Friday, August 28, 2015

Who "Owns" Funds in Joint Accounts -- and Why Might It Matter for Medicaid Purposes?

Sometimes "small" cases reveal larger problems. A recent appellate case in Pennsylvania is a reminder of how practical solutions, such as establishing a joint bank account to facilitate management of money or to permit sharing of resources during early stages of elder care, may have unforeseen legal implications later. In Toney v. Dept. of Human Services, decided August 25, 2015, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled that "half" of funds held in a joint savings account under the names of the father and his son, were available resources for the 93-year-old father.  Thus the father, who moved into a nursing home in May 2014, was not immediately eligible for Medicaid funding. 

The son argued, however, that most of the money in the account was the son's money, proceeds of the sale of his own home when he moved out of state almost ten years earlier:

"The son alleged that his father used the bulk of that money to maintain himself, with the understanding that any money remaining from that CD after his father's death would revert to him. The ALJ, however, rejected the son's testimony as self-serving and not credible...."

Continue reading

August 28, 2015 in Estates and Trusts, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

LegalZoom Touts "Legal Advice"

Traditional estate practice attorneys are facing ever-increasing competition from commercial sites offering document preparation for set fees, usually through use of on-line templates for wills and similar estate planning documents.  LegalZoom, Inc., the brainchild of attorneys, including Brian Lee and Robert Shapiro (of O.J. Simpson trial fame) and begun in 2001, is one of the biggest commercial document companies. 

Traditional lawyers point out that they provide not just "documents" but core counseling and advice about the larger issues that may be involved in proper estate planning.  Recently, however, I've noticed LegalZoom is also touting availability of "legal help" through its television commercials, with the tagline "Real Attorneys. Real Advice."  Here's a link to one recent example.   

The small print at the bottom of the page at the end includes full names and locations of the several attorneys who say "hi" during the television commercial, plus the following: 

"This is an advertisement of a prepaid legal services plan, not for an individual attorney. This is not an attorney recommendation or legal advice. No comparative qualitative statements intended.... For the attorneys' full addresses, a list of non-appearing attorneys and more information, please visit legalzoom.com." 

Earlier this year, LegalZoom filed an antitrust lawsuit against the North Carolina Bar, asserting that the organization was "unreasonable barring" the company from offering a prepaid legal services plan in its state.  The suit cites the February 2015 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade CommissionLegalZoom filed an amicus brief in that case outlining its theory that misuse of state bar regulatory authority to restrict access to legal advice harms consumers. 

August 26, 2015 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Property Management, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Must Courts Honor Alleged Incapacitated Person's Nominee for Guardian?

In a recent guardianship case reviewed by the North Dakota Supreme Court, the alleged incapacitated person (AIP), a woman suffering "mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease and dementia," did not challenge the need for an appointed representative, but proposed two friends, rather than any relatives, to serve as her co-guardians.  The lower court rejected her proposal, finding that a niece, in combination with a bank, was better able to serve as her court-appointed guardian/conservator. 

On appeal, the AIP challenged the outcome on the grounds that the court had made no findings that she was without sufficient capacity to choose her own guardians.  In The Matter of Guardianship of B.K.J., decided on July 30, 2015, the ND Supreme Court affirmed the appointment of the niece, concluding that although state law requires consideration of the AIP's "preference," no special findings of incapacity were necessary to reject that preference. 

Contrary to [the AIP's] argument [State law] does not require the district court to make a specific finding that a person is of insufficient mental capacity to make an intelligent choice regarding appointing a guardian.  While it might have been helpful to have a specific finding, we will not reverse so long as the district court did not abuse its discretion in appointing a guardian.... Here, it is clear the district court was not of the opinion [that the AIP] acted with or has sufficient capacity to make an intelligent choice.  Rather, the district court's findings noted [she] testified that she did not trust [her niece] anymore, but was unable to recall why . . . .

Decisions such as these can be inherently difficult to manage, at least in the early stages, especially if the AIP is unlikely to cooperate with the decision-making of the "better" appointed guardian. 

August 24, 2015 in Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, August 14, 2015

Should "Springing" Powers of Attorney (Once Again) Be the Norm?

In a recent article for the University of Baltimore Law Review, John C. Craft, a clinical professor at Faulkner University Law, draws upon the history of legislation governing powers of attorney to advocate a return to effectiveness of the POA being conditioned by an event, such as proof of incapacity. Professor Craft, who is the director of his law school's Elder Law Clinic, writes:

Section 109 in the Uniform Power of Attorney Act should be revised making springing effectiveness of an agent's powers the default rule. Springing powers of attorney provide a type of protection that may actually prevent power of attorney abuse. The current protective provisions in the UPOAA focus in large part on the types of abuse that occur after an agent has begun acting for the principal. As opposed to arguably ineffective “harm rules” intended to punish an unscrupulous agent, springing powers of attorney are a type of “power rule” intended to limit an agent's “ability to accumulate power . . . in the first place.” The event triggering an agent's accumulation of power -- the principal's incapacity -- may never occur. A financial institution may prevent an unscrupulous agent from activating his or her power and conducting an abusive transaction simply by asking for proof that the principal is incapacitated. In addition, making springing effectiveness the standard serves the goal of enhancing a principal's autonomy.

For his complete analysis, read Preventing Exploitation and Preserving Autonomy: Making Springing Powers of Attorney the Standard.

August 14, 2015 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Borchard Center Announces 2015-16 "Law and Aging Fellows"

Mary Jane Ciccarello, co-director of the Borchard  Center on Law and Aging, recently sent us the latest news on the fellowships announced for the 2015-16 grant year.  There is strong competition for these key sources of funding for recent law school graduates to engage in new or expanded initiatives in law and aging.  The new fellows include: 

  • Krista Granen, a 2015 University of California-Hastings graduate, who will partner with Bay Area Legal Aid in San Francisco to implement a multi-faceted project to provide direct services, establish a mobile “pop-up” clinic to accommodate seniors’ physical and capacity based impairments, and promulgate resource materials in the intersectional areas of consumer protection and Social Security. Her project will promote economic security for low-income seniors residing in Santa Clara County, a county that simultaneously experiences extreme class stratification and a dearth of necessary legal services. 
 
  • Jennifer Kye, a 2014 UVA graduate, at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, who will implement a three-part project focused on increasing vulnerable seniors’ access to Medicaid home and community-based services. Her project will include: (1) systemic advocacy at the state level to expand the availability and improve the delivery of these critically needed home-based services; (2) development of a self-help manual that will allow seniors to advocate for themselves in accessing services in their own homes; and (3) direct representation of low-income older adults in obtaining and keeping home-based services and supports.

 

  • Stephanie Ridella Vittandsm, a 2014 Chicago-Kent graduate, who will continue her work at the Chicago Center for Disability and Elder Law, advocating for low-income seniors in housing matters, including eviction defense, public housing voucher termination defense, and representing seniors evicting tenants or family members from their homes. By prioritizing time-sensitive housing cases and conducting expedited intake interviews, she can continue to intervene in emergency housing cases.  She will continue to administer the Pro Se Guardianship Help Desk, which provides assistance to petitioners seeking guardianship over family members.   

 

  • Shana Wynn, a 22015 graduate of North Carolina Central Law School, who joins Justice in Aging (formerly the National Senior Citizens Law Center) and the Neighborhood Legal Services Program (NLSP) in Washington, DC.  Ms. Wynn will work closely with Justice in Aging attorneys to formulate policy recommendations to improve the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) representative payee program for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients and Social Security beneficiaries. Ms. Wynn will partner with NLSP to provide pro bono services to low-income seniors and secure access to healthcare and public benefits such as SSI. The primary goal of the project is to identify and address problems relating to SSA’s representative payee program as a means to better protect our most vulnerable seniors from misuse of their modest incomes.
Congratulations to these hard working Fellows.  For law students or recent graduates thinking about applying for a future Borchard Law and Aging Fellowship grant, a reminder that the annual deadline is in mid-April.  Start your planning now!

August 12, 2015 in Discrimination, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Grant Deadlines/Awards, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Legal Practice/Practice Management | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, July 31, 2015

Which is More Terrifying? "Dying Early" or "Living Long" (and Doing Financial Planning Necessary for the Latter)?

The New York Times recently carried a column that probably hit home with many -- if, that is, one could bring oneself to read it.  While some people keep postponing "the conversation" discussion about how they want to die, there is plenty of evidence many people are also avoidant of conversations about financial planning for a long life. 

Educating consumers to be better purchasers seems a sensible idea, but an example from recent history illustrates the problem with that. For a long time, the simple investment advice given to consumers has been “buy an index fund.” Index funds are such standardized products — mirroring the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index does not require much management — that just about all of them were initially low cost while offering wonderful diversification.

 

Consumers have been buying index funds, and the market has responded by providing hundreds of them. Nearly all E.T.F.s are index funds.

 

But the market has also responded by charging high fees for this standardized product. In 2004, Ali Hortacsu and Chad Syverson, economists at the University of Chicago, found that index funds had as much variability in fees as their more labor-intensive actively managed counterparts. And these fees are nothing to be scoffed at — paying 1 percent more every single year in fees can compound over a lifetime to noticeably lower returns.

For more on the problem with financial advice -- with encouragement to "face up to something [you too] may have been dreading," read Why Investing Is So Complicated, and How to Make it Simpler, by Sendhil Mullainathan. 

My thanks to Prof. Laurel Terry and Jack Bennett, Esq. for sharing this column.

July 31, 2015 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Property Management, Retirement | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

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

Friday, July 24, 2015

Huguette Clark Family Foundation Announces Grant for Study of Elder Exploitation

From the ABA Bifocal, details about the 2015 award of a $50k grant by the Huguette Clark Family Fund for Protection of Elders to develop model civil statutes covering elder financial exploitation:

The project will be managed by the National Center for Victims of Crime under the guidance of Executive Director Mai Fernandez. Lori Stiegel of the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging will serve as a consultant on the project. Ms. Stiegel, a senior attorney, joined the ABA Commission in 1989 and has developed and directed its work on elder abuse.

 

“Creating a template of civil statutory provisions for elder financial exploitation is a short- term, innovative project that can have a lasting impact,” Ms. Fernandez said. “It can give attorneys an effective tool for pursuing civil cases and provide victims with the greatest chance to recover stolen assets. We welcome the support of the Huguette Clark Family Fund for Protection of Elders on this important project.”

The news release explains the donor-advised fund was established by the family in 2013 to honor the late Huguette Clark, "who was victimized by her caregivers for more than two decades."  Previous recipients of grants from the Huguette Clark Fund include San Diego State University and the Philadelphia Corporation on Aging.

July 24, 2015 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Grant Deadlines/Awards | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Nevada Supreme Court's Commission Undertakes Review of Adult Guardianships

As we have posted in the past, serious concerns have been raised about the role of judicial appointment and review power over adult guardianships in Las Vegas, Clark County, Nevada.  In June, the Nevada Supreme Court appointed a 23-member commission to review and recommend any changes to existing practices; the proceedings before the panel began in July.

The concerns have largely focused on the use of a "private" guardianship company, with judicial oversight alleged to be minimal, perhaps connected to the fact that the company's founder was previously a county administrator and also the former "public guardian" for that county.  Families raised challenges in certain instances to the allocation of financial resources for alleged incapacitated persons, both seniors and other adults with disabilities, including allegedly improper use of the ward's financial resources to pay high administrative fees and attorneys fees. The individual who is a target of family ire, Jared Shafer, has vehemently denied all allegations. 

The commission's recent hearings have been "fiery" and the Clark County area news media are covering the proceedings in detail.  Here are links to recent news coverage, beginning with an editorial that appeared this week in the Las Vegas Journal-Review:  

July 23, 2015 in Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

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

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

A rueful smile here... 

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

Highlights from Upcoming Pennsylvania Elder Law Institute on July 23 & 24

Probably the best bang for your CLE buck in Pennsylvania comes from the two-day Elder Law Institute hosted each summer by the Pennsylvania Bar Institute. This year the 18th annual event is on July 23 & 24 in Harrisburg. 

Highlights include:

  • "The Year in Review" with attorneys Marielle Hazen and Robert Clofine sharing duties to report on key legislative, regulatory and judicial developments from the last 12 months;
  • How to "maximize" eligibility for home and community based services (Steve Feldman and Pam Walz);
  • Cross disciplinary discussions of end-of-life care with medical professionals and hospice providers;
  • LTC "provider" perspectives (Kimber Latsha and Jacqueline Shafer);
  • Latest on proposals to change Veterans' Pension Benefits (Dennis Pappas);
  • Implementation of the Pa Supreme Court's Elder Law Task Force Recommendations (Judges Lois Murphy, Paula Ott, Sheila Woods-Skipper & Christin Hamel);
  • A closing session opportunity, "Let's Ask the Department of Human Services Counsel" (with Addie Abelson, Mike Newell & Lesley Oakes)

There is still time to registration (you can attend one or both days; lunches are included and there is a reception the first evening).  

I think this is the first year I have missed this key opportunity for networking and updates; but I'm sending my research assistant!    

July 16, 2015 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Health Care/Long Term Care, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, Property Management, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Veterans | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Louisiana Governor Signs Amended "Lifetime Necessities" Law Obligating "Ascendants & Descendants"

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, one of (now many) candidates for the Republican nomination for President,  has been making a fair amount of press of late, for his positions on so-called medical marijuana, Common Core education standards, and how his state will handle same-sex marriage. Lower on the radar screen, however, was his signing of Act 260, an interesting package of legal changes affecting obligations between various family members.

One of these changes was to adopt a new provision affecting the obligations of "ascendants and descendants" to provide "basic necessities of life" for family members "in need."  In other words, filial support. 

Louisiana already had a provision, Section 229, providing that "children are bound to maintain their father and mother and other ascendants who are in need."  The new provision continues this statutory obligation, but makes enforcement "personal" only.  The substitute provision was signed into law on June 29 and becomes effective on January 1, 2016.  New Article 237 of Act 260 provides:

Descendants are bound to provide the basic necessities of life to their ascendants who are in need, upon proof of inability to obtain these necessities by other means or from other sources, and ascendants are likewise bound to provide for their needy descendants, this obligation being reciprocal.

 

This obligation is strictly personal and is limited to the basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter, and health care.

 

This obligation is owed by descendants and ascendants in the order of their degree of relationship to the obligee and is joint and divisible among obligors. Nevertheless, if the obligee is married, the obligation of support owed by his descendants and ascendants is secondary to the obligation owed by his spouse.

Official comments explaining the revisions emphasize that the necessities obligation kicks in only when the needy family member is unable to obtain necessities "by other means" or from "other sources," thus signaling any filial support obligation is secondary to the individual's eligibility for public assistance or other welfare benefits. Further "for the first time" Louisiana law "provides a ranking of those descendants and ascendants who owe this reciprocal, lifetime obligation."

The commentary explains that the revision makes the obligation "strictly personal," and there it precludes enforcement by "a third person."  Thus, it would appear that unlike in Pennsylvania (or Germany?) nursing homes and the state may not use these statutes in order to sue family members to collect necessities for indigent elders.

According to the comments, the obligation is also not "heritable."  This appears to reflect a Louisiana Court of Appeals decision from 2010, In re Succession of Elie,denying a mother's claims for funds from a deceased son's estate brought under former Section 229.     

July 10, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 6, 2015

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Thank you to Professor Laurel Terry for sharing this resource! 

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

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Germany Makes Int'l Claim for Filial Support Against U.S. Relative, Seeking Nursing Home Costs

Imagine this fact pattern:   You are a young professional, just getting your career started (still making payments on college and graduate degree loans, and only dreaming of the day you could make a down payment on a house). You receive an official-looking letter. The letter advises that under another state’s law, you may have a statutory duty to pay monthly “financial support” for a father who is unable to support himself, following a stroke that has put him in a public nursing home. Fairly stunning news, yes? 

Now imagine that the father in question is someone you have seen only a handful of times since the age of about 10, when he and your mother divorced.  The custody case that took place in the father’s home state was a tough one.  Review of the evidence shows the father was either unable or unwilling to provide support for the family while they were together.  Your father borrowed money from your mother’s family. He was manipulative, even to the point that he once kidnapped you as a young child and held you away from your mother. Ultimately, the court in that other state agreed that your mother should have sole custody. Your father never paid alimony to your mother or support for you as a child.  Those college degrees were earned without your father’s support of any kind. 

Tough to believe that authorities in the other state could possibly believe, even if they work in one of the few U.S. states that occasionally enforce claims made by nursing homes for filial support, that any support or maintenance award under these circumstances would be “fair.” 

Add one additional complexity.  Admittedly, it is a big one.  The “state” requesting monthly payments is not next door to where you live, or even in the same country.  It is across the Atlantic.  The state is Germany. And you gave up your citizenship as a German long ago. 

I have been given permission to write about this set of facts by the American adult child in question. Perhaps this post may generate additional legal assistance from someone with experience in a cross-border claim.  These are the facts as I understand them.

Germany has its own version of what I call a "filial support" law, although it is far broader than Pennsylvania's controversial law.  The German Civil Code at Sections 1601-1615, provides that when a person is "incapable" of maintaining himself, "lineal relatives are under an obligation to maintain" the individual.  If one family member in the line of descent cannot pay in whole or part, the claim goes to the next. 

The amount of any maintenance obligation is usually set according to the family member's "ability to pay," with a court having the power to decide what amount that might be if a request is not paid voluntarily. In their first letter, the German authorities warn that failure to cooperate can be a criminal offense; in a second letter, they seek records of annual earnings, but only certain expenses (rent, insurance and student debt), from the American.

Continue reading

July 2, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, International | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Long Island "Elder Law" Attorney Pleads Guilty to Stealing $797K from Clients

On June 23, 2015, Martha Brosius, a "retired" attorney who once held herself out as an "elder law attorney," pled guilty in New York to stealing $797,322 from clients.  In one alleged instance of breach of fiduciary duties and embezzlement, she was the court-appointed guardian for a 77-year-old disabled man.  It was alleged she used client funds to pay office, payroll and personal expenses. 

The mother of two minor-aged children and the wife of a district attorney, Brosius is scheduled to be sentenced in August.  According to The Long Island Press, the special prosecutor has sought a sentence of between six to eighteen years plus restitution; the defense counsel says some moneys have already been repaid.

June 30, 2015 in Crimes, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Property Management, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

In Divorce of 90+ Year Olds, Nebraska High Court Confirms Award of Alimony to Pay Nursing Home Fees

In Binder v, Binder, decided June 26, 2015, the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed an award against the husband for alimony in the amount of $3,200 per month. This was the amount necessary to cover the wife's balance due each month for her nursing home care.  The divorcing couple, each in their mid 90s, had been married for 32 years, a second marriage for both.  Married in their 60s, they had no children together. The husband had at least one child from a prior marriage; his son leased the husband's farmland for more than 25 years to continue operations.

The husband argued that the alimony award, exceeding his own $2,800/mo income from Social Security and rental of his farming property, was an abuse of discretion as it lowered his income below "poverty thresholds" set by state guidelines for child support awards.  The Court ruled, however, that in the absence of minor children, the guidelines were inapplicable. Nonetheless, the Court also addressed the "reasonableness" of the award and concluded:

In reviewing an alimony award, an appellate court does not decide whether it would have awarded the same amount of alimony as the trial court. Instead it decides whether the trial court's award is untenable such as to deprive a party of a substantial right or just result.  The main purpose of alimony is to assist a former spouse for a period necessary for that individual to secure his or her own means of support. Reasonableness is the ultimate criterion.

 

Applying these factors, we cannot say that the amount of alimony is an abuse of discretion. Glenn sought to dissolve his nearly 32–year marriage to Laura after she began incurring expenses for essential nursing home care that are well beyond her means. Laura did not work outside the home during the marriage, she is not employed now, and there is no evidence that she has untapped earning capacity. Similarly, Glenn is retired and has no wage income. But while Laura has exhausted nearly all her assets, Glenn has the power to dispose of more than 200 acres of farmland. The land is not irrelevant to alimony even though it is Glenn's premarital property. A court may consider all of the property owned by the parties—marital and separate–in decreeing alimony. 

 

As to disputes over matters such as Laura's contributions to the marriage, we note that the district court was in the best position to judge the witness' credibility. Although our review is de novo, if credible evidence is in conflict on a material issue of fact, an appellate court considers and may give weight to the circumstance that the trial judge heard and observed the witnesses and accepted one version of the facts than another. This rule is particularly apt here because both Laura and Glenn had some trouble testifying and the record does not show to what extent their difficulties were cognitive, auditory, or other.

In reading the decision, I'm struck by questions of what -- or even who -- was driving the divorce, and to what extent the parties' decisions were affected by Medicaid eligibility issues.  For more history, as well as comments by the husband's attorney, see "Retired Farmer Must Pay More in Alimony Than Monthly Income," in the Omaha World-Herald.

June 28, 2015 in Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Property Management, Retirement, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 26, 2015

5-4: US Supreme Court Holds States Must License and Recognize Same Sex Marriages

Relying on the 14th Amendment, in a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states must license marriages --  and recognize them as valid marriages -- for same sex couples.  Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion for the majority; Chief Justice Roberts authored a dissent.

Here's a link to the Supreme Court's full opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, released today, June 26, 2015.  Interestingly, June 26 has also hosted past landmark rulings affecting marriage rights.

UPDATE:  in watching the evening news tonight, I was struck by the numbers of couples with grey hair celebrating the Supreme Court's decision. For the moving story of Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff, see this People profile.  For commentary on how the most recent Supreme Court ruling, on top of the Windsor case, affects "older" same sex couples, see this blog entry from Justice in Aging. 

June 26, 2015 in Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Florida Appellate Court Reverses Conviction on Financial Exploitation of Elder

On June 24, 2015, a Florida intermediate appellate court reversed the 2013 conviction of Tyrone Javallena for "financial exploitation of an elderly person or disabled adult," ruling that there was no evidence the defendant in question, who was the husband of a financial advisor for a 94-year-old woman who made late-in-life changes to her estate plan benefitting the couple, had the requisite knowledge of any plan to exploit.  In Javallena v. State, the 4th DCA ruled:

The [elderly woman's estate] documents were amended so that, ultimately, the defendant and his wife were residual beneficiaries of the estate. The defendant and his wife served as witnesses to Teris' execution of some of the amendments, and at some point in time, his wife became aware of the substance of the amendments. However, there was no evidence that the defendant, who also chauffeured Teris on errands, had any knowledge of a plan to exploit the victim. As for Teris' mental capacity at the time she executed the amendments to her estate documents, there was conflicting evidence before the jury.

 

On appeal, the defendant argues that his conviction under a principals theory constituted error as there was no evidence he participated in the exploitation. We agree.

 

"To convict under a principals theory, the State is required to prove that the defendant had a conscious intent that the criminal act be done and . . . the defendant did some act or said some word which was intended to and which did incite, cause, encourage, assist, or advise the other person or persons to actually commit or attempt to commit the crime."Hall v. State, 100 So. 3d 288, 289 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

The original conviction of Javallena and his wife in 2013 was high profile news, in part because of the estate in question -- referred to in the appellate opinion as "vast" -- was reported to be $10 million.  No word on the status of any appeal on the separate conviction of Javallena's wife. 

June 26, 2015 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

ABA Journal: Delaware is First State to Grant Access to Digital Assets for Fiduciaries

From the July issue of the ABA Journal, news that "Delaware Leads the Way in Adopting Legislation Allowing Estate Executors Access to Online Accounts."   The article details the use of model legislation in permitting "Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets," and related or pending legislation in other states. 

Hat tip to Professor Laurel Terry -- visiting in Hawaii -- for being the first to send this our way! 

June 25, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Property Management, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, June 19, 2015

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

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

The impressive list of contributors includes:

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

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

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

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