Friday, August 18, 2017

Mysteries at the End of Life

Every once in a while, I find something so well written, that even if not strictly speaking an "elder law" related piece, I have to share it here.  

Here's one such example.  Of course, under the right combination of circumstances, given the secrets people hold to their last hours, there certainly could be legal consequences of the mysteries discussed by Hospice Chaplain Kerry Egan in her piece for the New York Times, "Married to a Mystery Man." 

 

August 18, 2017 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 11, 2017

An Elevator Emergency System and the Death of an Elderly Man

Here is another tragic news story for a man, age 82, "who had begun showing signs of dementia and would become 'disoriented at times.'"  

On Aug. 2, nearly a month after he went missing, maintenance workers reported to fire authorities a discovery: a decomposed body in an elevator car in the parking garage. The body was soon identified as Komisarchik’s. . . .  

 

At some point on or before July 6, Komisarchik stepped inside the parking garage elevator. For reasons that remain unclear, he struggled to get out.

 

So in an attempt to seek help, Komisarchik pushed the elevator’s emergency button — twice over the course of eight minutes, a Denver Fire Department spokesman told the Denver Post. But no one responded.

 

Electronic records show that the elevator’s emergency alarm was pressed at 9:09 p.m. and 9:17 p.m. on July 6, the day after Komisarchik was last spotted, according to KUSA. Pushing this emergency button should trigger an alert to an elevator monitoring group or the fire department. But during the time Komisarchik was in the elevator, the fire department received no emergency calls from that car, the Denver Post reported.

 

“Something is not right,” Capt. Greg Pixley, a Denver Fire Department spokesman, told the Denver Post.

For more details, read "He pushed an elevator's alarm button but no one came. . . ." from the Washington Post

August 11, 2017 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Tragic Deaths of Long-Married Couple Underscore Family Dilemmas

The Washington Post carried a recent story by Samantha Schmidt on the tragedy that befell the Tarnowski family in Minnesota when Mary, age 78, and Ron, age 81, somehow wound up stranded with their car on a remote rural trail.  Sadly, they both perished, with heat and dehydration likely factors in their deaths.  

One element of the story has attracted a lot of reader attention -- the report that Ron Tarnowski, who had been his wife's primary caregiver for more than 35 years, was "showing signs of early-stage dementia" in recent years.   Implications from this label raise questions for many. 

From the article, a facebook page, and the obituary, it is apparent that the couple's two sons were very caring and attentive.  One son had built them a home "adjacent to his own so he could keep an eye on them."  That son's wife had given his mother a bath and cooked breakfast for the couple earlier on the day they went missing, and the fact that they were missing was reported the very same day.  Despite the sons' attentiveness, and the all-out efforts of authorities and volunteers to locate the missing couple, the search lasted eight days.

I read with interest the comments to the story posted on-line at the Washington Post website. I expected there would be "flamers" and shaming, so typical of many on-line comment websites. But for the most part, the readers showed kindness and empathy, especially as they told their own stories of struggles to balance protection with respect, attempting to preserve autonomy of beloved family members who are aging.  

Significantly, many readers addressed the potential for modern technology in the form of automated trackers on cars and cell phones to help avoid, if not completely prevent such a tragedy. 

August 9, 2017 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Las Vegas Guardian Sentenced Following Conviction for Theft and Exploitation

Clark County, Nevada has been at the center of serious allegations of abuse by court-appointed guardians, including "public" guardians, as we have reported here in the past. Most recently, the county was the site of a conviction and sentencing of a woman who was charged with theft from her "long-time companion," the incapacitated person she was appointed to protect.

Helen Natko was found guilty by a Las Vegas jury in April of theft and exploitation of a vulnerable person:

Natko raised suspicions when she transferred nearly $200,000 out of a joint account. Natko returned the money but that's when Del's daughter, Terri Black, tried to protect her father leading to a guardianship case. 

 

"That began our 4 year odyssey of pain and sorrow that continues to this day for my family," says Terri. She says the most painful part was not having quality time with her father in his final days.  

Although the prosecutor (and the protected person's family members) sought "prison time" following the conviction, ultimately the state court judge sentenced Natko to 5 years probation, a $10,000 fine and a bar on "gambling."  Further,  according to Las Vegas Contact 13 KTNV news reports, "she's disqualified to be a guardian under new laws passed" since the channel's investigation and news series exposed problems in the county's guardianship system.  

For more see Contact 13: Guardian Sentenced to Probation.  My thanks for the update from Rick  Black, the son-in-law of the victim in this case.   It's been a long haul for the family.  Mr. Black commented, "We are satisfied with the [July 31, 2017] sentence. Although we wanted prison time, it wasn't in the statutes.  Thanks to the many victim family members and advocates who came to support Terri [Rick's wife]." 

Mr. Black is a volunteer with Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship (AAAPG), which was founded in Florida in 2013 by Sam J Sugar, M.D., in response to his own experiences in the Miami-Dade probate court.   

My thanks to those who wrote to correct my earlier mistake in describing the history of AAAPG. 

 

August 2, 2017 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

On Finding Balance in Relationships (and Technology) As One Ages

Over the weekend, I caught an interesting episode of "On Being," with public radio host Krista Tippett.  While the nominal topic was "the good, bad and the  ugly" of the internet, and especially of internet-based social media sites, I found the conversation with her guest relevant on a number of levels, including questions about the importance of healthy relationships and intellectual stimulation for individuals as they age.

The guest speaker, Danah Boyd, a researcher, book author and pro-technology blogger, especially internet technology, talked about concerns that many parents may have, that their children are negatively affected by the amount of time they spend on the internet, whether in the form of Facebook, emails, chatrooms or simply surfing.  "Why don't they just go outside and play together like we did as children, especially in the summer?"

In response, Boyd pointed out that there is a "tremendous amount of fearmongering that emerged in light of 24/7 news...."  She continued:

We created this concern that public spaces like the park were a terrible, terrible place.  We were worried about latchkey children.  We were worried about school buses.  We clamped down on young people, and we started, especially in middle to upper class environments, structuring every day of their lives.

She drew upon examples, including some from Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist who wrote Going Solo to examine the implications of living a "single life," to suggest a possible explanation for young people retreating into the internet is the need to escape the pressures of overly structured daily lives.  

If true, wouldn't the need to escape increase as you get older and encounter more pressure to work, be on time, succeed, and to multi-task?  The need to detach from one-on-one relationships might be greater.

While the program did not talk directly about the upper ages of such a trajectory, as I listened to the program I couldn't help but think there is some greater truth here.  I see some people continue to want to stay engaged in one-on-one social relationships as they move into the "older" of older ages, but I also see many, including some of my own family members, do the exact opposite.  No, they aren't retreating into the internet, but they are retreating from what they might see as pressures to communicate, to be articulate, to "chat" with long time friends or family members. Perhaps for some it is the television, rather than a cell phone or iPad that serves as the protective shield.  

But, for future generations of elders will the internet still be intriguing and continue to offer escape routes?

One of the things that I liked about the "On Being" discussion was the discussion of the importance of striving for balance in the midst of technological changes.  Boyd said:

From my perspective, it’s about stepping back and not assuming that just the technology is transformative, and saying, okay, what are we trying to achieve here? What does balance look like? What does happiness look like? What does success look like? What are these core tenets or values that we’re aiming for, and how do we achieve them holistically across our lives? And certainly, when parents are navigating this, I think one of the difficulties is to recognize that this is what your values are, and they may be different from your child’s values. And so how do you learn to sit and have a conversation of “Here’s what I want for you. What do you want? And how do we balance that?” And that’s that negotiation that’s really hard. And so I think about it in terms of all of us — how do you find your own sense of grounding?

She concludes, suggesting internet technology is an important tool for making connections and having relationships, but "reflection" about life goals is also important.  Or as Boyd says, "There are so many opportunities out there to connect, to communicate, to get information. We need to be more thoughtful about what we want to achieve and how to articulate that in our lives and how to achieve it collectively, individually, and as a community."

August 1, 2017 in Books, Ethical Issues, Science, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Distributive Justice and Donative Intent

Professor Alexander Boni-Saenz at Chicago-Kent College of Law has an interesting new article, Distributive Justice and Donative Intent, forthcoming in the UCLA Law Review.  From the abstract:

The inheritance system is beset by formalism. Probate courts reject wills on technicalities and refuse to correct obvious drafting mistakes by testators. These doctrines lead to donative errors, or outcomes that are not in line with the decedent’s donative intent. While scholars and reformers have critiqued the intent-defeating effects of formalism in the past, none have examined the resulting distribution of donative errors and connected it to broader social and economic inequalities. Drawing on egalitarian theories of distributive justice, this Article develops a novel critique of formalism in the inheritance law context. The central normative claim is that formalistic wills doctrines should be reformed because they create unjustified inequalities in the distribution of donative errors. In other words, probate formalism harms those who attempt to engage in estate planning without specialized legal knowledge or the economic resources to hire an attorney. By highlighting these distributive concerns, this Article reorients inheritance law scholarship to the needs of the middle class and crystallizes distributive arguments for reformers of the probate system.

When I teach Wills, Trusts & Estates, I always include a few of the latest news articles or case reports that focus on LegalZoom or other, less high-profile on-line document drafting venues that are used directly by consumers.  Alex's article examines the implications of formalism for this important reality.  Thanks, Alex!

July 27, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 21, 2017

Filial Friday: Elderly NJ Parents Held Not Liable to Pay Care for Disabled Adult Son in PA

In the latest chapter of an ongoing dispute between a specialized care facility, Melmark, Inc., and the older parents of a disabled adult son, Pennsylvania's intermediate Superior Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of the parents.  

The July 19, 2017 appellate decision in Melmark v. Schutt is based on choice of law principles, analyzing whether New Jersey's more limited filial support law or Pennsylvania's broader filial law controlled.  If applied, New Jersey law "would shield the [parents] from financial responsibility for [their son's] care because they are over age 55 and Alex is no longer a minor." By contrast, "Pennsylvania's filial support law...would provide no age-based exception to parental responsibility to pay for care rendered to an indigent adult child."

The parents and the son were all, as stipulated to the court, residents of New Jersey.  New Jersey public funding paid from the son's  specialized care needs at Melmark's Pennsylvania facility for some 11 years.  However, when, as part of a "bring our children home" program, New Jersey cut the funding for cross-border placements, the parents, age 70 and 71 year old, opposed return of their 31-year old son, arguing lack of an appropriate placement.  Eventually Melmark returned their son to New Jersey against the parents' wishes, with an outstanding bill for unpaid care totaling more than $205,000, incurred over his final 14 months at Melmark.

Both the Pennsylvania trial and appellate courts ruled against the facility, concluding that "the New Jersey statutory scheme reflects a legislative purpose to protect its elderly parents from financial liability associated with the provision of care for their public assistance-eligible indigent children under the present circumstances."  The courts rejected application of Pennsylvania's law as controlling.

This is a tough case, with hard-line positions on the law staked out by both sides.  One cannot expect facilities to provide quality care for free.  On the other side, one can empathize with families who face limited local care choices and huge costs.

Ultimately, I anticipate these kinds of cross-border "family care and cost" disputes becoming more common in the future for care-dependent family members, as the impact of federal funding cuts trickle down to states with uneven resources of their own.  Some of these problems won't see the courtroom, as facilities will likely resist any out-of-state placement where payment is not guaranteed by family members, old or young.  

July 21, 2017 in Consumer Information, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Housing, Medicaid, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

ACTEC Engagement Letters

We previously let you know that ACTEC has released the 5th edition of its Commentaries to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Now ACTEC has released a new edition of their engagement letters. Engagement Letters A Guide for Practitioners (3rd ed. 2017) is available as a pdf.  There are 9 chapters with introductions, explanations, checklists and forms.  The introduction explains the book's organization:

Following this introduction, there is a general checklist designed to aid the lawyer before preparing the engagement letter in any trust and estate representation. The general checklist includes cross references to the specific checklists and forms that follow. Following the general checklist, there are nine chapters, each with a basic engagement letter form or specific language to be added to, or used in conjunction with, a basic engagement letter form addressing:

Chapter 1: Estate Planning Representation of One Person or Spouses;

Chapter 2: Representation of Multiple Members of the Same Family Other Than or in Addition to Spouses;

Chapter 3: Representation of Multiple Parties in a Business Context;

Chapter 4: Estate Planning Lawyer Serving as a Fiduciary;

Chapter 5: Representation of Executors and Trustees in Administration Matters;

Chapter 6: Representation of Guardians/Conservators;

Chapter 7: Probate Litigation;

Chapter 8: Dealing with Diminished Capacity or Death of a Client Not Represented in a Fiduciary Capacity;

Chapter 9: Termination of Representation.

The introduction also offers a caution regarding the use of forms, a great reminder for all attorneys.

 

 

June 22, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues | Permalink

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

New Casebook: Caring For Older People in an Ageing Society

Last week I received an email from the Hastings Center with the subject line "What Do We Owe the Frail Elderly?"  This intrigued me because I often have a conversation with my students about what, if anything, we "owe" the generation before us. I typically have this conversation in the context of discussing funding of public benefits and other programs specifically for America's elders.   Here is the information about the casebook

A woman juggles caring for her aged father at home and going to work. A volunteer cares for an 83-year-old man who lives alone and wonders why the man’s son doesn’t take more of an interest. Staff members at a nursing home, discussing a patient with dementia who hits staff members, consider whether it’s acceptable to control his behavior with antipsychotic medication, knowing that antipsychotics increase the risk of stroke in people with dementia. These are three of the 10 cases in Caring for Older People in an Ageing Society, the second edition of an online bioethics casebook launched this week. The casebook aims to support professional and family caregivers by helping them recognize and respond to situations that pose ethical uncertainty... The bioethics casebook was the product of a project with the National University of Singapore Centre for Biomedical Ethics, The Hastings Center, and Oxford University’s Ethox Centre. Explore the Casebook

Additional information about the book is available from The Hastings Center website: "an innovative web-based casebook that focuses on ethical challenges of caring for people in an aging society. It is geared to those who provide community-based care to frail or chronically ill people living at home, in a family member’s home, or in a nursing home. The casebook will include fictional cases along with ethics commentaries, clinical perspectives, reflection and discussion questions, and other resources...."

This second volume of the casebook focuses on elders while the first volume focuses on difficult decisions. For more information, click here.
 

May 30, 2017 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Books, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Growing Opposition to Consolidation of Departments of Aging into Other State Departments

As I reported here for the first time recently, Pennsylvania's Governor Wolf has proposed consolidation -- or as he prefers to call it -- unification -- of four separate administrative agencies, the Departments of Aging, Health, Human Services (formerly Public Welfare) and Drug & Alcohol Treatment Programs.  Are similar budget-driven changes occurring in your state?

As I catch up with events in Pennsylvania, I'm learning from readers about growing concerns about the possible merger.  

  • As one recently retired PA legislator pointed out, there seems to be little in the way of a written plan for how services will be handled under this merger.  Rather, the merger appears mostly as a description of budget items, with a lot of "minus" signs to indicate cuts.  Perhaps by design, Pennsylvania government is often a bad example of transparency for governments.  What is the real plan, if any?  
  • With the consolidation, at a minimum, older Pennsylvanians would be losing a cabinet level post, their singular, dedicated spokesperson. This would be likely to affect all future budget and programming battles.
  • The timing is, to use a favorite Trump adjective, "sad."  While the leading edge of the big wave of aging baby boomers began to be felt a few years ago when those born in in 1945 started turning age 65 in 2010, the "real" need for an effective advocate is when boomers start turning age 75, age 80 and so on, the higher ages when they are more likely to need or question access to services.

Perhaps of greatest significance is the potential impact of consolidation on the process for assessment of need for services and assistance, especially Medical Assistance.  

Under the current allocation of resources, "assessment" of need is handled by individuals employed under the authority of Pennsylvania's Department of Aging.  

However, the financial allocations are currently determined under the authority of the Department of Human Services.  Consolidation might make sense on paper, but wait

As one of my mentors in aging, Northern Ireland's former Commissioner of Older People Claire Keatinge, says, to be helpful, fair and effective, any individual assessment of need for health care, social care and security, should be exactly that -- individualized and focused on the client,  and should not be simply a match to "what services (if any) are available."  That process-based distinction is critical to determining current and future funding priorities.

In Pennsylvania, the lion's share of budget and personnel for aging services has long been housed in the Department of Human Services (formerly Public Welfare), but those workers -- perhaps by necessity and perhaps by design, have often functioned as dedicated bean counters, as in "here's what services we fund, so do you or don't you meet the eligibility criteria?"  

By losing the aging assessment focus of the current Department of Aging, it seems likely the state would compromise, and perhaps lose entirely, the independent thinking and opportunity for critical needs-based assessment.

Several elder-focused organizations have raised these and other key points in opposition to the existing budget-based consolidation proposal.  Those active in the debate include:

  • The Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association of Elder Law Attorneys (PAELA)  has asked thoughtful legislators to "oppose such consolidation" as presented in the current budget proposal.   As Pittsburgh Elder Law attorney Julian Gray testified on May 1 in state Senate hearings, a "bigger" agency is not necessarily a "better" agency. 
  • Representatives for the service organization for Pennsylvania senior service workers, P4A, testified strongly in favor of the role of the Department of Aging as the advocate for the "unique needs of seniors."  Speakers focused too on the Department's historical role in protecting and managing a unique funding stream dedicated to seniors, "lottery" funds.
  • Long-time practitioner and elder law guru, Jeff Marshall, has a comprehensive commentary, with links, detailing the history and importance of Pennsylvania's Department of Aging.  There's a simple bottom line expressed here -- "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."  
  • Related articles

May 23, 2017 in Consumer Information, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Retirement, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 22, 2017

NAELA Chapter Joins as Amicus for New York Aid in Dying Case

In what is described as a "first" for the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), the organization through its New York Chapter will present argument on behalf of individuals seeking to establish access to "aid in dying."  On April 27, the New York Chapter was granted leave to appear as amicus curiae in Myers v. Schneiderman before the New York Court of Appeals.  Oral arguments are scheduled in Albany on May 30, 2017.

At issue is New York's penal law prohibiting assistance in "suicides."  The original suit, filed in February 2015, sought a ruling that the statute, characterized by opponents as "antiquated," should be interpreted as not reaching the conduct of a physician that provides aid-in-dying where the patient is terminally ill and mentally competent and voluntarily seeks "terminal medication."  Alternatively, the opponents of the law argue that the statute violates the rights of privacy and/or equal protection guaranteed by the New York State Constitution. New York's trial level court dismissed the challenge as a matter of law, on the grounds that New York's penal law was "clear on its face."  

In joining the challenge to the dismissal, which was affirmed by  appellate division, New York NAELA wrote:

As an organization of lawyers who represent the elderly and persons with disabilities, the New York Chapter [of NAELA] believes that a proper interpretation of New York's "assisted suicide" laws and due consideration of Appellants' constitutional challenges should be based on a fully developed factual record.  These are issues of great moment to the elderly and those who love them and to the administration of justice in this State.  This Court should have the benefit of a hearing and findings of relevant evidence before deciding them. . . .

What would assist this Court in fairly construing the Penal Law are facts relating to aid-in-dying.  While the language of the statute is the starting point for interpretation, its words do not exist in a vacuum.   

For more on the arguments, including links to the various parties' appellate briefs in Myers, see the "End of Life Liberty Project."

 

May 22, 2017 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Discrimination, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Science, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Elder Financial Abuse Video from Pennsylvania Departments of Banking and Aging

Here's a seven-minute video on elder financial abuse, focusing mostly on "scam artists," from the Pennsylvania Departments of Aging and Banking & Securities.  You might find this useful for classes.

I found the discussion of "mild cognitive impairment" interesting, especially as it allows a conversation about planning without the dreaded words, dementia or Alzheimer's Disease.

May 15, 2017 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Film | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Preventative "Support Visits" Starting at Age 75 under Consideration in Northern Ireland

On May 10, 2017, my research colleagues Gavin Davidson (Queens University Belfast) and Subhajit Basu (University of Leeds) participated in a policy briefing at Stormont, the Northern Ireland Assembly in Belfast.  They appeared in support of recommendations by the Commissioner of Older People (COPNI) Eddie Lynch on a major plan for modernization of social care programs for vulnerable adults (of any age).

Professors Davidson and Basu focused on three key recommendations:

  1. Northern Ireland should have a single legislative framework for adult social care with accompanying guidance for implementation. This could either be new or consolidated legislation, based on human rights principles, bringing existing social care law together into one coherent framework.
  1. All older people in Northern Ireland, once they reach the age of 75 years, should be offered a Support Visit by an appropriately trained professional. This will be based on principles of choice and self-determination and is aimed at helping older people to be aware of the support and preventative services that are available to them.
  1. Increasing demands for health and social care reinforce the importance of considering how these services should be funded. All future funding arrangements must be equitable and not discriminate against any group who may have higher levels of need.

The audience, which included researchers, social service program administrators and elected officials (not only from Northern Ireland, but elsewhere, including the Isle of Man), reportedly responded strongly to the recommendations, especially to the concept of specially-trained "support visitors," offered to persons age 75 or older. The intent is to provide individuals with planning support and, where needed, medical assessment.  Guidance and information is often needed for pre-crisis planning, thus moving in the direction of prevention of crises and reduction of need for last-minute response. The support visitor concept has been used successfully in Denmark and other locations in Europe.  The next step for Northern Ireland would likely be a pilot or test project.  

As a co-author of the research reports that led to the COPNI recommendations, working with Professors Gavin Davidson and Subhajit Basu as part of a team headed by Dr. Joe Duffy of Queens University Belfast, I found it an interesting coincidence that at almost the same time as the Northern Ireland government session, I was addressing similar interests in "preventative" planning while speaking on elder abuse in a "Day on the Hill" program at the Capitol in Pennsylvania, hosted by the Alzheimer's Association.  It is clear that on both sides of the Atlantic, we are interested in cost-effective, proactive measures to help people stay in their homes safely.   

May 12, 2017 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, International, Retirement, Social Security, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Taking a Closer Look at "Gray Divorce" Statistics

Writing for the Institute for Family Studies, George Washington Law Professor Naomi Cahn and University of Minnesota Law Professor June Carbone dig into the black and white of statistics on "gray" divorce, with interesting observations. For example:

First, some good news for everyone: the divorce rate is still not all that high for those over the age of 50. Yes, it has doubled over the past 30 years: in 1990, five out of every 1,000 married people divorced, and in 2010, it was 10 out of every 1,000 married people. And yes, the rate has risen much more dramatically for gray Americans than for those under 50; in fact, there was a decline in the rate for those between the ages of 25-39. But the divorce rate for those over 50 is still half the rate for those under 50.

Divorce for older individuals often does have significant impacts for individuals in retirement, as they point out:  

These statistics don’t mean that gray divorce isn’t a problem. Those who divorce at older ages, like those who divorce at younger ages, tend to have less wealth than those who remain married, with the gray divorced having only one-fifth of the assets of gray married couples. Compared to married couples, gray divorced women have relatively low Social Security benefits and relatively high poverty rates. While gray married, remarried, and cohabiting couples have poverty rates of four percent or less, 11 percent of men who divorced after the age of 50 were in poverty, and 27 percent of the women were in poverty.

For more, read "Who is at Risk for a Gray Divorce?  It Depends."

May 10, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Retirement, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Are Inadequately Funded Retirement Plans the Latest Ponzi Scheme?

The teachers' pension fund in Puerto Rico is the latest example of an under-funded government-operated retirement plan. A unique complication of the Puerto Rico teachers' plan is the decision to opt out of Social Security as a separate form of retirement income.  In a recent New York Times article, the reporter makes the the analogy to a Ponzi scheme:

Puerto Rico, where the money to pay teachers’ pensions is expected to run out next year, has become a particularly extreme example of a problem facing states including Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania: As teachers’ pension costs keep rising, young teachers are being squeezed — sometimes hard. One study found that more than three-fourths of all American teachers hired at age 25 will end up paying more into pension plans than they ever get back.

 

“I think they’re really being taken advantage of,” said Richard W. Johnson of the Urban Institute, a co-author of the research. “What’s so tragic about this is, often the new hires aren’t aware that they’re getting such a bad deal.”

 

The problem is magnified by the fact that the Puerto Rico teachers union — like many teachers and police unions around the country — opted out of Social Security long ago, hoping it could save both workers and the government money by not paying Social Security taxes.

 

That decision was predicated on the assurance that the workers’ pensions would be well managed and adequately funded. But in Puerto Rico, as in some other places, that has not been true for decades.

For more, read In Puerto Rico, Teachers' Pension Fund Works Like a Ponzi Scheme.

 

March 8, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Retirement, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

In Case You Missed It: Sister Shares Moving Account of Early Onset Dementia

From the Washington Post, an especially moving account written by former White House Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri about her sister, who died at age 58 following some ten years with "early onset" Alzheimer's:

Every day, more Americans receive the devastating news that someone in their family has this affliction. For now, there is not a lot of hope for recovery. It can make you envious of cancer patients; their families get to have hope. Having come through this experience with my sister, I am afraid that I can’t offer these new Alzheimer’s families hope for a recovery. But I do hope that by relaying the story of my sister’s journey, I can offer them some peace.

 

My sister Dana was brilliant, beautiful, full of positive energy, a force of nature. She was not an easy person. She was driven and successful, and, as the disease progressed unbeknown to all of us, it became harder to connect with her. Ironically, that began to change once she got the diagnosis.

 

When she called each of us with the news, she already had it all figured out. We were all to understand that, really, she saw the diagnosis as a blessing. It was going to allow her to retire early. It would motivate our family to spend time together we would not have otherwise done. It would shorten her life, but she would make sure the days she had left were of the highest quality.

The thoughtful piece can help all of us as we and our family members tackle challenges.  For more, read The Blessings Inside my Sister's Alzheimer's Disease.

March 7, 2017 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Retirement, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

More on Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch on End-of-Life Issues

Paula Span, the thoughtful columnist on aging issues from the New York Times, offers "Gorsuch Staunchly Opposes "Aid-in-Dying." Does It Matter?"   The article suggests that the "real" battle over aid-in-dying will be in state courts, not the Supreme Court.

I'm in the middle of reading Judge Gorsuch's 2006 book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. There are many things to say about this book, not the least of which is the impressive display of the Judge's careful sorting of facts, legal history and legal theory to analyze the various advocacy approaches to end-of-life decisions, with or without the assistance of third-parties.  

With respect to what might reach the Supreme Court Court, he writes (at page 220 of the paperback edition): 

The [Supreme Court's] preference for state legislative experimentation in Gonzales [v. Oregon] seems, at the end of the day, to leave the state of the assisted suicide debate more or less where the Court found it, with the states free to resolve the question for themselves.  Even so, it raises interesting questions for at least two future sorts of cases one might expect to emerge in the not-too-distant future.  The first sort of cases are "as applied" challenges asserting a constitutional right to assist suicide or euthanasia limited to some particular group, such as the terminally ill or perhaps those suffering grave physical (or maybe even psychological) pain....

 

The second sort of cases involve those like Lee v. Oregon..., asserting that laws allowing assisted suicide violate the equal protection guarantee...."

While most of the book is a meticulous analysis of law and policy, in the end he also seems to signal a personal concern, writing "Is it possible that the Journal of Clinical Oncology study is right and the impulse for assistance in suicide, like the impulse for old-fashioned suicide, might more often than not be the result of an often readily treatable condition?" 

My thanks to New York attorney, now Florida resident, Karen Miller for pointing us to the NYT article.

February 28, 2017 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Consumer Information, Crimes, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Discrimination, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Health Care/Long Term Care, Religion, Science, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | 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)