Monday, October 31, 2016
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.
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
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.
Hon. Robin L. Wiessmann
Leonidas Pandeladis, Esq.
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."
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
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
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
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.
Tuesday, August 9, 2016
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.
Monday, August 1, 2016
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.
Thursday, July 28, 2016
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."
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Special and Supplemental Needs Trust To Be Highlighted At July 21-22 Elder Law Institute in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania each summer, one of the "must attend" events for elder law attorneys is the annual 2-day Elder Law Institute sponsored by the Pennsylvania Bar Institute. This year the program, in its 19th year, will take place on July 21-22. It's as much a brainstorming and strategic-thinking opportunity as it is a continuing legal education event. Every year a guest speaker highlights a "hot topic," and this year that speaker is Howard Krooks, CELA, CAP from Boca Raton, Florida. He will offer four sessions exploring Special Needs Trusts (SNTs), including an overview, drafting tips, funding rules and administration, including distributions and terminations.
Two of the most popular parts of the Institute occur at the beginning and the end, with Elder Law gurus Mariel Hazen and Rob Clofine kicking it off with their "Year in Review," covering the latest in cases, rule changes and pending developments on both a federal and state level. The solid informational bookend that closes the Institute is a candid Q & A session with officials from the Department of Human Services on how they look at legal issues affected by state Medicaid rules -- and this year that session is aptly titled "Dancing with the DHS Stars."
I admit I have missed this program -- but only twice -- and last year I felt the absence keenly, as I never quite felt "caught up" on the latest issues. So I'll be there, taking notes and even hosting a couple of sessions myself, one on the latest trends in senior housing including CCRCs, and a fun one with Dennis Pappas (and star "actor" Stan Vasiliadis) on ethics questions.
Here is a link to pricing and registration information. Just two weeks away!
July 5, 2016 in Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, Property Management, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Veterans | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, June 10, 2016
Filial Friday: Georgia Supreme Court Rules that No Equitable "Right of Access" is Created by Filial Support Law
Adult daughter Tamara Williford filed a petition for equitable relief in February 2015, seeking a Georgia court's order that her father's current wife must allow her access to her father. Williford alleged that her father, Tommy Brown, was in poor physical health, unable to leave his home, but in good mental condition. She said she had talked with him regularly by telephone and in person, until his wife prevented her from doing so.
Apparently Mrs. Brown, Tommy's wife, was named as the only defendant in the lawsuit, and responded by denying Williford was a biological child, denying her husband was in poor health, and denying that he wanted to see Williford.
In June 2016, the trial court dismissed Williford's petition, and she took a timely appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court. Oral argument was held in February 2016.
In Williford v. Brown decided May 9, 2016, the Georgia Supreme Court (pictured above) unanimously affirmed the dismissal, finding that there was no statutory or other legal grounds alleged that would support the "equitable remedy" sought by Ms. Williford. Specifically, the court rejected the argument made on appeal that Georgia's version of a filial support law, OCGA Section 36-12-3, provided grounds for relief. That statute says:
The father, mother, or child of any pauper contemplated by Code Section 36-12-2, if sufficiently able, shall support the pauper. Any county having provided for such pauper upon the failure of such relatives to do so may bring an action against such relatives of full age and recover for the provisions so furnished. The certificate of the judge of the probate court that the person was poor and was unable to sustain himself and that he was maintained at the expense of the county shall be presumptive evidence of such maintenance and the costs thereof.
The court concluded that this section "does not purport to confer on adult children a right to unrestrained visitation" with parents. "Moreover, Ms. Williford did not allege in her petition that Mr. Brown is a 'pauper,' much less that she believes that Hart County has or will ever have to maintain him at county expenses and then pursue an action against her."
In a footnote to the ruling, the court observes that the daughter "did not alleged and does not claim on appeal" that the wife prevented her husband "from leaving his home or communicate with persons other than Ms. Williford." Therefore, the court said it was not necessary to address whether a theory of "general habeas corpus" where a person was allegedly held "incommunicado illegally and against his will."
This seems like a very sad case. One Georgia elder law attorney suggests that "if the ruling in this case disturbs you, then perhaps it is a good time to call your local legislator."
June 10, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, June 3, 2016
"He Died with Guns in His Closet." That's the provocative (and effective) title of an upcoming continuing legal education program (3 credits) in Pennsylvania. The half-day Pennsylvania Bar Institute program will be offered live in Pittsburgh on June 8, and both in-person (Mechanicsburg) and by webcast/simulcast on June 16. The program will address "new regulations for gun trusts that go into effect on July 13, 2016;" acquisition, possession disposition and transportation of firearms; how people become disqualified to interact with firearms; gun trusts; and the National Firearms Act's implications for trust and estate practitioners.
Last fall, I was at a statewide meeting of continuing care community residents in the Southeastern part of the US, and I admit I was startled when residents raised the topic of "what to do about guns" in their CCRCs.
Here's a link to the CLE details. My thanks to Pennsylvania practitioner and great estate planning adjunct professor Vicky Trimmer for alerting me both to the changes in the law and this upcoming program.
Wednesday, June 1, 2016
The latest issue of Experience, the magazine of the Senior Lawyers Division of the ABA is devoted to elder driving. Eight articles are devoted to the issue of driving. The magazine also includes articles on estate planning, technology and ethics. The entire issue is available here. Links to individual articles are also accessible from here.
Monday, May 30, 2016
It's Memorial Day. Perhaps you are sharing a picnic with family and friends. You might need a topic to spice up the conversation amid potato salad and barbecued hot dogs, right? How about this...
Recently I've been hearing from lawyers who are commenting on recent telephone calls or emails they've received from a West Coast TV promoter, inquiring as to whether they have clients who might be interested in appearing on a new television reality show. Or, maybe the lawyer would want to participate? Here's a description of the proposed show from one of the lawyers who was contacted by a rep of the show:
"It will feature family members disputing who will inherit heirlooms, historical artifacts, or valuable collections. The show will provide a professional mediator free of charge to help the family members resolve the dispute."
I guess I shouldn't be surprised. We've had some 20 seasons of "Judge Judy" and her brethren. I have a vague memory, going back to childhood, of an early iteration of "Divorce Court" -- with lots of shouting. While living in the U.K., I used to occasionally catch a show about searches for missing heirs and another about family confrontations with "hoarders." (And oh how sad that last one was.) So, I guess it isn't a huge jump to a show that arguably sensationalizes family fights over old family "stuff." Perhaps it is even a logical next step from Antiques Roadshow, the hugely popular, and fairly dignified, PBS program.
By coincidence, just as I had finished typing the above paragraphs, I received my own communication from a developer of the proposed show. Turns out that the show is pitched as a "bigger" concept than just estate disputes. Mark Dalbis, from Atlas Media Corporation, and who seems like a nice guy in his email, writes:
Thursday, May 26, 2016
Plaintiffs' Class Certified in Dispute over LTC Insurance Coverage for Care by "Managed Residential Communities" or "Assisted Living Services Agencies"
As we've reported fairly often on this Blog (see e.g., here, re California litigation), the long-term care insurance (LTCI) industry has been battling disputes on many fronts. One of the fronts is whether insurers can deny benefits to pay for care provided in settings other than "skilled nursing facilities." On March 1, 2016, a federal court in Connecticut granted class certification to estates and policy holders who are challenging denial of coverage for stays in "managed residential communities" (MRCs) in Connecticut or to cover services provided through "assisted living services agencies" (ALSAs). In Estate of Gardner v. Continental Casualty Company, 2016 WL 806823, the court agreed the plaintiffs had satisfied the class certification requirements for "numerosity," commonality, and typicality of issues, as well as establishing grounds to argue "imminence of injury" to support a claim for injunctive relief:
While Plaintiffs do seek monetary relief, it appears to the Court that what they primarily seek is forward-looking relief. Plaintiffs purchased long-term care policies, presumably with the expectation that they would utilize their coverage over a long term. Any adequate remedy would have to ensure that they could obtain coverage for claims prospectively. For that, an injunction is required. Moreover, Plaintiffs leave no ambiguity about the content of the injunction they seek: an end to Defendant's alleged policy of denying claims for assisted-living facilities across the board. This is exactly the type of relief Rule 23(b)(2) was designed to facilitate. Because Plaintiffs' proposed Rule 23(b)(2) class satisfied all of the requirements of Rule 23, certification is proper.
For more on the background of the Connecticut case, see "Connecticut class action accuses insurer of denying assisted-living claims."
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
I've reached that annual ritual known as "let's clean off my desk because that is more fun than grading exams." Always a good opportunity to find a few treasures that escaped my closer attention during the academic year. And along that line, I was intrigued to find the two-part series on "Alternative Litigation Finance," written by Holland and Knight attorneys Robert Barton and Wendy Walker.
What Is Alternative Litigation Finance? The structure of a litigation finance deal can vary significantly depending on the type of case, the company involved, the stage of the case when funding is sought, the amount of money requested, and many other factors. At its core, though, ALF is the advancement of funds to attorneys or clients by a thirdparty company to pay legal fees and costs related to litigation. In general, a litigation funder makes a return on the funds, whether through interest earned over the life of the advance, a multiple of the advanced amount, or a percentage of the recovery paid to the client at the conclusion of the matter. The transaction is typically nonrecourse, meaning the company only recovers to the extent that the client recovers. The funder does not look to the client’s other assets, beyond the settlement or judgment, to satisfy the repayment of the funds. In some circumstances, however, the client may offer additional collateral to secure the amount needed.
To provide maximum protection for the client, at the outset of a new matter, an attorney should request a written confidentiality agreement among the funder, the client, and the attorney. The agreement should provide the express recognition that any nonprivileged, but confidential, information that is shared is done so with the intent to maintain its confidential nature. Although not a full guarantee against future disclosure, such an agreement does demonstrate the intention of the parties and has been a persuasive argument to courts evaluating disputed discovery issues.
These articles originally appeared in the ABA's publication, Probate and Property, with the second of the two articles published in the November/December 2015 issue. (The good news is that by waiting a bit, both of these articles are now available on the web, and not just through the ABA subscription.)
Sunday, April 24, 2016
Here's is a new podcast of an interview with Rick Black on All Talk Radio (about 15 minutes, starting at the 3:25 minute mark), who has strong words about elder abuse based on his family's experiences with a guardianship in Clark County Nevada, plus his own additional research about guardianship systems in Nevada and beyond. (You may have to give this time to load, as it is an embedded video file).
For more, read the April 4, 2016 Editorial from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, entitled "Elder Abuse."
April 24, 2016 in Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, April 21, 2016
Someone asked me recently about "alternatives" for law students interested in helping older persons or disabled adults. I said, in essence, "figure out how to start and operate a cost-effective, soundly-managed, and reliable, nonprofit rep-payee organization in your community." (And understand that you won't make a fortune, but you can make a good living with a well-run nonprofit!)
In "Ways to Meet the Growing Need for Representative Payees," Justice in Aging recommends that the Social Security System partner with organizations, including attorney organizations, to establish a "sustainable program to help recruit representative payees who are reliable and suitable to perform all of the required duties" of a rep-payee for those receiving federal program benefits but who often are unable to manage the money soundly. In some instances they may have no easy access to reliable family or friends. The "unbefriended," who, in turn, may be vulnerable to those with bad intentions:
Aging demographics and the predicted increase in cognitive deficits and other chronic conditions are expected to create a dramatic need for representative payees. For many of these seniors, family members and friends may be unavailable to serve in this capacity. SSA should think broadly about the groups of people eligible to serve as payees and then create standards for appointment, require a more in-depth level of training, and increased accountability.
Justice in Aging closes by urging that SSA's "recruitment efforts should be geared towards eligible individuals with legal experience as well as other fields with relevant backgrounds, such as social workers and religious community leaders."
Monday, April 18, 2016
Pennsylvania lawmakers seem to be on a roll this month, following several months of log jam over the 2015-16 state budget. The legislature passed SB 879 on April 13, and Pennsylvania Governor Wolf has now signed the law, enabling creation of tax-exempt savings accounts to benefit people with qualified disabilities. From the Governor's Office:
The accounts can be used for a wide-range of disability-related expenses including health care, housing, and transportation without jeopardizing eligibility for important programs on which individuals with disabilities must often depend.
“My administration is committed to promoting and encouraging independence, community-based supports and services, and employment for individuals with a disability,” said Governor Wolf. “Pennsylvanians with disabilities can now achieve greater fiscal self-sufficiency, without the risk of impacting their eligibility for benefits. I am proud to sign this bill today and continue our work to help individuals with disabilities stay in their homes and communities.”
U.S. Senator Bob Casey led efforts to win Congressional passage of the federal ABLE Act, which authorized states to establish tax-exempt savings accounts modeled on section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code, which recognizes state-established savings programs to meet future college expenses. Pennsylvania Treasury has been administering the Pennsylvania 529 program since 1993 and will administer the ABLE Program.
From NDSS's list of states with "ABLE Legislation," it can be seen that Pennsylvania's action makes it approximately the 41st in the nation to "enable" Able. Over the weekend, Pennsylvania also became the 24th state to legalize medical marijuana.
A helpful summary of the use of ABLE accounts, along with other tools that may assist a broader range of ages, including special needs accounts, is provided by Pennsylvania Elder Law guru, Jeff Marshall, here.
Friday, April 15, 2016
Lately, I've been hearing and seeing the phrase "living wills" in mainstream news sources such as the New York Times, but at first the context was confusing to me because the media were speaking and writing about Big Banks, not humans. So, how did it come about that following the 2008 financial crisis, regulators started requiring large financial institutions to have "living wills?"
The Wall Street Journal explains in What You Need to Know About Living Wills [in the context of Big Banks]:
A living will is a document from a financial firm that describes how it would go through bankruptcy without causing a broader economic panic or needing a bailout from taxpayers. The largest U.S. banks have filed several versions of them since the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, which required living wills from financial firms that were judged to pose a potential risk to the broader economy. The documents are also known as resolution plans. “Resolution” is regulatory parlance for dealing with a failing financial firm. Living wills are separate from other regulatory requirements, such as annual “stress tests” that measure whether could banks survive a severe recession.
I've not yet determined who first came up with "living wills" to describe what Dodd-Frank, at 12 U.S.C. Section 5361(d), refers to as "resolution plans." Without accurate, full disclosure, addressing all aspects of the financial institution's operations, such plans -- by any name -- seem unlikely to achieve the goal of greater market stability. As another WSJ writer points out, the utility of Big Banks' living wills comes if not just regulators, but the Bank executives, are paying attention:
The point of the living wills, like the stress tests, is to sit banks down and make them comb through their businesses in excruciating detail, with a focus on grim aspects like liquidity crunches and operational risks in bankruptcy. A useful result of the living wills is that, if they're done correctly, they give regulators a good overall picture of how a bank works, how money flows between its parts, what its pressure points are, and how it responds to crisis. But a much more important result is that, if they're done correctly, they give bankers themselves that same overall picture: They force a bank's executives and directors to understand the workings of the bank in a detailed and comprehensive way. And if they're done incorrectly, that's useful too: They let the regulators and bankers know what they don't know.
The full article on this point is titled, with nice irony, Living Wills Make Banks Think About Death. There, a least, is one similarity in living wills for humans and banks.
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
A specialized area of "law and aging" is accountability for retirement investments, including public employee pension funds. In Massachusetts there has been a long feud between the Boston Globe media company and the Massachusetts Bay Retirement Authority (MTBA) Pension Fund over access to pension records, especially after the loss of some $25 million in employee retirements assets following the collapse of a hedge fund holding MTBA money. Last month, a Massachusetts judge rejected key arguments by the MTBA's that the records in question were not subject to state public records law:
"The Court will ALLOW the Globe's motion for summary judgment and DENY the Retirement Board's cross-motion. The Retirement Board's preliminary assertions that the Supreme Judicial Court has already resolved the central question of statutory interpretation in the Board's favor, and that in any case the Globe may not press its claims because it failed to join other necessary parties, are both incorrect. On the merits, the Court concludes that the Board does indeed receive public funds from the MBTA, and thus that the Board's records are now subject to mandatory disclosure under the public records law unless they fall within one of the statutory exemptions. The Board's assertion that the 2013 statutory amendment only applies to records created after its effective date is also incorrect."
For more on the reasoning, see Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC v. Retirement Bd. of Massachusetts Bay Transp. Authority Retirement Fund, 2016 WL 915330 (Superior Ct. Suffolk County, Mass, March 9, 2016).
See also Boston Globe media reports, including Judge Calls for Open MBTA Pension Files, detailing some of the related allegations by whistleblower Harry Markopolos and Boston University finance professor Mark Williams. See also a consulting firm's March 9, 2016 Report for the MBTA that concluded MBTA had accurately reported accounting data on the pension funds during the years in question.
Monday, April 4, 2016
Under most state laws governing guardians and conservators, appointed fiduciaries are required to make reports to the court at regular intervals, usually beginning with the initial inventory of the ward's assets, followed by distribution reports on at least an annual basis. As part of the ongoing investigation into accountability for guardianships under the jurisdiction of the district court in Clark County (Las Vegas) Nevada, an internal court review apparently demonstrated key weaknesses. As reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal in an April 1, 2016 article:
An internal review of guardianship cases in Clark County showed that less than half are in compliance with state laws and that most vulnerable adults are stripped of rights without an attorney.
District Court Judge Diane Steele provided an in-depth overview of the county’s guardianship caseload during a presentation to the Nevada Supreme Court commission studying guardianship. The panel has been meeting since last summer in an effort to fix the state’s troubled system. The commission was formed following a Review-Journal series highlighting the flaws and lack of oversight of county’s guardianship system that watches over thousands of at-risk adults, called wards.
Most compliance issues stemmed from family members not knowing they needed to file annual reports for their incapacitated family member, according to the report.
But the study showed that about 850 of the 3,800 active cases have not filed the required annual accountings that show how a ward’s money was distributed and spent over a 12-month period. In 975 cases, the initial inventory — which lists the assets of the ward such as real estate, vehicles and liquid assets — was also missing, the report said.
For an interesting national perspective on the need to establish more effective court systems, from the perspective of the National Association for Court Management (NACM), see this well-presented recording of a webinar on "How to Protect Our National's Most Vulnerable Adults through Effective Guardianship Practices." The webinar, with excellent slides and lasting about 50 minutes (plus another 10 minutes of Q & A), is undated but appears to be fairly recent, as one of the slides features news reports from Las Vegas.