Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Debts Linger After Death

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!

April 19, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Register Now: Webinar on Fundamentals of SNT Administration

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!

April 13, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Programs/CLEs, Webinars | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 27, 2017

Will "Everyday Americans" Lose Potential Protections re Investment Advice?

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." 

 

February 27, 2017 in Consumer Information, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Retirement | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.  

February 23, 2017 in Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 20, 2017

How Do "Domestic Partnerships" Fare for Elderly Couples?

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

Sigificant Relationships: Arizona's New Guardianship Law Provides Rights of Contact for Wards

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)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Illinois Law Professor Kaplan on "Reforming Taxation of Retirement Income"

University of Illinois Law Professor Richard Kaplan responded to my post last week, that questioned the appropriate age to compel IRA distributions, by providing a more in-depth look at the topic, via his own article, Reforming Taxation of Retirement Income.  

His recommendations include simplifying how Social Security retirement benefits are taxed, bifurcating defined contribution plan withdrawals into capital gains and ordinary income components, repealing certain exceptions to the early distribution penalty, reducing the delayed distribution penalty and adjusting the age at which it is triggered, and changing the residential gain exclusion to avoid unanticipated problems with reverse mortgages.

The 2012 Virginia Tax Review article demonstrates that increased life expectancy supports an increase to age 74 (from 71.5) as the trigger for mandatory distributions.  

Thanks, Dick!  As always, you have important analysis to share. 

January 22, 2017 in Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Retirement, Social Security, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 20, 2017

Is Age 70.5 No Longer an Appropriate Age to Compel IRA Distributions? What Sayeth Donald Trump?

Under long-standing IRS rules, IRAs and similar retirement accounts created with tax deferred income are generally subject to "required minimum distributions" when the account holder reaches age 70 and a half.  As the IRS.gov website reminds us:

  • You can withdraw more than the minimum required amount.
  • Your withdrawals will be included in your taxable income except for any part that was taxed before (your basis) or that can be received tax-free (such as qualified distributions from designated Roth accounts).

As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, as baby boomers are now reaching that magic age of 70 1/2+, there will be huge mandatory transfers of savings, creating taxable income, even if they don't actually need the retirement funds yet.

Boomers hold roughly $10 trillion in tax-deferred savings accounts, according to an estimate by Edward Shane, a managing director at Bank of New York Mellon Corp. Over the next two decades, the number of people age 70 or older is expected to nearly double to 60 million—roughly the population of Italy.

The account holders may not actually "need" the money in their early 70s, an age now often seen as "young" for retirement, and they may still be in high tax brackets, thus cancelling the original reasons for the savings and deferral.  The rules were made when average lifespans were shorter. 

On average, men and women who turned 65 in 2015 can expect to live a further 19 and 21.5 years respectively, according to the U.S. Social Security Administration’s most recent life-expectancy estimates; those post-65 expectancies are up from 15.4 and 19 years for those who turned 65 in 1985.

....[D]istributions are expected to grow exponentially over the next two decades because of a 1986 change to federal law designed to prevent the loss of tax revenue. Congress said savers who turn 70½ have to start taking withdrawals from tax-deferred savings plans or face a penalty. Specifically, retirees who turn 70½ have until April of the following calendar year to pull roughly 3.65% from their IRA and 401(k) funds, subject to slight differences in the way the funds are treated by the Internal Revenue Service. Then they must withdraw an increasing portion of their assets every year based on IRS formulas. The rules don’t apply to defined-benefit pensions, where retirees get automatic distributions.

There is a 50% penalty for failure to make required minimum withdrawals.  And not all retirees are aware of the consequences of failing to make with withdrawals, especially when accounts were created originally by a spouse who is no longer alive or is unable to manage the account personally. From the Wall Street Journal article:

Bronwyn Shone, a financial adviser in Pleasanton, Calif., said many of her clients aren’t aware of their legal obligation to take distributions. “I think some people thought they could let the money grow tax-deferred forever,” she said.

Certainly the federal government wants -- and an argument can certainly be made that it "needs" -- more tax revenues, but if the goal of the permitted deferral is to encourage saving for the the "real" needs of retirement, which can include disability, health care, long-term care, and other "late in aging" needs, is it still realistic to set the mandatory threshold for withdrawals at age 70.5?  For example, Donald Trump is just today commencing his "new job" at age 70 and a half, and yet he could be subject to the RMDs for any IRAs. Maybe this is a financial issue that might interest the new Trump Administration? 

For more, read Pulling Retirement Cash, but Not by Choice, by WSJ reporters V. Monga and S. Krouse (paywall protected article from 1/16/17).

January 20, 2017 in Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Retirement, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

"The Aging Brain" as a Focus for Collaborative Analysis and Research

I'm much overdue in writing about a terrific, recent workshop at Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law on "The Aging Brain." For me it was an ideal gathering of disciplines, including experts in neurology, psychology, health care (including palliative care and self-directed aid-in-dying), the judiciary, and both practitioners and academics in law (not limited to elder law).  Even more exciting, that full day workshop (11/18/15) will lead into a public conference, planned for fall 2017.  

Key workshop moments included:

  • Preview of a potentially ground-breaking study of early-onset Alzheimer's Disease (AD) centered on a family cluster in the country of Columbia with a genetic marker for the disease and a high incidence of onset.  By "early onset," we're talking family members in their 40s.  The hope is that by studying the bio-markers in this family, that not only early onset but later-in-life onset will be better understood. Eric Reiman, with professional affiliations with Banner Health, Arizona State University and University of Arizona, spoke at the workshop, and, as it turned out, he was also featured on a CBS 60 Minutes program aired a short time later about the family-based study.  Here's a link to the CBS transcript and video for the 60 Minutes program on "The Alzheimer's Laboratory."  
  • Thoughtful discussion of the ethical, legal and social implications of dementia, including the fact that self-directed aid-in-dying is not lawful for individuals with cognitive impairment. Hank Greely from Stanford University Law and Medical Schools, and Professor Betsy Grey for ASU's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law led discussions on key issues.  As biomarkers linked to AD are identified, would "you" want to know the outcome of personal testing?  Would knowing you have a genetic link to AD change your life before onset? 
  • Overview of recent developments in "healthy" brain aging and so-called "anti-aging" treatments or medications, with important questions raised about whether there is respected science behind the latest announcement of "breakthroughs." Cynthia Stonnington from the Mayo Clinic and Gary Marchant from ASU talked about the science (or lack thereof), and Gary raised provocative points about the role of the FDA in drug approvals, tracking histories for so-called off label uses for drugs such as metformin and rapamycin.  

I very much appreciate the opportunity to participate in this program, with special thanks to Betsy Grey and federal Judge Roslyn Silver for making this possible.  I've also enjoyed serving as occasional guest in Judge Silver's two-semester Law and Science workshop with ASU law students. Thank you! For more on the Aging Brain programming at ASU, see here.    

January 11, 2017 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Programs/CLEs, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Oregon Supreme Court Rejects Medicaid Estate Recovery for Asset Transfers between Spouses

In late December 2016, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that state efforts to use Medicaid Estate Recovery regulations to reach assets transferred between spouses prior to application were improper. In Nay v. Department of Human Services, __ P.3d ___, 360 Or. 668, 2016 WL 7321752, (Dec. 15, 2016), the Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the ruling of the state's intermediate appellate court (discussed here in our Blog in 2014).  The high court concluded:

Because “estate” is defined to include any property interest that a Medicaid recipient held at the time of death, the department asserted that the Medicaid recipient had a property interest that would reach those transfers. In doing so, it relied on four sources: the presumption of common ownership in a marital dissolution, the right of a spouse to claim an elective share under probate law, the ability to avoid a transfer made without adequate consideration, and the ability to avoid a transfer made with intent to hinder or prevent estate recovery. In all instances, the rule amendments departed from the legal standards expressed or implied in those sources of law. Accordingly, the rule amendments exceeded the department's statutory authority under ORS 183.400(4)(b). The Court of Appeals correctly held the rule amendments to be invalid.

Our thanks to Elder Law Attorney Tim Nay for keeping us up to date on this case.  His firm's Blog further reports on the effects of the final ruling in Oregon:

"Estate recovery claims that were held pending the outcome of the Nay case can now be finalized, denying the claim to the extent it seeks recovery against assets that the Medicaid recipient did not have a legal ownership interest in at the time of death. Estate recovery claims that were settled during the pendency of Nay contained a provision that the settlement agreement was binding on all parties to the agreement no matter the outcome in Nay and thus cannot be revisited."

January 10, 2017 in Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Diving Deeper into Approval of Short-Term Annuities in Medicaid Planning

3L Villanova Law Student Jennifer A. Ward has an interesting analysis of the Third Circuit's decision in Zahner v. Sec'y Pa Dept. of Human Servs., 802 F.3d 497 (3d Cir. 2015), published in a recent issue of the Villanova Law Review.  She begins with a summary of the Zahner decision and an outline of her analysis:

[T]he Third Circuit examined whether short-term annuities, a specific instrument used in Medicaid planning, qualified for the DRA's safe harbor provision. If so, assets used to purchase short-term annuities would be sheltered from factoring into individuals' eligibility for Medicaid. Holding that short-term annuities can qualify for protection, the Third Circuit's decision signifies that the DRA did not completely foreclose the “use of short-term annuities in Medicaid planning.”
 
This Casebrief argues that the Third Circuit's Zahner decision is a win for elder law attorneys and their clients, as it solidifies the viability of the use of short-term annuities in Medicaid planning. Part II examines how individuals take part in Medicaid planning, including a discussion of the DRA and the use of annuities in planning. Part III presents the facts of Zahner and reviews the Third Circuit's analysis. Part IV analyzes the Third Circuit's decision to approve the use of short-term annuities. Part V advises elder law practitioners on the use of short-term annuities going forward. Part VI concludes by discussing the long-term viability of short-term annuities.
 
The author recognizes the potential for Congress to change the outcome of the Zahner ruling: 
 
After Zahner, elder law practitioners are free to use short-term annuities while guiding their clients through the Medicaid planning process. The Third Circuit will not bar the use of qualified short-term annuities in Medicaid planning, instead leaving any change in policy to Congress. Therefore, until Congress acts, short-term annuities are a viable planning tool in the Third Circuit for the foreseeable future.For people who wish to leave assets to loved ones, Zahner presents good news. Rather than causing people to exhaust their savings on long-term care, Zahner provides individuals greater ability to protect resources through Medicaid planning.
 
The title of the article is Doctor's Orders: The Third Circuit Approves Short Term Annuities As a Viable Planning Tool, and is available through subscription on Westlaw and Lexis and appears to be forthcoming on a digital commons platform via the Villanova Law Review. 

January 9, 2017 in Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 8, 2016

21st Century Cures Act

The Senate passed the 21st Century Cures Act, HR 34, on December 7, 2016. Having already passed the House, the bill goes to the President for signature.  There are two specific provisions in the Cures Act that bear mention:

The Special Needs Trust Fairness Act in section 5007, which allows a beneficiary with capacity to establish her own first-party SNT (finally) and Section 14017 which deals with capacity of Veterans to manage money.

Section 5007 provides:

SEC. 5007. Fairness in Medicaid supplemental needs trusts.

(a) In general.—Section 1917(d)(4)(A) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1396p(d)(4)(A)) is amended by inserting the individual, after for the benefit of such individual by.

(b) Effective date.—The amendment made by subsection (a) shall apply to trusts established on or after the date of the enactment of this Act.

Section 14017 amends 38 USC chapter 55 by adding new section 5501A "Beneficiaries’ rights in mental competence determinations"

The Secretary may not make an adverse determination concerning the mental capacity of a beneficiary to manage monetary benefits paid to or for the beneficiary by the Secretary under this title unless such beneficiary has been provided all of the following, subject to the procedures and timelines prescribed by the Secretary for determinations of incompetency:

“(1) Notice of the proposed adverse determination and the supporting evidence.

“(2) An opportunity to request a hearing.

“(3) An opportunity to present evidence, including an opinion from a medical professional or other person, on the capacity of the beneficiary to manage monetary benefits paid to or for the beneficiary by the Secretary under this title.

“(4) An opportunity to be represented at no expense to the Government (including by counsel) at any such hearing and to bring a medical professional or other person to provide relevant testimony at any such hearing.”.

The effective date for the VA amendment is for "determinations made by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on or after the date of the enactment...."

The President is expected to sign the bill soon. More to follow.

December 8, 2016 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Property Management, Veterans | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 31, 2016

Self Awareness, Courage and Cognitive Impairment

The Washington Post recently had a good article titled Facing Financial Reality When Early Dementia is Diagnosed.  It begins with Chuck McClatchey's realization that something was wrong: 

He moved to Fort Worth at age 61 with his partner Bobbie Duncan, and they spent $25,000 in savings on a fixer-upper house. His plan was to work until he was 70. But then things got strange. “I was having trouble understanding new technologies and things that I should have known off the top of my head” and having trouble using Word and Excel and PowerPoint, “things I had known for years."

 

He left that job but had problems in another, simpler job at Lowe’s.

 

Then one day, amid growing confusion, came clarity.

 

“I brought home a little desk for me to put together,” he said. “I love to put things together, the more complicated the better.” It should have taken about half an hour. Instead, two hours later, “the pieces just weren’t going together like I thought they should.”

 

Duncan finally said what they both knew. He needed to see a doctor about what was going on in his brain. The diagnosis was Alzheimer’s. . . . 

McClatchey's early diagnosis allowed him to get help while he was still well able to participate in planning.  He applied for Social Security disability at age 61 and also became an "early stage advisor" for the the Alzheimer's Association.  

Reading this article reminded me of a good friend who also received a diagnosis of Alzheimer's at an early stage.  Betty has often inspired me by how she has approached this fact. She quietly told friends of her diagnosis, but she did not retreat from life. Betty stays engaged and has a full social life. She has made critical accommodations -- she keeps a daily journal to help with tasks and memory --  and her children have rallied to support and help her, while still giving her as much autonomy as possible. Indeed, her family was instrumental in these changes as they insisted on that first evaluation, rather than brushing away early warning signs as merely due to stress.  Thus, "self awareness" of both Betty and her family has been essential in creating a short and long range plan for the future.

The Post article also suggests that not every financial professional is skilled at recognizing how to help individuals with cognitive impairments, whether diagnosed or undiagnosed.  I think this is true for attorneys and other professionals as well. Good intentions alone are not enough.  From the article: 

Being good with money isn’t the only skill required to help dementia sufferers. Corey Purkat, an Oakdale, Minn., financial planner, found himself unable to help a couple in their 80s who hired him to help sort things out in the early stages of the wife’s dementia. She had been a financial professional whose memory issues rapidly worsened. As they did, “she got defensive that someone would have to help her with something she had done for a living.” That put more stress on her husband, who decided “he wasn’t up to making the hard decisions.”

 

“I did what I could, and I did the best I could,” he said of their amicable parting. But if a similar case comes up in the future, he said, “my goal is to refer them to someone with more experience” with dementia.

It takes courage to get a diagnosis when early, subtle warning signs appear.  It takes courage to help a family member get that diagnosis. Our thanks to George Washington Law Professor Naomi Cahn for sharing the link to this and other timely Washington Post articles. 

October 31, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Thinking about Consumer Protection, Families, and Older Clients in Banking

I'm currently on sabbatical and working on a couple of big projects. I've been digging deeper into how banks approach consumer protection issues for older customers.  Awareness of the potential for financial exploitation of elders among bankers is clearly at an all-time high.  

One of the practical lessons, however, is that each banking institution does it differently when responding to concerns.  For example, one bank I met with has a system of "alerts" for tellers about prospective transactions, such as where an older customer is accompanied into the bank by "problematic" befrienders. Another bank said that before it could take any action in response to a request made by a valid agent with a broadly-worded power of attorney, the agent would have to be added as a party "on" the account in question.  The latter approach, although understandable on one level, seems to pose the potential for additional problems. One-on-one meetings with high-level officials at major banks makes me realize just how challenging this would be for the average family member or concerned friend of a prospective victim.

Along this line, I recently received news of a timely CLE program.  The Pennsylvania Bar Institute is hosting an "update" program on Consumer Financial Services and Banking Law on October 18, with simulcasts offered in several locations around Pennsylvania.  The Pennsylvania Bankers Association is co-hosting the program.  

Speakers include:

 

Hon. Robin L. Wiessmann
Secretary, PA Department of Banking and Securities

 

Leonidas Pandeladis, Esq.
Chief Counsel, PA Department of Banking and Securities

 

Jeffrey P. Ehrlich, Esq.

Deputy Enforcement Director, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Washington, DC

The planned program will include updates on the latest rules affecting consumer protection measures, and -- I suspect -- will likely address some of the "hot" issues, such as the Wells Fargo "mess.

Related articles

September 20, 2016 in Consumer Information, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Property Management, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

One Practitioner's Perspectives on "The Practice of Elder Law"

Stuart Bear, a practicing attorney and member of the Minnesota State Bar Association's Elder Law Section, has written an interesting first-person account of "The Practice of Elder Law" for a 2016 issue of the Mitchell-Hamline Law Review.  It turns out the 2016 piece is an updated version of a similar article he wrote for the William Mitchell Law Review in 2002, with the same title.

In both versions Bear begins with a narrative about a family member's call to ask him legal advice on how to handle care issues following an emergency hospital admission for the caller's mother. Many of the events Bear relates will resonate, both with the public (especially those of a certain age) and lawyers.

At the same time, I find that some of Bear's words -- in both versions -- could be a springboard for a broader discussion with law students and elder law specialists.  For example, he chooses to label the family member initiating the contact as "Responsible Daughter," and he refers to other siblings as "responsible sons."  What is the meaning behind this phrase?  Is he referring to "morally responsible," "financially responsible," or just generically a "good" person?  

Further, in both versions, he offers an important discussion of how he handles potential conflict of interest issues in representing the elder parent where offspring are involved in client meetings and decisions.  In the 2002 version, Mr. Bear writes about alternative choices in identifying his client:

This rule [referring to Rule 1.7 of the ABA Rules of Professional Conduct as adopted in Minnesota] is clear that should I choose Mom as my client; it is she whom I serve and no other family member. I take my marching orders based upon Mom’s goals and objectives, serving her sole interests.

 

Suppose, however, that Mom is not so definitive in articulating her goals and objectives. It may be possible for me to represent the entire family, in light of rule 2.2 of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct, which addresses the lawyer as intermediary.

In the more recent 2016 version of the essay, which is the version I first encountered on Westlaw, Mr. Bear cites a different rule for his authority to represent "the family." He points to Rule 1.14 on representation of a client with "diminished capacity."  He writes:

Suppose, however, that Mom was not so definitive in articulating her goals and objectives. It may be possible for me to represent the entire family, in light of Rule 1.14 of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct, which addresses clients with diminished capacity. A comment to the rule provides in pertinent part:
 
The client may wish to have family members or other persons participate in discussions with the lawyer. When necessary to assist in the representation, the presence of such persons generally does not affect the applicability of the attorney-client evidentiary privilege. Nevertheless, the lawyer must keep the client's interests foremost and . . . must look to the client, and not family members, to make decisions on the client's behalf.
 
In the situation involving Mom and Responsible Daughter, and reading the conflict of interest rule together with Rule 1.14, I may act as the lawyer for this situation, provided that no conflict of interest develops
 
Perhaps the question is whether either rule, 1.7 or 1.14, clearly authorizes the concept of "family representation" where the older client has capacity issues. While many attorneys, including elder law attorneys, do take the position this approach is appropriate, others would take the position that the daughter is acting in the role of agent or alternative decision-maker for the mother, and thus the mother is always the real party in interest, not the daughter. Neither approach eliminates the potential for conflict of interest issues for the attorney. Either way, I think the question of client identity is key to most representational roles for elder law attorneys, especially in the context of family members serving as de facto agents for their loved ones. Stuart Bear's 2002 and 2016 essays should be good food for additional thought and analysis.
 
Editing Note:  The above Blog post was edited to refer to the correct name for the Mitchell-Hamline Law Review (rather than the "Marshall-Hamline Law Review").  Our thanks to readers for catching my error! KCP

August 30, 2016 in Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Legal Practice/Practice Management | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Grandmother Was Living On Her Own and Doing Just Fine Until...

Last weekend, the Arizona Republic newspaper carried a Question and Answer column that caught my eye.  The question began: 

My grandmother lives in Scottsdale, and my wife and I live in Chicago.  We only visit her two or three times a year.  Although we thought my grandmother was still able to manage her financial affairs, she recently called us to say that she was being evicted from her Scottsdale home for nonpayment of HOA dues.  My grandmother owns her $450,000 hoe free and clear....

 

HOA dues only totaled $700 originally.  After the late charges, interest, and legal fees, however, there was almost $8,000 owed at the foreclosure sale two weeks ago.

How often do crises involving aging loved ones begin with the words "I thought she was doing well living alone until...?"  Here the concerned grandson jumped into action and the consumer advisor suggested a range of options, including working with the "investor" to resolve the ownership and equity issues.  For more you can read Grandmother Loses Home to HOA Fees on the PressReader service for the Arizona Republic, August 14, 2016.

 

August 16, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Estates and Trusts, Housing, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Does Use of "Alzheimer's" as a Catch-all Label Cause Confusion?

Recently, a friend who is a neuropsychologist reminded me that the medical profession is moving away from using either dementia or Alzheimer's as a broad category label.  For example, in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, commonly referred to as the DSM followed by a number that indicates the edition, the current edition (DSM-5) replaced the label "Dementia, Delirium, Amnestic and Other Cognitive Disorders" with "Neurocognitive Disorders" or NCDs.  As we talked, it occurred to me that this is an important change, and one that legal professionals should also embrace more strongly.  While short-hand labels can be useful, I think that using dementia alone as a label can invoke a stereotype that has the potential to confuse the public, while also unnecessarily frightening the client or client's family.  It can invoke an image of nursing homes or institutionalization, rather than what may be more appropriate, such as supported or guided decision-making or use of alternative decision-makers or agents, especially in early stages of the disorders.

As the DSM-5 further explains:

Although cognitive deficits are present in many if not all mental disorders (e.g., schizophrenia, bipolar disorders), only disorders whose core features are cognitive are included in the NCD category.  The NCDs are those in which impaired cognition has not been present since birth or very early life, and thus presents a decline from a previously attained level of functioning.

 

The NCDs are unique among DSM-5 categories in that these are syndromes for which the underlying pathology, and frequently the etiology as well, can potentially be determined.  The various underlying disease entities have all been the subject of extensive research, clinical experience, and expert consensus on diagnostic criteria.... Dementia is subsumed under the newly named entity major neurocognitive disorder, although  the term dementia is not precluded from use in the etiological subtypes in which the term is standard. Furthermore, DSM-5 recognizes a less severe level of cognitive impairment, mild neurocognitive disorder, which can also be a focus of care....

Indeed, greater appreciation for mild neurocognitive disorders is important in legal circles, as the changes may often be subtle or difficult to recognize, but still very important when talking about legal capacity or decision-making under the law.  

August 9, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 1, 2016

New Scholarship: Can Adults, including Older Adults, Give Advance Consent to Sexual Relations?

As some readers may recall, last year we reported on the emotionally fraught criminal trial in Iowa for a former state legislator, who was ultimately acquitted of sexual assault of his wife.  The allegations arose in the context of alleged sexual relations with his wife after she was admitted to a nursing home.  

Assistant Professor of Law Alexander A. Boni-Saenz, from Chicago Kent College of Law, has drawn upon this case and others to further explore his proposals for "advance directives" whereby adults could specify their decisions in advance of incapacity.  Alex's latest article, Sexual Advance Directives, forthcoming in the Alabama Law Review, is available on SSRN here.   From the abstract:

Can one consent to sex in advance? Scholars have neglected the temporal dimension of sexual consent, and this theoretical gap has significant practical implications. With the aging of the population, more and more people will be living for extended periods of time with cognitive impairments that deprive them of the legal capacity to consent to sex. However, they may still manifest sexual desire, so consenting prospectively to sex in this context serves several purposes. These include protecting long-term sexual partners from prosecution by the state, ensuring sexually fulfilled lives for their future disabled selves, or preserving important sexual identities or relationships. The law currently provides a device for prospective decision-making in the face of incapacity: the advance directive.

 

The central claim of this article is that the law should recognize sexual advance directives. In other words, people facing both chronic conditions that threaten their legal capacity to make decisions and institutional care that threatens sexual self-determination should be able to consent prospectively to sex or empower an agent to make decisions about sex on their behalf. To justify this claim, the Article introduces a novel theory of sexual consent—the consensus of consents—that diffuses the longstanding philosophical debates over whether advance directives should be legally enforceable. With this normative foundation, the Article then draws on insights from criminal law, fiduciary law, and the law of wills to fashion a workable regime of sexual advance directives that adequately protects individuals from the risk of sexual abuse. 

Alex is a thoughtful writer on challenging topics, often looking at the intersection of health care, estate law and elder law planning.

August 1, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

ABA Family Law Quarterly Focuses on "Gray Divorces and Silver Separations"

This week my in-basket sported the latest copy of the Family Law Quarterly and it is a strong lineup of symposium authors writing on a range of issues connected to late-in-life marital woes.  The articles in the Spring 2016 issue include:

  • The Challenging Phenomenon of Gray Divorces, by Paula G. Kirby & Laura S. Leopardi
  • Representing the Elderly Client or the Client with Diminished Capacity, by Robert B. Fleming
  • The Battle for the Biggest Assets: Dissolution of the Military Marriage and Postdivorce Considerations for Aging Clients, by Brentley Tanner
  • Residence Roulette in the Jurisdictional Jungle: Where to Divide the Military Pension, by Mark E. Sullivan
  • Family Support, Garnishment and Military Retired Pay, also by Mark E. Sullivan
  • Premarital Agreements for Seniors, by Peter M. Walzer & Jennifer M. Riemer, and 
  • Financial Abuse of the Dependent Elder: A Lawyer's Ethical Obligations, by Jeanne M. Hannah

In my review of the articles, I would have liked to see more discussion of the potential expectations  of the couple about payment of their respective long-term care costs, especially as a party's carefully signed premarital agreement may prove to be irrelevant to the state's analysis of eligibility for Medicaid to cover long-term care.  In most states, authorities insist on counting assets of both halves of the couple, without regard to any premarital agreement.  This is where "elder law" attorneys can be of help to traditional "family law" attorneys in planning.  Compare this Elder Law Answers' discussion of "Five Myths About Medicaid's Long-Term Care Coverage."

July 28, 2016 in Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Medicaid, Property Management, State Statutes/Regulations, Veterans | Permalink | Comments (1)