the regarding line -- are what I call "junk science" emails that claw their way past my spam filter. A lot of them involve "anti-aging" theories that promote foods, exercises, vitamins or minerals that "May" prevent cognitive or physical decline. "May" with a capital "M."
But United States District Judge Roslyn Silver, from Arizona, recently shared an article she's using with a class she is teaching at Arizona State's law school. In the June 2017 issue of Smithsonian Magazine, the subtitle for the article explains: "Backed by digital fortunes of Silicon Valley, biotech companies are brazenly setting out to 'cure' aging." The author profiles the work of controversial author Aubrey de Grey and "Chief Science Officer" from SENS, a biotech research enterprise in California. The author summarizes:
The basic vision behind SENS is that aging isn’t an inevitable process by which your body just happens to wear out over time. Rather, it’s the result of specific biological mechanisms that damage molecules or cells. Some elements of this idea date back to 1972, when the biogerontologist Denham Harman noted that free radicals (atoms or molecules with a single unpaired electron) cause chemical reactions, and that these reactions can damage the mitochondria, the powerhouses within cells. Since then, studies have linked free radicals to all sorts of age-related ailments, from heart disease to Alzheimer’s.
De Grey takes this concept further than most scientists are willing to go. His 1999 book argued that there could be a way to obviate mitochondrial damage, slowing the process of aging itself. Now SENS is working to prove this. Its scientists are also studying other potential aging culprits, such as the cross-links that form between proteins and cause problems like arteriosclerosis. They’re looking at damage to chromosomal DNA, and at “junk” materials that accumulate inside and outside cells (such as the plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients).
Despite the controversies associated with the work of de Grey and other anti-aging proponents, the article points to a "mini-boom of private investment in Silicon Valley, where a handful of labs have sprung up in SENS' shadow, funded most notably by tech magnates."
One of the early critics of de Gray concedes that anti-aging theorists have attracted needed money and energy into age-related research beyond "just" the 1,000-year-old human goal:
More than a decade later, [University of Massachusetts Medical School Professor] Tissenbaum now sees SENS in a more positive light. “Kudos to Aubrey,” she says diplomatically. “The more people talking about aging research, the better. I give him a lot of credit for bringing attention and money to the field. When we wrote that paper, it was just him and his ideas, no research, nothing. But now they are doing a lot of basic, fundamental research, like any other lab.”
I can definitely see how this article would be useful in a law school class on aging, elder law, or estate planning. It raises fundamental questions in governance, economics and human rights, including implications from disparities in life expectancy that already exist and are increasing, associated with comparative wealth.
For the full article, see Can Human Mortality Really be Hacked? by Elmo Keep.
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
During the last several years, I've received calls from around the country about possible guardianship "oversight" concerns. And since The New Yorker article came out last week focusing on guardianship issues in Las Vegas Nevada, I've been getting more calls. The question arises: Is there a pervasive problem with court-appointed guardians for older adults in the United States?
In my opinion, the answer is "no, not pervasive." At least, that's my answer if the definition of pervasive is "universal," or omnipresent, or rife, or widespread. In the 20+ years I've been working in elder law, I've unfortunately reviewed a lot of cases of exploitation, but it is comparatively rare that I've been asked to examine a court-monitored guardianship where there was a problem created by inadequate attention by the courts, much less active misconduct by the court or agency. Granted, that is just one law professor's experience.
Still, in my opinion, the oversight problems that do exist within the U.S. are significant, periodic, sometimes recurring or persistent, and often have common elements. The issues can exist in any county court or fiduciary administrative system. Historically, these courts -- sometimes called probate courts, fiduciary courts, surrogate courts, or orphans courts -- depended on the guardians for management of all issues, once the appointments were made. The judges trusted their appointees to take their fiduciary responsibilities seriously. But, as is sometimes said in international relations, the problem can be how best to "trust, but verify" proper behavior. With more elder boomers, there can be increased need for guardians, and thus more potential for guardians to be monitored.
- For example, in Maricopa County, Arizona, an investigative news series, that began in 2008 with the reporting of Laurie Roberts for the Arizona Republic, described a number of mishandled older adult guardianships. In some instances, the family members were so busy arguing about money, that the incapacitated elder was ignored, while his or her estate was diminished to pay fees. Sometimes the question was whether a "full" guardianship was even necessary. The problems, once investigated not just by journalists but by the courts, resulted in changes in Arizona guardianship law.
- In Palm Beach County, Florida, complaints about appointment of a particular individual as guardian in a large number of cases, focused on conflict of interest and claims of favoritism by the court, complaints that came from a number of families. Eventually, in one case challenging the system, a jury reportedly awarded more than $16 million against two West Palm Beach attorneys for "breach of fiduciary duties." The complaints also led to state investigations of Florida's entire oversight systems, and brought three years of legislative changes to Florida guardianship laws.
- Most recently, two co-founders of a nonprofit guardianship company, Ayudando Guardianship, in Bernalillo County, New Mexico were indicted in federal court in July 2017 with criminal charges including conspiracy, mail fraud, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering. The company was the appointed fiduciary in hundreds of cases.
Especially when the Clark County, Nevada cases are included in this list of recent challenges to guardianship oversight systems, concerns about proper and objective oversight are real; without a equally real commitment to more careful selection, training, monitoring and accountability for guardians, the problems can be predicted to increase as the baby boomer generation of seniors get to their 70s, 80s, or 90s. In 2016, the GAO for the United States responded to a U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging's request for data on "the extent of abuse by guardians," and concluded that "courts lack comprehensive data on older adults in guardianships and elder abuse by guardians, but some courts have limited information." Unreliable data certainly leaves open the potential for the occasional problems to become pervasive problems.
October 11, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (2)
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
New Yorker: Article Focuses on Clark County Nevada to Demonstrate Systemic Failures under State Guardianships
The New Yorker Magazine offers "Reporter at Large" Rachel Aviv's feature in its October 9, 2017 issue, where she digs deeply into concerns raised by multiple cases in Clark County, Nevada where a court-favored, appointed guardian, April Parks, was often involved:
Parks drove a Pontiac G-6 convertible with a license plate that read “crtgrdn,” for “court guardian.” In the past twelve years, she had been a guardian for some four hundred wards of the court. Owing to age or disability, they had been deemed incompetent, a legal term that describes those who are unable to make reasoned choices about their lives or their property. As their guardian, Parks had the authority to manage their assets, and to choose where they lived, whom they associated with, and what medical treatment they received. They lost nearly all their civil rights.
Parks and other individuals, including her husband, were eventually indicted on criminal charges including perjury and theft, "narrowly focused on their double billing and their sloppy accounting," but as The New Yorker piece suggests, the court system itself shares blame for years of failing to impose effective and appropriate oversight over the guardians.
In the wake of Parks’s indictment, no judges have lost their jobs. Norheim was transferred from guardianship court to dependency court, where he now oversees cases involving abused and neglected children. Shafer is still listed in the Clark County court system as a trustee and as an administrator in several open cases. He did not respond to multiple e-mails and messages left with his bookkeeper, who answered his office phone but would not say whether he was still in practice. He did appear at one of the public meetings for the commission appointed to analyze flaws in the guardianship system. “What started all of this was me,” he said. Then he criticized local media coverage of the issue and said that a television reporter, whom he’d talked to briefly, didn’t know the facts. “The system works,” Shafer went on. “It’s not the guardians you have to be aware of, it’s more family members.” He wore a blue polo shirt, untucked, and his head was shaved. He looked aged, his arms dotted with sun spots, but he spoke confidently and casually. “The only person you folks should be thinking about when you change things is the ward. It’s their money, it’s their life, it’s their time. The family members don’t count.”
There are fundamental issues at the heart of this kind of history. Necessary and well-managed guardianships, under the best of circumstances, change the lives of individuals in ways that no person would want for him or herself. But when a guardianship system itself breaks down -- especially where judges or other administrators are unwilling or unable to be self-critical -- the confidence of the public in "the rule of law" is destroyed.
My thanks to Karen Miller (Florida), Jack Cumming (California), Richard Black (Nevada -- who is also quoted in The New Yorker piece), and Dick Kaplan (University of Illinois Law) for bringing The New Yorker piece to our attention quickly.
October 4, 2017 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, October 2, 2017
The case of Fisher v. King, in federal court in Pennsylvania, strikes me as unusual on several grounds. It is a civil rights case, alleging malicious prosecution, arising from an investigation of transferred funds from elderly parents, one of whom was in a nursing home, diagnosed with "dementia and frequent confusion."
Son-in-law John Fisher was financial advisor for his wife's parents, both of whom were in their 80s. He and his wife were charged with "theft by deception, criminal conspiracy, securing execution of documents by deception and deceptive/fraudulent business practices" by Pennsylvania criminal authorities, following an investigation of circumstances under which Fisher's mother-in-law and her husband transferred almost $700k in funds to an account allegedly formed by Fisher with his wife and sister-in-law as the only named account owners. A key allegation was that at the time of the transfer, the father-in-law was in a locked dementia unit, where he allegedly signed a letter authorizing the transfer, prepared by Fisher, but presented to him by his wife, Fisher's mother-in-law. The mother-in-law later challenged the transaction as contrary to her understanding and intention.
Son-in-law Fisher, his wife, and his wife's sister were all charged with the fraud counts. They initially raised as defense that the transactions were part of the mother's larger financial plan, including a gift by the mother to her daughters, but not to her son, their brother.
As described in court documents, shortly before trial on the criminal charges the two sisters apparently agreed to return the funds to their mother, and, with the "aggrieved party" thus made whole, Fisher and his wife entered into a Non-Trial Disposition that resulted in dismissed of all criminal charges. At that point, you might think that everyone in the troubled family would wipe their brows, say "phew," and head back to their respective homes.
Not so fast. Fisher then sued the Assistant District Attorney and the investigating police officer in federal court alleging violations under Section 1983 -- malicious prosecution and abuse of process.
October 2, 2017 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, September 18, 2017
In a case with sad facts, the lower court in Smith v. Smith certified a question to the Florida Supreme court as follows:
"Where the fundamental right of marry has not been removed from a ward [under state guardianship law], does the statute require the ward to obtain approval from the court prior to exercising the right to marry, without which the marriage is absolutely void, or does such failure render the marriage voidable, as court approval could be conferred after the marriage?"
During the guardianship proceeding at issue, apparently the original court had not specifically addressed the right to marry. In light of that fact, in its ruling on August 31, 2017, the Florida Supreme Court answered a slightly different issue, because it viewed the "right to marry" as being tied to the "right to contract," which had been expressly removed from the ward.
The Florida Supreme Court ruled that "where the right to contract has been removed [under Florida guardianship law], the ward is not required to obtain court approval prior to exercising the right to marry, but court approval is necessary before such a marriage can be given legal effect."
Counsel representing the wife of the incapacitated "husband," argued that, in effect, such ratification had already happened, during a proceeding where the guardianship judge had made comments treating the marriage as "fact." The Supreme Court disagreed:
Although the invalid marriage between Glenda and Alan is capable of ratification under [Florida law], it is unlikely that the Legislature intended for “court approval” to consist merely of acknowledging the existence of a marriage certificate and commenting on the alleged marriage, without issuing an order ratifying the marriage or conducting a hearing to verify that the ward understands the marriage contract, desires the marriage, and that the relationship is not exploitative. Therefore, we conclude the guardianship court's statements here were not sufficient to approve the marriage. However, the parties are not foreclosed from seeking court approval based on our decision today.
The ward in the Smith case was not alleged to be older or elderly; rather, the determination of his lack of legal capacity followed a head injury in a car accident. Recognizing the larger implications about validity of a marriage occurring during a guardianship, however, the Real Property Probate Section and the Elder Law Section of the Florida Bar and the Florida chapter of the National Association of Elder Law Attorneys submitted amicus briefs, arguing generally in favor of a ward's right to marry and urging the Supreme Court to approve post-marriage ratification by the guardianship court.
Thursday, September 14, 2017
As investigations begin into the report of 8 deaths of residents at a single nursing home in Broward County Florida three days after the region was impacted by Hurricane Irma, it occurred to me to look into post-Katrina legal proceedings involving nursing homes.
It turns out that very recently, in June 2017, the Louisiana Court of Appeals (4th Circuit) affirmed an award of $1,000,000 in damages for pain and suffering arising from one elderly woman's death at a nursing home four days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005. The nursing home argued comparative fault on the part of the Corp of Engineers for its "negligent design, construction and maintenance of" flood control systems in the region. The Court of Appeals rejected the nursing home's arguments regarding "non-party fault" (emphasis added below):
Following our de novo review of the proffered and record evidence regarding non-party fault, we cannot say that but-for the conduct of the Corps of Engineers, Ms. Robinette would not have died from heat stroke on the second floor of Lafon five days after the City of New Orleans had issued a mandatory evacuation order.
The record shows that flooding at Lafon was not the cause-in-fact of Ms. Robinette's death. Only one foot of water entered the building, and that water receded quickly. Ms. Robinette was not harmed by the flood water. Ms. Robinette's cause of death was heat stroke and dehydration due to her exposure to sweltering heat for four days. And Ms. Robinette's exposure to those extreme heat conditions was caused by Lafon's refusal to follow its own Evacuation Plan, and by the inadequacy of Lafon's backup emergency power generator. But for Lafon's substandard conduct, Ms. Robinette would not have succumbed to heat stroke caused by the lack of electrical power.
Because the Corps of Engineers' conduct was not the cause-in-fact of Ms. Robinette's death, we find no fault by the Corps.
How well-prepared are you for financing your retirement? Do you know your family's finances? The New York Times examined the situations that may be faced by women who are older who are not involved in the handling of their family's finances. Helping Women Over 50 Face Their Financial Fears covers a lecture series, Women and Wills, designed specifically for women over 50 that cover a variety of topics, including estate planning. health care, insurance, long term care, business succession planning and more. The founders are well aware that some women may not be up to speed on their family's finances, or other circumstances such as a spouse's illness, may present challenges for them. The founders plan to take their lecture series on the road, nationwide, and publish a book on the importance of planning.
Thanks to Professor Naomi Cahn for sending a link to the article.
Thursday, July 27, 2017
The inheritance system is beset by formalism. Probate courts reject wills on technicalities and refuse to correct obvious drafting mistakes by testators. These doctrines lead to donative errors, or outcomes that are not in line with the decedent’s donative intent. While scholars and reformers have critiqued the intent-defeating effects of formalism in the past, none have examined the resulting distribution of donative errors and connected it to broader social and economic inequalities. Drawing on egalitarian theories of distributive justice, this Article develops a novel critique of formalism in the inheritance law context. The central normative claim is that formalistic wills doctrines should be reformed because they create unjustified inequalities in the distribution of donative errors. In other words, probate formalism harms those who attempt to engage in estate planning without specialized legal knowledge or the economic resources to hire an attorney. By highlighting these distributive concerns, this Article reorients inheritance law scholarship to the needs of the middle class and crystallizes distributive arguments for reformers of the probate system.
When I teach Wills, Trusts & Estates, I always include a few of the latest news articles or case reports that focus on LegalZoom or other, less high-profile on-line document drafting venues that are used directly by consumers. Alex's article examines the implications of formalism for this important reality. Thanks, Alex!
Friday, July 21, 2017
In the latest chapter of an ongoing dispute between a specialized care facility, Melmark, Inc., and the older parents of a disabled adult son, Pennsylvania's intermediate Superior Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of the parents.
The July 19, 2017 appellate decision in Melmark v. Schutt is based on choice of law principles, analyzing whether New Jersey's more limited filial support law or Pennsylvania's broader filial law controlled. If applied, New Jersey law "would shield the [parents] from financial responsibility for [their son's] care because they are over age 55 and Alex is no longer a minor." By contrast, "Pennsylvania's filial support law...would provide no age-based exception to parental responsibility to pay for care rendered to an indigent adult child."
The parents and the son were all, as stipulated to the court, residents of New Jersey. New Jersey public funding paid from the son's specialized care needs at Melmark's Pennsylvania facility for some 11 years. However, when, as part of a "bring our children home" program, New Jersey cut the funding for cross-border placements, the parents, age 70 and 71 year old, opposed return of their 31-year old son, arguing lack of an appropriate placement. Eventually Melmark returned their son to New Jersey against the parents' wishes, with an outstanding bill for unpaid care totaling more than $205,000, incurred over his final 14 months at Melmark.
Both the Pennsylvania trial and appellate courts ruled against the facility, concluding that "the New Jersey statutory scheme reflects a legislative purpose to protect its elderly parents from financial liability associated with the provision of care for their public assistance-eligible indigent children under the present circumstances." The courts rejected application of Pennsylvania's law as controlling.
This is a tough case, with hard-line positions on the law staked out by both sides. One cannot expect facilities to provide quality care for free. On the other side, one can empathize with families who face limited local care choices and huge costs.
Ultimately, I anticipate these kinds of cross-border "family care and cost" disputes becoming more common in the future for care-dependent family members, as the impact of federal funding cuts trickle down to states with uneven resources of their own. Some of these problems won't see the courtroom, as facilities will likely resist any out-of-state placement where payment is not guaranteed by family members, old or young.
July 21, 2017 in Consumer Information, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Housing, Medicaid, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, June 22, 2017
We previously let you know that ACTEC has released the 5th edition of its Commentaries to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Now ACTEC has released a new edition of their engagement letters. Engagement Letters A Guide for Practitioners (3rd ed. 2017) is available as a pdf. There are 9 chapters with introductions, explanations, checklists and forms. The introduction explains the book's organization:
Following this introduction, there is a general checklist designed to aid the lawyer before preparing the engagement letter in any trust and estate representation. The general checklist includes cross references to the specific checklists and forms that follow. Following the general checklist, there are nine chapters, each with a basic engagement letter form or specific language to be added to, or used in conjunction with, a basic engagement letter form addressing:
Chapter 1: Estate Planning Representation of One Person or Spouses;
Chapter 2: Representation of Multiple Members of the Same Family Other Than or in Addition to Spouses;
Chapter 3: Representation of Multiple Parties in a Business Context;
Chapter 4: Estate Planning Lawyer Serving as a Fiduciary;
Chapter 5: Representation of Executors and Trustees in Administration Matters;
Chapter 6: Representation of Guardians/Conservators;
Chapter 7: Probate Litigation;
Chapter 8: Dealing with Diminished Capacity or Death of a Client Not Represented in a Fiduciary Capacity;
Chapter 9: Termination of Representation.
The introduction also offers a caution regarding the use of forms, a great reminder for all attorneys.
Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Kiplinger has a nifty quiz for you to test your knowledge about estate planning. The quiz, What Do You Know about Wills and Trusts? Test Your Estate-Planning Smarts consists of 10 multiple choice questions with explanations once you have answered a specific question. Take the quiz - it only takes about 5 minutes. Your results are instantaneous and you can compare your knowledge against the rest of us (the average is 7 correct answers out of 10). If you teach Trusts & Estates, this would be a good exercise to give during the first class!
Monday, May 15, 2017
Here's a seven-minute video on elder financial abuse, focusing mostly on "scam artists," from the Pennsylvania Departments of Aging and Banking & Securities. You might find this useful for classes.
I found the discussion of "mild cognitive impairment" interesting, especially as it allows a conversation about planning without the dreaded words, dementia or Alzheimer's Disease.
May 15, 2017 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Film | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Writing for the Institute for Family Studies, George Washington Law Professor Naomi Cahn and University of Minnesota Law Professor June Carbone dig into the black and white of statistics on "gray" divorce, with interesting observations. For example:
First, some good news for everyone: the divorce rate is still not all that high for those over the age of 50. Yes, it has doubled over the past 30 years: in 1990, five out of every 1,000 married people divorced, and in 2010, it was 10 out of every 1,000 married people. And yes, the rate has risen much more dramatically for gray Americans than for those under 50; in fact, there was a decline in the rate for those between the ages of 25-39. But the divorce rate for those over 50 is still half the rate for those under 50.
Divorce for older individuals often does have significant impacts for individuals in retirement, as they point out:
These statistics don’t mean that gray divorce isn’t a problem. Those who divorce at older ages, like those who divorce at younger ages, tend to have less wealth than those who remain married, with the gray divorced having only one-fifth of the assets of gray married couples. Compared to married couples, gray divorced women have relatively low Social Security benefits and relatively high poverty rates. While gray married, remarried, and cohabiting couples have poverty rates of four percent or less, 11 percent of men who divorced after the age of 50 were in poverty, and 27 percent of the women were in poverty.
For more, read "Who is at Risk for a Gray Divorce? It Depends."
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Kiplinger ran an article in their April issue on Dealing With Debts After Death explaining what adult children should do when their parents die with debts. Oftentimes the adult kids get an unpleasant surprise when they learn that their parents left debts behind. The article explains how in many instances the parents don't tell their kids about the debts, for various reasons. The article also references some statistics about increasing amounts of debt of elders. The article stresses how important it is for the adult kids to understand the implications of these debts and what, if any, debt for which they are responsible. The article discusses credit card debt, student loan debt, and mortgages. The article is useful not only for a quick discussion in classes, but to help students understand debt and liability. Check it out!
Thursday, April 13, 2017
Registration is now open for Stetson's annual Fundamentals of SNT Administration webinar. This half-day webinar is scheduled for May 5, 2017 from 1-5 p.m. The 4 speakers will cover topics on how to become a SNT administrator, Tax issues when making distributions, services and products a SNT administrator can provide, and an update on the laws, regs and POMS. The agenda is available here and registration is available here. (you can register online and fill out and submit a pdf).
Full disclosure, I'm the conference chair. Hope to see you virtually at this webinar!
Monday, February 27, 2017
NPR had a good recent summary of the politics behind opposition to full implementation of fiduciary duty standards for investment brokers in providing retirement advice:
Over the past two weeks, the Trump administration has taken steps to delay and perhaps scuttle a new rule designed to save American workers billions of dollars they currently pay in excessive fees in their retirement accounts.
The Obama administration spent 5 years crafting the rule through the Labor Department. It requires that financial advisers and brokers act in their customers' best interest when offering them investment advice for their workplace retirement accounts. Firms must comply by April [2917 under the current rule].
As the commentary pointed out, early-on Trump pledged to support the interests of ordinary working Americans and to take on Wall Street:
In his inauguration speech, President Trump talked about giving America back to everyday working Americans. In one of the more memorable moments, the president said, "The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer."
The fiduciary duty rule for investment brokers directly signals the tension between President Trump's pledge to working Americans and his career-long focus on big business.
AARP supports the rule, recognizing that the U.S. has an "under savings" problem. Distrust of investment advisers plays into the reluctance of ordinary Americans to engage in professionally-assisted planning for the future. Will AARP rally retirees to resist repeal or delay of the fiduciary duty rule?
For more, read or listen to Trump Moving to Delay Rule that Protects Workers from Bad Financial Advice.Trump Moving To Delay Rule That Protects Workers From Bad Financial Advice and White House to Investors: Put Savers' Interests First.
Warren Buffett has been counseling -- for years -- to avoid high fee "experts" for investment advice, recommending the use of index funds instead. See e.g. Newsday's "Warren Buffett Says Don't Waste Money on Investment Fees."
Friday, February 24, 2017
Washington State Discusses Expansion of Limited License Legal Technicians to Estate & Health Care Law
In 2012, the Washington Supreme Court approved Admission to Practice Rule 28, which created a new program for authorization of "limited license legal technicians," also known as LLLTs or "Triple L-Ts." The express purpose of the program was to meet the legal needs of under-served members of the public with qualified, affordable legal professionals, and the first area of practice chosen was domestic relations. With that first experience in hand, in January 2017, the Washington State Bar Association has formally proposed expansion of the LLLT program to enable service to clients on "estate and health law."
As described in the Washington State Bar Association materials, this expansion will include "aspects of estate planning, probate, guardianship, health care law, and government benefits. LLLTs licensed to practice in this area will be able to provide a wide range of services to those grappling with issues that disproportionately affect seniors but also touch people of all ages who are disabled, planning ahead for major life changes, or dealing with the death of a relative." The comment period is now open on the proposed expansion.
For more about this important innovation, there was an excellent 90 minute-long webinar hosted by the Washington Bar in February 2017, with members of the Limited License Legal Technician Board explaining the ethical rules (including mandatory malpractice insurance), three years of education and 3000 hours of experience required for LLLTs to qualify. Now available as a recording, the comments from the Webinar audience, including lawyers concerned about the potential impact on their own practice areas, are especially interesting.
Many thanks to modern practice-trends guru, Professor Laurel Terry at Dickinson Law, for helping us to keep abreast of the Washington state innovation.
February 24, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Programs/CLEs, State Statutes/Regulations, Webinars | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, February 23, 2017
North Carolina Appeals Ct Declines to Recognize Pre-Death Cause of Action for Tortious Interference with Expectancy
An interesting decision addressing standing issues arising in the context of a family battle over an 87-year old parent's assets was issued by the North Carolina Court of Appeals on February 21, 2017. In Hauser v Hauser, the court nicely summarizes its own ruling (with my highlighting below):
This appeal presents the issues of whether (1) North Carolina law recognizes a cause of action for tortious interference with an expected inheritance by a potential beneficiary during the lifetime of the testator; and (2) in cases where a living parent has grounds to bring claims for constructive fraud or breach of fiduciary duty such claims may be brought instead by a child of the parent based upon her anticipated loss of an expected inheritance. [Daughter] Teresa Kay Hauser (“Plaintiff”) appeals from the trial court's 3 March 2016 order granting the motion to dismiss of [Son] Darrell S. Hauser and [Son's Wife] Robin E. Whitaker Hauser (collectively “Defendants”) as to her claims for tortious interference with an expected inheritance, constructive fraud, and breach of fiduciary duty as well as her request for an accounting. Because Plaintiff's claims for relief are not legally viable in light of the facts she has alleged, we affirm the trial court's order.
The succinct North Carolina opinion, declines to follow the logic of Harmon v. Harmon, a 1979 decision from the Maine Supreme Court, that addressed the "frontier of the expanding field" on torious interfence of with an advantageous relationship, by recognizing a "pre-death" cause of action.
Currently the North Carolina opinion is available on Westlaw at 2017 WL 672176; I'll update this post with a open access link if it becomes available.
Monday, February 20, 2017
George Washington Law Professor Naomi Cahn recommended an interesting new article from the Elder Law Journal, "The Precarious Status of Domestic Partnerships for the Elderly in a Post-Obergefell World."
Authors Heidi Brady, who is clerking for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and Professor Robin Fretwell Wilson from the University of Illinois College of Law, team to analyze key ways in which elderly couples in domestic partnerships may be treated differently, and sometimes more adversely, than same sex couples who are married. From the abstract:
Three states face a particularly thorny question post-Obergefell [v. Hodges, the Supreme Court's 2015 decision recognizing rights to marry]: what should be done with domestic partnerships made available to elderly same-sex and straight couples at a time when same-sex couples could not marry. This article examines why California, New Jersey, and Washington opened domestic partnerships to elderly couples. . . . This Article drills down on three specific obligations and benefits tied to marriage -- receipt of alimony, Social Security spousal benefits, and duties to support a partner who needs long-term care under the Medicaid program -- and shows that entering a domestic partnership rather than marrying does not benefit all elderly couples; rather, the value of avoiding marriage varies by wealth and benefit.
Thank you, Naomi, for this recommendation.
February 20, 2017 in Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, February 17, 2017
As we have discussed often on this Blog, one key issue in guardianships can be the right of access between third persons and the protected ward. Arizona has adopted a new rule expressly permitting individuals with "significant relationships" with a ward to petition the court for access if the appointed guardian is denying contact. A key section of the new law, adding Arizona Rev. Statutes Section 14-1536, effective as of January 1, 2017, provides:
"A person who has a significant relationship to the ward may petition the court for an order compelling the guardian to allow the person to have contact with the ward. The petition shall describe the nature of the relationship between the person and the ward and the type and frequency of contact being requested. The person has the burden of proving that the person has a significant relationship with the ward and that the requested contact is in the ward's best interest."
In deciding whether to grant access the court is obligated to consider the ward's physical and emotional well-being, and to consider factors such as the wishes of the ward "if the ward has sufficient mental capacity to make an intelligent choice," whether the requesting person has a criminal history or a history of domestic or elder abuse, or has abused drugs or alcohol. The new law also gives the ward the direct right to petition for contact with third persons.
"Significant relationship" is defined in the statute as meaning "the person either is related to the ward by blood or marriage or is a close friend of the ward as established by a history of pattern and practice."
The Arizona guardianship law was also amended to mandate that guardians notify "family members" when an adult ward is hospitalized for more than 3 days or passes away. Section 14-1537 provides notice shall be given to the ward's spouse, parents, adult siblings and adult children, as well as to "any person who has filed a demand for notice."
I have also run into the issue of access where the care for the incapacitated person is being provided by means of family member or third person acting through a "power of attorney." Sadly, in some states, the access issue triggers a full blown guardianship proceeding. Should a similar "significant relationship" test be used to provide a court petition-system outside of guardianships?
February 17, 2017 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)