Friday, October 3, 2014

"Couples Euthanasia"?

Yesterday I published a post on assisted dying "tourism" in Switzerland. Following up that story is another story on a related topic. Reported in the Daily Mail Online, Elderly couple to die together by assisted suicide even though they are not ill focuses on a Brussels couple in their late 80s who, despite not being terminally ill, plan to die together because they "fear loneliness if the other one dies first from natural causes" and the couple's 3 adult children have said they would be unable to care for the surviving parent when the first one died. The kids have found a doctor to help on the basis of the parents' "mental  anguish constituted the unbearable suffering needed to legally justify euthanasia."

The couple has selected the date and the method of euthanasia.  Although double euthanasia may seem novel, theirs will not be the first time this has occurred.   However, their request has created something of a stir in the UK, according to the story.  The story notes that in Brussels, evidently mental anguish is becoming a more accepted basis for a euthanasia request.

Thanks to Sushil Preet Cheema, one of my elder law concentration students, for sending me the link to this story.

 

 

October 3, 2014 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

October 1: International Day of Older Persons

In 1990, the United National General Assembly, by Resolution 45/106, designated October 1 each year as the International Day of Older Persons (actually, the original resolution referred to "International Day for the Elderly") .  As observed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the international focus on aging-related concerns becomes more important each year:

"By 2050, the number of older persons will be twice the number of children in developed countries, and the number of older persons in developing countries is expected to double. This trend will have profound effects on countries and individuals."

John Marshall Law School, in conjunction with Roosevelt University  in Chicago, will use the occasion to further the discussion on "next steps" for the Chicago Declaration on the Rights of Older Persons, a statement formulated over the last year and presented before the UN in August.  Here are details of their planned October 1 event.

Will your school also be furthering the discussion? 

September 25, 2014 in Discrimination, Ethical Issues, International | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

PA Attorney Disbarred After Ten Years of Involvement In "Living Trust Scams" Targeting Seniors

Following several months of investigation of complaints from older adults and their family members, in 2004 the Pennsylvania Attorney General announced a civil suit against an array of companies and individuals, including several attorneys, alleging their participation in a scheme to defraud through sales of unnecessary revocable living trusts and unsuitable annuities and insurance products. The alleged target was "senior citizens age 65 and older."

Ten years later, one of the Pennsylvania attorneys named in that original investigation, Brett B. Weinstein, has been disbarred.  This particular disciplinary action has been a lo-o-o-o-ng-time coming.

Beginning as early as 2000, the Pennsylvania disciplinary board received complaints about Weinstein's role in the sales by non-lawyer third-parties of so-called "living trusts," often packaged with high-priced annuities.  Weinstein himself rarely met with the clients, and provided little in the way of legal advice or counseling.  He was formally cautioned about his use of unsupervised non-lawyers to provide legal advice and in 2001 he entered into a written Assurance of  Voluntary Compliance. 

The conduct, however, apparently did not stop.  An undercover investigator was used to document continued problems.   In recommending disbarrment, the Disciplinary Office concluded that from 2002 to 2012, acting on his own and in concert with others, Weinstein "assisted sales and delivery agents for a series of estate planning companies  in the un-authorized practice of law." Further, he engaged in "false and misleading conduct, failed to consult with his clients concerning their objectives and placed his own interests above his responsibilities to his clients."

In discussing the case against Weinstein and rejecting his attempts to justify his conduct, the Disciplinary opinion points to a long-history of concerns about attorneys involved with living trust "mills" in other states (including Colorado, Missouri, and Ohio), where the products are pushed on older persons with little or no analysis of the clients' real legal needs and specific financial circumstances. Read here for the complete Disciplinary findings and the PA Supreme Court Order dated July 28, 2014.

September 16, 2014 in Consumer Information, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Will Americans Still Be Paying Off on Student Loans As Seniors?

In a GAO study titled "Inability to Repay Student Loans May Affect Financial Security of Small Percentage of Retirees," researchers reveal that a significant -- and growing -- proportion of "student loan" debt is owed by Americans aged 65 or older.  In addition to the growth in the total amount of "senior" student loan debt, from $2.8 billion in 2005 to $18.2 billion in 2013, the GAO findings include:

  • Relatively few households headed by individuals 65 or older hold student loan debt -- the number is about 706,000 households in the U.S. -- but the amount they owe may be significant, with estimates that the median debt owed is around $12,000, as compared to a median for those aged 64 and younger of $13,000.
  • Most -- about 82% -- of this debt was for the individual's own education.  It is not known whether how "old" the loans are.
  •  Older borrowers hold defaulted federal student loans at a higher rate -- and defaults can have conquences, including offsets on Social Security payments.  Generally speaking, student debts cannot be discharged in bankruptcy; however adjustments may be possible to keep the individual's monthly income above the poverty threshold.

For more discussion on the GAO report, see "Senior (Citizen) Student Debt Rising," in Inside Higher Ed by Michael Stratford.  Hat tip to Professor Laurel Terry for pointing out this new study. 

September 12, 2014 in Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Retirement | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Tragedy on Many Fronts: South Korea Story on Aging Women Near U.S. Base

From the Associated Press in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, an especially troubling history with issues of abuse, human rights, comparative law, international relations, military accountability, and aging:

"More than 70 aging women live in a squalid neighborhood between the rear gate of the U.S. Army garrison here and half a dozen seedy nightclubs. Near the front gate, glossy illustrations posted in real-estate offices show the dream homes that may one day replace their one-room shacks. They once worked as prostitutes for American soldiers in this "camptown" near Camp Humphreys, and they've stayed because they have nowhere else to go. Now, the women are being forced out of the Anjeong-ri neighborhood by developers and landlords eager to build on prime real estate around the soon-to-be-expanded garrison.

 

'My landlord wants me to leave, but my legs hurt, I can't walk, and South Korean real estate is too expensive,' says Cho Myung-ja, 75, a former prostitute who receives monthly court eviction notices at her home, which she has rarely left over the last five years because of leg pain. 'I feel like I'm suffocating,' she says.

 

Plagued by disease, poverty and stigma, the women have little to no support from the public or the government. Their fate contrasts greatly with a group of Korean women forced into sexual slavery by Japanese troops during World War II. Those so-called "comfort women" receive government assistance under a special law, and large crowds demanding that Japan compensate and apologize to the women attend weekly rallies outside the Japanese Embassy.

 

While the camptown women get social welfare, there's no similar law for special funds to help them, according to two Pyeongtaek city officials who refused to be named because of office rules. Many people in South Korea don't even know about the camptown women."

For more of the story, see "Aging South Koreans, Once Prostitutes for U.S. Troops, Being Pushed Away from Base They Never Left."

September 8, 2014 in Current Affairs, Discrimination, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, International | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Is There A Billing Code for That?

Recently I participated in a series of roundtable discussions about end-of-life decision making and care. Community members, doctors, hospital staff and representatives of long-term care providers participated.  There were several  memorable moments.  At one point, a former hospital employee said that it had been her job to get "living wills" signed by patients before surgery.  Another administrator confessed she wished there was a Medicare billing code, so that her staff could conduct a proper discussion of living wills and similar advance directives with patients. 

According to the New York Times, there may be such a billing code, at least for private insurance. From the front page of Sunday edition, "Coverage for End-of-Life Talks Gaining Ground."

"Five years after it exploded into a political conflagration over 'death panels,' the issue of paying doctors to talk to patients about end-of-life care is making a comeback, and such sessions may be covered for the 50 million Americans on Medicare as early as next year.

Bypassing the political process, private insurers have begun reimbursing doctors for these 'advance care planning' conversations as interest in them rises along with the number of aging Americans. People are living longer with illnesses, and many want more input into how they will spend their final days, including whether they want to die at home or in the hospital, and whether they want full-fledged life-sustaining treatment, just pain relief or something in between. Some states, including Colorado and Oregon, recently began covering the sessions for Medicaid patients.

 

But far more significant, Medicare may begin covering end-of-life discussions next year if it approves a recent request from the American Medical Association, the country’s largest association of physicians and medical students. One of the A.M.A.’s roles is to create billing codes for medical services, codes used by doctors, hospitals and insurers. It recently created codes for end-of-life conversations and submitted them to Medicare."

August 31, 2014 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Consumer Information, Ethical Issues | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, August 25, 2014

"It's Complicated" - Examining Age, Gender & Lifetime Discrimination Against Working Women

Bisom-Rapp  SargeantThomas Jefferson School of Law Professor Susan Bisom-Rapp and Middlesex University (UK) Business School Professor Malcolm Sargeant  both with deep expertise in employment and labor law, have joined forces to examine the long-range impact of discrimination against  women during the course of their working lives. Based on experiences in the U.S. and the U.K., they recommend a comprehensive strategy to remedy identified problems.   Their article, "It's Complicated: Age, Gender, and Lifetime Discrimination Against Working Women - The U.S. and U.K. as Examples," was published in 2014 in theUniversity of Illinois' Elder Law Journal.  Here's a  tantalizing introduction:

"This article considers the effect on women of a lifetime of discrimination using material from both the U.S. and the U.K. Government reports in both countries make clear that women workers suffer from multiple disadvantages during their working lives, which result in significantly poorer outcomes in old age when compared to men. Indeed, the numbers are stark. In the U.S., for example, the poverty rate of women 65 years old and up is nearly double that of their male counterparts. Older women of color are especially disadvantaged. The situation in the U.K. is comparable.



To capture the phenomenon, the article develops a model of Lifetime Disadvantage, which considers the major factors that on average produce unequal outcomes for working women at the end of their careers. One set of factors falls under the heading “Gender-based factors.” This category concerns phenomena directly connected to social or psychological aspects of gender, such as gender stereotyping and women’s traditionally greater roles in family caring activities. A second set of factors is titled “Incremental disadvantage factors.” While these factors are connected to gender, that connection is less overt, and the disadvantage they produce increases incrementally over time. The role of law and policy, in ameliorating or exacerbating women’s disadvantages, is considered in conjunction with each factor, revealing considerable incoherence and regulatory gaps. Notably, the U.K.’s more protective legal stance toward women in comparison with the U.S. fails to change outcomes appreciably for women in that country.


An effective, comprehensive regulatory framework could help compensate for these disadvantages, which accumulate over a lifetime. Using the examples of the U.S. and the U.K., however, the article demonstrates that regulatory schemes created by “disjointed incrementalism” – in other words, policies that tinker along the margins without considering women’s full life course – are unlikely to vanquish systemic inequality on the scale of gender-based lifetime discrimination."

Professor Bisom-Rapp is also a co-author of The Global Workplace: Internatioanl and Comparative Employment Law - Cases and Materials, now in its second edition. 

August 25, 2014 in Current Affairs, Discrimination, Ethical Issues, International | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

State Legislator Charged with "Sexual Assault" of Wife In Complicated Nursing Home Case

We've reported several times, including here and here, on recent academic and professional publications that address the sensitive topic of "consent" to sexual relations for individuals residing in nursing homes. 

The Huffington Post and other media reports now bring the topic into the general public realm with coverage of a complicated case emerging in Iowa, where a husband has been arrested on charges connected to sexual relations with his wife, a resident with Alzheimer's, in her nursing home room. 

Two items that may be critical to the outcome of the case: Alleged "notice" to the husband by the facility that his wife was no longer legally able to give consent to sexual relations, and the identity of the husband as a public figure. The fact that the husband is a state legislator is a reason why the case may get wide news coverage.  But that wider coverage could also generate important discussion and debate about the deeper legal, personal and public issues.  From one article:

"An Iowa legislator who allegedly had sex with his mentally incapacitated late wife has been charged with sexual abuse. Henry Rayhons, 78, a Republican state representative from Iowa House District 8, was told by medical staff on May 15 that his wife, 78-year-old Donna Rayhons, no longer had the mental ability to consent to sexual activity, according to a criminal complaint obtained by WHO-TV. Donna Rayhons, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, had been living in Concord Care Center in Garner, Iowa, since March, according to the Des Moines Register....

 

In an interview with law enforcement in June,Rayhons allegedly confessed to 'having sexual contact' with his wife, according to KCCI. He also allegedly admitted that he had a copy of the document that stated his wife did not have the cognitive ability to give consent. Rayhons was charged with third-degree sexual abuse on Friday.

 

Elizabeth Barnhill, executive director of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, told the Des Moines Register that even though spousal rape has been illegal in Iowa for about 25 years, arrests for the crime are rare and 'convictions are even rarer.' Barnhill also noted that sexual assault between spouses is not considered a 'forcible felony' in Iowa."

According to new sources, the family has also made a statement

August 24, 2014 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 22, 2014

SSRN Potpourri: Recent Elder Law Articles Posted on SSRN

Articles recently posted by U.S. law school academics on the Social Science Research Network's (SSRN's) Elder Law Studies network:

August 22, 2014 in Cognitive Impairment, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Retirement, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Changes Recommended for VA Fiduciary Program to Better Protect Veterans

Recent Duke Law graduate Whitney Bosworth Blazek is the author of a timely, interesting note, "Combating Privatization: Modifying Veterans Administration Fiduciary Program to Protect Incompetent Veterans" in a recent issue of the Duke Law Journal.  The abstract explains:

"Created to supervise the distribution of Veterans Administration benefits, the Veterans Benefit Administration Fiduciary Program was designed to help thousands of incompetent veterans handle their finances. Rather than directly managing each veteran's funds, the Fiduciary Program employs a privatization model whereby a private individual or institution is appointed to manage a veteran's assets. The Fiduciary Program then monitors these fiduciaries to ensure the veteran's funds are properly expended. 

This Note argues that in practice this privatization model is seriously flawed and that it exposes some of the most vulnerable portions of the veteran population's funds to misuse. In support of this conclusion, this Note compares the federal statutes, regulations, and internal directives that govern the Fiduciary Program--paying special attention to the Fiduciary Program Manual-- with audits performed by the Veterans Affairs Office of Audits and Evaluations and the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Relying on these audits, this inquiry rejects total reliance on substantive statutory reform in light of legislative and judicial barriers. Instead, this Note advocates for critical internal reforms designed to improve the Program's efficiency and functionality, the adoption of a state enforcement mechanism, and reliance on principles of cooperative federalism and interagency cooperation."

August 21, 2014 in Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Veterans | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 15, 2014

ABA Journal: Activists Seek to Challenge "Protectionist" Funeral Laws

A recent issue of the ABA Journal reports on the latest efforts to challenge "antiquated" funeral laws, the subject of decision in Heffner v. Murphy, 745 F.3d 56 (3d Cir. 2014): 

"According to [Joshua Slocum, executive director for the nonprofit Funeral Consumers Alliance], most states regulate the funeral business with boards that are packed with established funeral directors. As a result, regulations tend to suppress legitimate complaints and smother new competitors.  That's one of the complaints behind Heffner v. Murphy... that may end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.  Plaintiff Ernest Heffner, a licensed funeral director from York [Pennsylvania] claimed that the Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Law imposes 'arbitrary, burdensome and unreasonable' restrictions on funeral businesses, including who may own funeral homes and requirement for on-site embalming rooms."

According to the ABA Journal, "the libertarian-leaning Institute for Justice has stepped in and petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for certiorari.  IJ senior attorney Jeff Rowes says the case raises legal issues central to a core mission for the institute: stopping unreasonable regulations on small businesses."  The petition for certiorai was filed July 15, 2014.

For more, read "Regulated to Death: Consumer Activitists Seek Certiorari for Challenge to 'Protectionist' Funeral Laws," by Lorelei Laird.

August 15, 2014 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Prof. Andrew McClurg Calls for "A Statutory Presumption to Prosecute Elder Financial Exploitation"

University of Memphis Law Professor Andrew Jay McClurg's article, "Preying on the Graying: A Statutory Presumption to Prosecute Elder Financial Exploitation," appears in May 2014 issue of the Hastings Law Journal. Professor McClurg proposes that states adopt "state criminal statutes that create a permissive presumption of exploitation with regard to certain financial transfers from elders." In correspondence, Professor McClurg points to the fact that on the surface it may appear that older persons -- victims -- are "voluntarily" parting with assets, when "in fact [the transactions] occur because of undue influence, psychological manipulation and misrepresentation." Mcclurg_newphoto

Professor McClurg stresses the need for a statutory presumption to give prosecutors an effective tool to hold offenders accountable.  His proposal has already had direct impact, in the form of Florida legislation, Fla. Stat. 825.103(2) signed into law June 20, 2014 and effective on October 1, 2014.  Key language from the provision includes:

"Any inter vivos transfer of money or property valued in excess of $10,000 at the time of the transfer, whether in a single transfer or multiple transactions, by a person age 65 or older to a nonrelative whom the transferor knew for fewer than 2 years before the first transfer and for which the transferor did not receive the reasonably equivalent financial value in goods or services creates a permissive presumption that the transfer was the result of exploitation."

The Florida provision applies "regardless of whether the transfer or transfers are denoted by the parties as a gift or loan, except that it does not apply to a valid loan evidenced in writing that includes definite repayment dates...." Further, the new Florida provision does not apply to "persons who are in the business of making loans" or "bona fide charitable donations to nonprofit organizations that qualify for tax exempt status."

In cases tried to a jury under the Florida statute, the law provides that jurors "shall be instructed that they may, but are not required to, draw an inference of exploitation upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of the facts listed in this subsection."  The law's presumption "imposes no burden of proof on the defendant."

UPDATE:   Professor McClurg wrote again to explain that he worked directly with the Florida Elder Exploitation Task Force and with Florida Representative Kathleen Passidomo to secure passage of the new law.  Professor McClurg's presumption proposal was introduced as part of H.B. 409, which passed unanimously through the two houses of the state legislature.  According to Professor McClurg, the statute is the only one of its type in the nation.  Thanks for the clarification, Andrew!

August 14, 2014 in Crimes, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Tennessee: Limits on Estate Planning Attorney's Authority to Disclose Will

 

In recent Formal Ethics Opinion 2014-F-158, the Board of Professional Responsibility for the Supreme Court of Tennessee addressed the following interesting question:

"Can a lawyer who represented a testator refuse to honor a court order or subpoena to disclose, prior to the client's death, a Will or other testamenatry document executed when the testator was competent on the basis that the document is protected against disclosure by the attorney-client privilege or confidentiality."

The Board's opinion indicates that not only "may" the lawyer refuse to disclose the will, but where circumstances indicate the client is no longer able to give informed consent because of intervening dementia, the lawyer may have a duty to raise all "nonfrivolous grounds" to protect the will from disclosure, including privileges under Tennessee statutes, citing Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6(c)(2). 

In opening its analysis, the Board noted that it has become "increasingly common for courts to appoint attorneys in a representative capacity to represent individuals suffering from dementia and/or Alzheimer's who are the subject of a dispute or litigation regarding management of the individual's funds and/or person." During the course of the dispute, parties may attempt to seek review of the will prior to the death of the testator, citing reasons such as the need to "engage in estate planning." 

The Board acknowledged the potential for facts that would permit the lawyer to disclose the contents of the disabled client's will, such as when a "lawyer believes the disclosure of the contents ... would be in furtherance of client's interest."

In commentary on the Tennessee Board Ethics Opinion, the ABA/BNA Manual on Professsional Conduct, in Vol. 30, No. 15, observed that "a 2010 law review article cites demographic patterns that have increased the likelihood of such scenarios," pointing to "A Common Thread to Weave a Patchwork: Advocating for Testatmentary Exception Rules,"  3 Phoenix L. Rev. 729, 734-35 (2010) by then law student Andrew B. Mazoff, now an attorney in Phoenix.

Thanks to my colleague and ethics guru, Laurel Terry, for sharing this ethics opinion.

August 6, 2014 in Cognitive Impairment, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

New Book: The Law and Ethics of Dementia

The Law and Ethics of Dementia, co-edited by Israel Doron, Charles Foster and Jonathan Herring, recently released in hardback by Hart Publishing and available for e-readers in September, is definitely on my "must read" list.   Followers of this Blog will certainly recognize Issi Doron, from the University of Haifa, who has long exercised an international, comparative perspective on issues in ageing.  Professor Foster is a practicing barrister and a fellow at Green Templeton College, University of Oxford, which is also the working home of prolificFoster, Herring and Doron on The Law and Ethics of Dementia writer and Law Professor Herring.

The book is organized into five parts, Medical Fundamentals, Ethical Perspectives, Legal Perspectives, Social Aspects, and Patient and Carer Perspectives. As part of the first section, physicians and researchers Amos Korczyn and Veronika Vakhapova co-author "Can Dementia be Prevented?" a question we all hope will be answered in the affirmative. Not surprisingly, given the title of the book, the section on ethical perspectives promises to be especially fascinating, offering multiple views on ethical components of decision making and care. To suggest the scope, Andrew McGee's chapter is on "Best Interest Determinations and Substituted Judgement," while Leah Rand and Mark Sheehan tackle the challenge of "Resource Allocation Issues in Dementia."

In the Social Aspects section, I notice that Syracuse Law Professor Nina Kohn has a chapter on "Voting and Political Participation," while Chinese (and University of Pennsylvania) health care scholar Ruijia Chen and colleagues address "Physical, Financial and Other Abuse."

With more than forty individual chapters and dozens of international writers, this book promises to be a key guide  for the future. 

August 5, 2014 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Books, Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Chicago Declaration on the Rights of Older Persons to Be Presented August 1

Chicago Declaration on Rights of Older Persons Side EventAt the 2014 International Elder Law and Policy Conference hosted by John Marshall Law School in Chicago on July 10 and 11, many weeks of hard work culminated in adoption of a "Chicago Declaration on the Rights of Older Person."  The 11th draft -- of what is to be a working document for the future -- will be presented at the Fifth Working Session of the United Nations Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing to be held in New York City this week. 

In addition, the Chicago Declaration was submitted by United States Representative Janice Schakowsky (Illinois) to the Congressional Record on July 25. 

Congratulations to all who worked on this, with the leadership of many, including Associate Dean Ralph Rubner and Amy Taylor, Head Research Coordinator at John Marshall Law School.  More work for everyone is ahead on this exciting task of seeking wider recognition of the human rights of older persons. 

Speakers at the "Side Event" for the Chicago Declaration, to be held on August 1 at the U.N., include William Pope, Commissioner of the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging, and Ebbe Johansen, Vice President, AGE Platform Europe from Brussels.    

July 31, 2014 in Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Retirement | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

10th Circuit: Defamation Case Can Go Forward Against NBC's Dateline Re "Annuity University"

As readers of this Blog may recall, back in April 2008 NBC's Dateline program aired a segment called "Tricks of the Trade" that incorporated use of hidden cameras to record portions of seminars that allegedly showed insurance salesmen trained to market certain types of deferred payment annuities.  The NBC program alleged that the sales techniques specifically and improperly targeted or misled older consumers.

Tyrone M. Clark and his company, Brokers' Choice of America (BCA), brought suit against NBC and certain employees in federal court in Colorado, claiming the Dateline program violated state law, including allegations of defamation. Clark and BCA also alleged constitutional violations. The federal district court dismissed the complaint in 2011.

On July 9, 2014 the Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the alleged 4th Amendment violations, but remanded for further proceedings on the allegations of defamation. At the heart of Clark's claim was the argument that a full, unedited viewing of his seminar for insurance salesmen would reveal that students were properly counseled that such "annuities were not for everyone" and that salespeople must give "full disclosure of various advantages and disadvantages of the annuity products."  In other words, Clark claimed Dateline's excerpts were misleading, and therefore defamatory. 

The Tenth Circuit's ruling on defamation stressed that it was reviewing the district court's ruling on NBC's motion to dismiss and thus must view the facts alleged in the complaint "as true and in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party," i.e., Clark and BCA.  The 10th Circuit concluded, "Whether these allegations will survive summary judgment remains to be seen.  The factual basis of the complaint ... is sufficient to state a plausible claim."

Further, the Tenth Circuit upheld the request by Clark and BCA to discovery of the full, unedited tapes surreptitiously recorded by NBC, production that NBC has resisted:

"BCA would be greatly prejudiced in its ability to prove the defamation claim without access to the unedited film. Dateline's First Amendment interests do not involve the disclosure of confidential information or confidential sources. The fact-finder is entitled to the best evidence available, particularly in a case like this, which asks whether the media's zeal to report and perhaps sensationalize should be tempered by its responsibility not to defame. For all of those reasons, BCA's factual allegations are sufficient to warrant discovery of the unedited film. The Colorado statue [on newsperson's privilege] is a shield, not a sword."

For additional details, see the 10th Circuit's ruling on Broker's Choice of America, Inc. v. NBC Universal, Inc. and commentary from the Colorado Bar Association's Legal Connection news. 

     

July 31, 2014 in Consumer Information, Ethical Issues, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Reverse Mortgages & Protection for Non-Borrowing Spouse

As we reported previously, Congress passed the "Reverse Mortgage Stablization Act" in August of 2013.  In both state and federal legislatures, a new law's title may over-promise and under-deliver. With respect to reverse mortgages, Public 113-29 gave authority to the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to establish, by "notice or mortgagee letter, or any alternative requirements" deemed ncessary "to improve the fiscal safety  and soundness of the program," and the latest in a series of HUD requirements takes place, as detailed below, on August 1.


From a consumer perspective, one concern has been reported attempts by mortgage companies to "foreclose" on mortgages where the "borrowing spouse" has died but his or her "non-borrowing, surviving spouse" was still in the home.  Other concerns have focused on "defaults" triggered by failure of a borrower to pay real estate taxes or utilities, thus suggesting continuing  vulnerability of the elderly borrower to financial insolvency despite receiving cash from the reverse mortgage.  Taking out a reverse mortgage without careful planning for necessary home-related payments means the borrower can lose the equity in the home, equity that could have been put to better use by selling the home. As reported here, suits have challenged application of payment due status in such fact patterns. 

In June, the Department used its "Mortgagee Letter" authority to issue its latest in guidelines intended to better protect prospective borrowers of the risks of reverse morgages, including requirement that the mortgage companies make clear to borrowers the following:

  • FHA insures fixed interest rate mortgages, as well as annual and monthly adjustable interest rate mortgages;
  • The borrower has the ability to change the method of payment under the reverse mortgage ARM products at any time provided funds are available;
  • Fixed interest rate mortgages are limited to the Single Disbursement Lump Sum payment option where there is a one-time draw at loan closing and no future draws post loan closing;
  • Adjustable interest rate mortgages provide for five, flexible payment options, and allow future draws;
  • The amount of funds available to the mortgagor is currently determined by the age of the youngest mortgagor, and
  • The disbursement of mortgage proceeds during the first twelve-month disbursement period is subject to an initial disbursement limit as determined by requirements set by the Secretary.

In April, the Department issued "Mortgagee Letter 2014-07" to establish, effective August 1, that "the due and payable status will be deferred for as long as a Non-Borrowing Spouse continues to meet all the qualifying attributes...."  The nonborrowing spouse has 90 days after the death of the borrowing spouse to "establish legal ownership" or other legal right to remain in the home. 

July 29, 2014 in Ethical Issues, Housing, Property Management | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Highlights from the 17th Annual Elder Law Institute in Pennsylvania

Recently a former law student who is considering a career change asked me about elder law, wanting to meet with me to discuss what is involved. I'm happy to chat any time with current and former students, especially about elder law, but this time my advice was simple:  "Drop everything and go to Pennsylvania's 2014 Elder Law Institute."  Indeed, this year saw some 400 individuals attend. 

Important to my advice was the fact that ELI is organized well for both "newbies" and more experienced practitioners.  After the first two-hour joint session, over the course of two days there are four sessions offered every hour.  One entire track is devoted to "Just the Basics" and is perfect for the aspiring elder law attorney.  Indeed, I usually sponsor two Penn State law students to attend.  As in most specializations, in elder law there will is a steep learning curve just to understand the basic jargon, and the more exposure the better.

One of my favorite sessions is the first, "The Year in Review," a long tradition at ELI and currently presented by Marielle Hazen and Rob Clofine.  Marielle reviews new legislation and regulations, both at the state and federal level, while Rob does a "Top Ten Cases" review.  Both speakers focus not just on what happened in the last 12 months, but what could or should happen in the future.  They frequently pose important policy perspectives, based on recent events. 

Among the highlights from the year in review session:

  • Analysis of the GAO Report on "Medicaid: Financial Characteristics of Approved Applicants and Methods Used to Reduce Assets to Qualify for Nursing Home Coverage" released in late June 2014. Data collection efforts focused on four states and reportedly included "under cover" individuals posing as potential applicants. The report summarizes techniques used to reduce countable resources, most occuring well within the rules and thus triggering no question of penalty periods.  Whether Congress uses the report in any way to confirm or change existing rules remains to be seen.
  • A GAO Report on Medicaid Managed Care programs, also released in June, concluding that  additional oversight efforts are needed to ensure the integrity of programs in the states, which are already reporting higher increases in outgoing funds than fee-for-service programs.
  • The need to keep an eye open for Pennsylvania's Long Term Care Comission report, expected by December 2014. Will it take issue with the Governor's rejection of the Affordable Care Act's funding for expansion of Medicaid?
  • Report on a number of lower court decisions involving nursing home payment issues, including a report on a troubling case, Estate of Parker, 4 Pa. Fiduciary Reporter 3d 183 (Orphans' Court, Montgomery County, PA 2014), in which a court-appointed guardian of the estate of an elderly nursing home patient "agreed" to entry of a judgment, not just for nursing home charges, but also for pre- and post-judgment interest, plus attorneys' fees for the nursing home's lawyer of almost 20% of the stipulated judgment, in what was an uncontested guardianship. 

In light of the number of nursing home payment cases in Rob's review, perhaps it wasn't a surprise that my co-presenter, Stanley Vasiliadis, and I had a full house for our session on "Why Am I Being Sued for My Parents' Nursing Home Bill?" We examined how adult children (and sometimes elderly parents of adult children in care) are finding themselves the target of collection efforts by nursing homes, including actions based on theories of breach of promise (contract, quatum meruit, and promissory estoppel), fault (common law fraud or statutory claims of "fraudulent transfers), or family status, such as statutory filial support.

The extensive course materials from all of the presenters, both in hard copy and electronic formats, are available for purchase directly from the Pennsylvania Bar Institute

July 28, 2014 in Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"Defensive Use" of Powers of Attorney & Revocable Living Trusts

Atlanta attorney Kristen M. Lewis has a very interesting article in the July/August issue of the ABA's publication Probate & Property. In "The Crime of the 21st Century: Financial Abuse of Elders," Lewis brings to bear her experience in estate planning and wealth protection, including use of special needs trusts, to examine examples of elder financial abuse, for which she coins the acronym "EFA."

While I wish Lewis had included more citations of authority to support observations regarding prevalence of financial abuse, what I find unique about the article is the discussion of "defensive use" of powers of attorney and revocable living trusts. She advocates careful drafting of powers for individuals serving in these fiduciary roles and to consider the use of co-agents or co-trustees. Their roles may be limited but can expressly include "oversight." 

On a related concern, in my experience POAs are often silent on the issue of compensation for agents, thus opening a door to confusion or worse about an agent's "self-payment."  In contrast, Lewis recommends that POAs

"... should outline whether and how the agent is to be compensated for services while acting as agent (for example, hourly at a specified rate or a fee based on the value of the assets under management). Fairly compensating an agent can encourage him to be more honest, attentive, and diligent in the exercise of his duties."

For revocable living trusts (RLTs), she advises "it is imperative to identify a lineup of disinterested trustees, persons who have no interest in the assets remaining in the RLT on the elder's death."  Further, she observes that increasingly, "attorneys specializing in estate planning or elder law are agreeing to serve as trustee for their clients' RLTs, or as co-trustee with a corporate fiduciary.  Such professionals are typically compensated based on the regular hourly rate they would otherwise charge their clients."  I suspect Lewis is thinking about trusts with substantial assets.

The full article is currently available only in hard copy, but American Bar Association magazines are usually eventually posted at the ABA website, and the website for the Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section of the ABA is here.   

July 23, 2014 in Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Movement for Human Rights for Older Persons in Paraguay

Mexico and countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America have been working very hard on the question of whether laws are needed to recognize and promote the human rights of older persons.  This commitment was demonstrated during the 2014 International Elder Law and Policy Conference in Chicago, by Rosa Bella Caceres Mongelos from Paraguay, as one of the speakers on the panel focused on "Dignity, Equality and Anti-Ageism Rights of Older Persons." Rosa Bella Caceres Mongelos of Paraguay

Professor Caceres Mongelos is the current president of the Central Association of Retired Public Servants and Teachers in Paraguay, and has experience as a master teacher, educational administrator, and vocational counselor.  She has also taught classes at the university level on leadership.  When I asked whether her organization is comparable to AARP in the U.S., which was started by a retired teacher, she laughed and said "maybe some day."  I think she would not mind me saying that she's tiny but powerful  -- and certainly she is an articulate spokesperson for the issues her country, with a total popularion of 6.8 million, is facing.

Professor Caceras Mongelos has served as a spokesperson for her civil society organization during regional meetings for Latin America and the Caribbean in 2012 and 2013 that led to endorsment of a formal international convention on the rights of older persons. 

The participation of Paraguay in international discussions of aging is forward-thinking, as it is actually a comparatively young country in terms of its overall population.  Persons aged 60 and over comprise approximately 8% of the population.  Recent news reports  indicate that more than 66% of its population is less than 30 years old.  At the same time, with their citizens already experiencing relatively long-life spans, especially on a comparative basis (average life span is now 75 according to some reports), the country will begin to see the impact of aging as a nation starting in 2038. 

The organization headed by Caceres Mongelos has adopted advocacy goals for its members, including health related goals, such as securing free health care (including mobile clinics) for retirees for critical matters such as vision and dental care, and for treatment of cancer and chronic diabetes, all issues recognized as important for the self-esteem of older persons.   Her Central Association has a project called "Hogares de Jubliados" or "Homes for the Elderly," with a goal of providing space for as many as 200 persons deemed vulnerable and unprotected.  Her organization seeks to "monitor and insure safekeeping of social security funds under control of the treasury" during the current fiscal crisis.  A better system of public transportation is another key goal.

She described her Central Association's recent Yellow Ribbon Campaign to re-enforce recognition of the rights of civil services and retirees to be free from pay discrimination under the Constitution of Paraguay.  She described the yellow ribbons as symbols for the "struggle to claim solidarity, love, better living and the light of hope for a bearable and dignified old age." Despite the small proportion of Paraguayans currently deemed older -- in their "third age" -- she said "fragility" often characterizes their life conditions, with more than a quarter of the population of older adults illiterate and with only 19% currently receiving any form of income from pension or retirement benefits. In addition, her association stresses that real attention must be paid to the needs of older persons in indigenous communities and Afro-descendants. 

In closing, Professor Caceres Mongelos called for an end to procrastination on international recognition of the rights of older persons.  She said,  "Declaring and implementing the regulations calling for dignity, equality and non-discrimination ... for older persons needs to be achieved as quickly as possible [toward] the goal of improving quality of life and respecting the human rights of older persons." 

July 22, 2014 in Current Affairs, Discrimination, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Retirement, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)