Tuesday, November 18, 2014

University of Hawaii Elder Law Program Updates Manual

The Elder Law Program at the William S. Richardson School of Law, located at UH Manoa, has updated its indispensable guide to aging, including offering clear coverage of the many legal and medical issues involved.  The handbook, titled "Deciding What's Next and Who in the World Pietsch_JamesCares?  A Legal Handbook for Hawai?i's' Older Persons, Families and Caregivers," is available free on O`ahu through the Senior Helpline at the City and County of Honolulu's Elderly Affairs Division. Elder Law Program Director,  Law School Professor, and co-author James H. Pietsch said that the updated handbook is especially valuable for new caregivers uncertain about where to turn for help. The book also has an extensive resource glossary, including current phone numbers and email addresses.  "Folks planning ahead need to have sufficient information about incapacity, disability and, in general, growing old in America, so we wanted to provide some basic legal information and guidance," said Pietsch.  This new edition of the award-winning handbook was prepared by Professor Pietsch and Hawai`i Elder Law Program Administrator Lenora H. Lee.  Funded in part by the U.S. Administration on Aging, it was printed through a grant from the City & County of Honolulu Elderly Affairs Division.  "Many people don't have a good sense about end-of-life issues, wills, powers of attorney, trusts, health-care coverage, elder abuse issues, and even hiring a care-giver," continued Pietsch. "Very often, it's thrust upon them very quickly and they need help in a hurry. We know a lot of people will look to it for crisis intervention."

Source/more: University of Hawaii Manoa

November 18, 2014 in Legal Practice/Practice Management | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Does "Unlimited" Gifting Power in POA Protect the Agent from Criminal Liability for Self-Gifting? PA Appellate Court Says "No"

Following a nonjury trial in 2012, David Patton was convicted of 95 counts of statutory theft by unlawful taking, arising out of his use of a power of attorney (POA).  The POA named him as agent for his 86 year-old aunt.  At issue was more than $200,000. Patton appealed the conviction, alleging the POA that expressly granted him authority to make "limited or unlimited gifts," made it impossible for him to be held liable for theft by cashing checks and making withdrawals from his aunt's accounts for his personal use in 2008, 2009 and 2010. In September 2014, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, an intermediate appellate court, issued a "nonprecedential" written opinion affirming the convictions, concluding:

"Simply stated, we reject Appellant's bold claim that the 'unlimited gift' provision in the power of attorney provided Appellant with a license to steal [his aunt's] assets and use all of her money for Appellant's own benefit. To the contrary, the gifting power was clearly subject to the condition [stated in a statutorily required affidavit signed by Appellant] that Appellant use the power 'for [his aunt's] benefit' - and Appellant clearly violated this condition when he took all of [his aunt's] money and used it as if it was his own. Therefore, since Appellant's actions were not authorized by the power of attorney, Appellant's sufficiency of the evidence claim necessarily fails."

In reaching this decision, the appellate court adopted the trial court's "meticulous" rulings as its own.  In the trial court's final order, the judge rejected the defendant's testimony that he had no awareness or notice that using the POA  to make the transfers in question was a crime.  The trial judge wrote: "He did not need to be notified in writing to know that he could be charged with theft for taking for his own personal use over $200,000 of [his aunt's] savings, using some of it to go gambling in Erie and depriving her of sufficient funds to pay for her nursing home care in her old age."

An additional interesting, and perhaps confusing aspect of the case, is testimony by the attorney who drafted the POA. 

When called by the defense to testify as "an expert" on powers of attorney, as well as a fact witness, the attorney testified he "always" included both "limited and unlimited" gifting authority in his POAs.  He testified he explained to the aunt that the broadly-worded POA enabled the agent to "do anything that she could do." On direct examination, he testified the gifting language was "completely unconditional." 

Continue reading

November 13, 2014 in Crimes, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Closing up Shop?

As we first generation of elder law attorneys reach that point where we decide to retire--or have the decision removed from us, regardless of the reason--the question of closing or selling the law office becomes an important one. Succession planning is more than selling a business-it's entrusting your clients to someone who will care for and represent them as you did.  It's not an easy decision to make and not one that happens overnight. How does an attorney reach the decision to close the doors?  The ABA Senior Lawyers Division has delved into this topic, with a webinar on what to do when an attorney becomes incapacitated or dies.

The webinar, So It's Time: Responsible Planning for Closing the Law Office, was offered in October and post-webinar materials will be available for purchase from the ABA. Plan and be prepared! A good motto for our clients and ourselves.

 

November 13, 2014 in Legal Practice/Practice Management | 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)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

America's Rural Lawyer Shortage (Or Why Law Students Should Get to Know Retiring Lawyers...)

A number of law students I have known have found great jobs in recent years in smaller communities.  Here is more evidence of the reason, from the Washington Post, as reported by Danielle Paquette:  "8,500 residents, 12 Attorneys: America's Rural Lawyer Shortage."

"Fourteen years ago, the veteran lawyer built his retirement home. He decorated the basement with snowmen and skis, a nod to how he’d like to spend the future. But John Thomas, 61, can’t retire. Can’t plan lengthy trips to Colorado resorts with his wife, Nancy. Not until he finds a successor, a young lawyer to take over his law firm in this town, population 94.

 

The problem: Young lawyers in these endless plains are about as scarce as freshly powdered slopes. That’s why Thomas’s hopes soared in February, when he opened a letter from Alissa Doerr, a second-year student at the Nebraska College of Law. She wanted to be his clerk for the summer. She was his first applicant in 20 years."

August 31, 2014 in Legal Practice/Practice 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)

Monday, July 21, 2014

What Should You Look For In An Elder Law Attorney?

ElderLawGuy (and good friend) Jeff Marshall has a great blog post on "How to Find A Good Attorney for Older Adult Issues"  He knows whereof he speaks and starts off by explaining the important reasons for asking the right questions:

"Planning for senior issues like incapacity and long term care is an important aspect of the services provided by what have become known as “elder law attorneys.”  Unfortunately, in most states any lawyer can say he or she practices elder law or hold themselves out as being an “elder law attorney” even if the lawyer has little or no experience with the issues that are especially important to older adults. This means seniors must be particularly cautious in choosing a lawyer and carefully investigate the lawyer before hiring." 

Jeff explains the significance of "certification" as a specialist and how to assess "ratings" or particular approaches to planning, such as "life care planning."  The post is useful both for consumers and young attorneys thinking about how to build a respected career.  

July 21, 2014 in Consumer Information, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

17th Annual Elder Law Institute in Pennsylvania: Packed Program on July 24-25

The growing significance and scope of "elder law" is demonstrated by the program for the upcoming 2014 Elder Law Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to be held on July 24-25.  In addition to key updates on Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans and Social Security law, plus updates on the very recent changes to Pennsylvania law affecting powers of attorney, here are a few highlights from the multi-track sessions (48 in number!):

  • Nationally recognized elder law practitioner, Nell Graham Sale (from one of my other "home" states, New Mexico!) will present on planning and tax implications of trusts, including special needs trusts;
  • North Carolina elder law expert Bob Mason will offer limited enrollment sessions on drafting irrevocable trusts;
  • We'll hear the latest on representing same-sex couples following Pennsylvania's recent court decision that struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriages;
  • Julian Gray, Pittsburgh attorney and outgoing chair of the Pennsylvania Bar's Elder Law Section will present on "firearm laws and gun trusts."  By coincidence, I've had two people this week ask me about what happens when you "inherit" guns.

Be there or be square!  (Who said that first, anyway?)     

July 20, 2014 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, Property Management, Retirement, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Talking about China, Ageing, Families and Law

An interesting moment for me at the 2014 Internatonal Elder Law and Policy Conference at John Marshall Law School in early July occurred when I asked several speakers from China to comment on recent reports suggesting "filial support" or "family support"  is attracting interest of legislators, courts and older persons in China.  For example, I shared with them the text, in English and Chinese, from Chinese Law Prof Blog on "Controversy Over Elder Law in China," that included news reports on consideration of laws in Shandong province in northeastern coastal China.  If passed the laws would appear to require adult children to maintain "their parents' standard of living at a level at least equal to their own."

My question sparked a vigorous debate among the Chinese participants and quite a few chuckles from the audience as we tried to keep up with the translators. Over the course of the next two days Professor Lihong Tang from the law school at Fuzhou University in Fujian Province, Professor Chey-Nan Hsieh from Chinese Culture University in Taiwan, and Professor Xianri Zhou of South China Normal University School of Law in Shanghai attempted to help me understand. Here is my understanding of several points made during our discussion, a conversation we have agreed to continue via email:

  • The population of individuals aged 65 and older in China is already 119 million.  From my separate research I know that the older population is projected to continue to grow at a rate of 3.2 percent per year.  The percentage of the population deemed older is also increasing, and according to some reports, it is projected to hit 1/6th of the total population by 2018 and possible as high as 1/5th of the total population by 2035.  In other words, as Professor Tang explained, at some point in the relatively near future the total number of elderly in China could exceed the total population -- young, middle-aged and old -- of the U.S. 
  • With these population statistics in mind, they advised caution in making any judgments or  predictions about trends based on a single case decision or from news stories reporting about any single family controversy involving support. And of course, this point is valuable to remember in all legal research, but the importance (and challenge) of having an adequate empirical base in China may be even more significant.
  • Court actions to mandate younger family members to care for their elders are not a major trend in China.  Rather, they emphasized that most families voluntarily provide the majority of care and financial assistance needed by their elders.
  • There are efforts to create a stronger public system of income support where necessary to meet basic needs.
  • Recent news reports (that received high profile attention in the U.S., such as this 2013 report on CNN) about a Chinese law that would mandate that adult children also "visit" their elderly parents were focusing on a "proposed" law, not one that was enacted. 

In addition to my on-going discussion with the law professors at the conference, Yihan Wang, Senior Judge in the People's Court of the Jing'an District in Shanghai, gave a fascinating presentation on "The Path of Judicial Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly in China."  He has served for many years as a judge, and is currently in charge of "civil trials, commercial trials, finance trials and elderly trials" in his judicial district in Shanghai.  He explained that an "elderly judicial tribunal" was established in 1994, for civil cases in which one or both parties is aged 60 or more.  His court recognizes that older adults may have unique needs for legal assistance in disputes, including a potential need for free legal representation or guidance. 

After the presentation of his paper via a translator, Judge Yihan Wang provided me with a copy of the English language translation of his paper.  Thus, I was able to both hear and read about his examples of cases that have occurred in the Shanghai court: 

"For one example, in the disputes of sale contracts of real estate, some adult children sell their parents' apartment and violate their parents' residency by stealing their parents' identification -- or make them sign the contract with the older person is unconscious.  In [some] cases, the judge will judge the contract as valid to protect the third-parties' legal rights according to the Property Law. However, in cases involving the older [person], judges will consider more about the buyer's duty of care and the residency rights of the senior.  They will be more cautious and much more strict to confirm the effectiveness of the contract.  Mainly to protect the older people's residency right." 

In contrast to my on-going discussion with the three Chinese law professors who emphasized the voluntary nature of assistance provided by families to their elders, Judge Yihan Wang's paper suggested that some level of litigation or claims review does occur over the issue of "family support," including what he described as efforts to "remind the adult children of their duty."  His paper reported that "statistics show that 56% of the claiming alimony cases are closed by conciliation.  In most of these cases, after the trials, children go to visit their parents automatically and the family relationship is improved."  He emphasized that for older adults, "conciliation not only protects their legal rights and interests, but also maintains their family relationship and brings their children home."

Judge Yihan Wang's paper, in translation, concludes with these words: "China's 5,000-year-old culture emphasizes respect for the elderly, pension, help age virtues, which [are] absorbed by Chinese law and policy concerning the elderly, reflected in the Chinese judicial practice and become the judicial characteristics on protection of the rights and interests of the elderly in China."

Thus, I can see that my efforts to understand the role of "filial support" or "family support" laws in China will continue, especially as it appears that there may be regional differences in how any such laws are used or needed.  In most countries I have studied, voluntary assistance, both practical and financial, flowing from adult children to elderly parents, is the norm.  What I find interesting is the question of to what extent is "voluntary" filial assistance also encouraged, mandated, or subject to enforcement by laws. Is the 5,000 year tradition of filial piety under sufficient pressure in the 21st century that law is necessary? 

July 16, 2014 in Ethical Issues, Housing, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Pennsylvania Legislature Sends New POA Law Reform Measures to Governor

On June 18, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved  House Bill 1429 (Printer's No. 3708), thus sending the long-debated bill's new provisions on Powers of Attorney to the Governor for signing.  If, as anticipated, the bill is signed by the Governor, the new rules would be effective for POAs created on or after January 1, 2015. 

Pennsylvania pracitioners?  That means the Elder Law Institute offered by the Pennsylvania Bar Institute on July 25-26 in Philadelphia will have new relevance to your practice to prepare for the changes.  The opening session of the Institute is the always valuable "Year in Review" by elder law and estate planning specialists Marielle Hazen and Rob Clofine.

A detailed summary of the history and key provisions in H.B. 1429 is provided by Pennsylvania Attorney Neil Hendersthot on his blog. 

June 18, 2014 in Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Property Management, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 16, 2014

May-June 2014 Issue of Clearinghouse Review Focuses on Advocating for Persons with Disabilities

 

A United Nations treaty, civil rights, guardianship, protection from school bullies, free appropriate public education, and emotional-support animals are topics covered in this disability-themed May-June 2014 Clearinghouse Review issue. Also covered: making the most of current resources to increase legal services.

June 16, 2014 in Discrimination, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Legal Practice/Practice Management | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Justice Dep't Announces ADA Title II Settlement with LSAC

The Justice Department filed a joint motion today for entry of a landmark consent decree to resolve allegations that the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) engaged in widespread and systemic discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the proposed consent decree, LSAC will pay $7.73 million in penalties and damages to compensate well over 6,000 individuals nationwide who applied for testing accommodations on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) over the past five years. The decree also requires comprehensive reforms to LSAC’s policies and ends its practice of “flagging,” or annotating, LSAT score reports for test takers with disabilities who receive extended time as an accommodation. These reforms will impact tens of thousands of test takers with disabilities for years to come.

More here.

May 20, 2014 in Discrimination, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Legal Practice/Practice Management | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Elder Law Attorneys Get "Props" During Fresh Air Interview with Cartoonist

Roz Chast, well known for her cartoons in The New Yorker, has been getting well deserved coverage of her new graphic book, "Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?"   She brings her light, dark touch to bear on a tough topic, a daughter's relationship with her increasingly frail and sometimes stubborn parents. Roz Chast Memoir

Despite the obvious relevance of her book to this Blog, I was nonetheless pleasantly surprised when I heard Chast interviewed recently on the radio by Terry Gross for Fresh Air.  Roz Chast recounts how a lawyer specializing in "elder care law" (the phrase I increasingly hear used by lay people, displacing "elder law") helped her and her parents get to the heart of some very tough issues they'd been avoiding, as suggested by the title of her memoir.  As captured on the NPR website report, in describing the lawyer during the interview, Chast said:

"This person was really good.  And I think he was able to ... somehow make them trust him enough that they could open up a little bit about things that they really never wanted to open up about, like money and talking about the future.  I was there with them when he came over and we talked about things like health care proxy forms.  Things I had never thought about, things I had never heard of.  It was very, very helpful."

Reading between those few lines, I see the type of caring, tactful attorney -- and someone who makes home visits -- that I often have the pleasure of working with in Elder Law.

Chaz also talks humorously -- and with great candor -- about the dollars and "sense" of long-term care, and how she as a daughter felt about her parents' money going to pay for assisted living. 

Refreshing Fresh Air! 

 

May 12, 2014 in Health Care/Long Term Care, Legal Practice/Practice Management | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Planning Ahead: Extend Malpractice Insurance for Retiring Lawyers?

In part 6 of the ABA Journal's series on retirement issues, retiring lawyers are reminded that one important option is to purchase "extended reporting endorsements" (ERE) or "tail coverage" for existing professional liability insurance policies.  Such an endorsement permits a longer period to report  claims for coverage.  Mark Bassingthwaighte, an attorney and risk manager for Attorneys Liability Protection Society (ALPS) explains, "Tail coverage ... [is] not a new policy."  Rather, the existing policy explains the terms of any ERE coverage option, with the cost set as a fixed percentage of the expiring policy's premium. 

"'I recommend that the retiring partner talk with other partners and request to be kept in the loop within the applicable state statute of limitations for malpractice should the firm dissolve; even formalize an agreement that works best to protect all parties involved,' says Matt Lubaroff, ALPS director of client services. 'The firm's ERE can only be purchased at the time of dissolution, and for certain firms the best answer would be upon the first retirement.'"

Additional planning topics for retiring lawyers appear in "Retirement Reset" by Susan Berson in the May issue of the ABA Journal.

May 7, 2014 in Consumer Information, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Retirement | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Updated Federal Courts App available for Android and IPhone

An updated Federal Courts app is for Android, iPhone, iPad is now available.  The app provides access to PACER, the federal rules of civil, criminal, bankruptcy, and appellate procedure, federal rules of evidence, local rules for EVERY federal court in the country, and more.  It's a must have for all practitioners. And it's only 3 bucks!!!

To download search the relevant app store for Fed Courts, or go here:

Android

IPhone

May 6, 2014 in Legal Practice/Practice Management, Web/Tech | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

New Yorker: Have You Read "Have You Lost Your Mind?"?

In the April 28 issue of The New Yorker magazine, Michael Kinsley offers a great piece, entitled "Have You Lost Your Mind?"  At first I thought the article was just a well written but not very surprising prediction about the looming "tsunami" of aging baby boomers.  Good research, interesting tidbits of medical fact, sharp-edged moments of social commentary and nice touches of humor.  Kinsley writes, for example: 

"I predicted [a few years ago] that the ultimate boomer rat race would be the competition to live the longest.... But, on further reflection, I think I underrated the penultimate boomer competition: competitive cognition.  The rules are simple:  the winner is whoever dies with more of his or her marbles."

But then the article gets serious, and seriously interesting.  The author reveals he was diagnosed twenty years ago with Parkinson's disease (PD) at the age of 43. That's when I, as a reader, noticed that the article was subtitled "Personal History."  For the last twenty years, Kinsley has had time and reason to think about the potential consequences of PD, not just for his body, but his mind.  He thoughtfully explores cognitive defects that can accompany PD, and which can be progressive. 

With facts, anecdotes and his own worry-driven research, Kinsley explains that not all dementias are about loss of memory:  

"[A] difference between Alzheimer's and Parkinson's is that Alzheimer's tends to starts its destruction in the parts of the brain affecting memory, whereas Parkinson's starts with what they call the executive function: analyzing a situation and your options and making a decision."

Ultimately, even though he isn't having any symptoms he can identify as PD-related cognition problems, Kinsley bites the bullet and decides, as he puts it, to have his "brain tested." Bottom line (and, really, his entire article is absolutely worth reading so I'm being unfair in skipping to the bottom line), although he scored exceptionally well on intelligence and "cognitive reserve" (meaning memory), in fact the test identified very real deficits in executive function. 

Now remember, the article is funny and, in many ways, brilliant.  This guy is functioning at a very high level.  But there's a message here, including a possible message for families and lawyers. 

As I read the article, I was remembering a conversation with someone who was asking me about alternatives under the law because he was worried about a family member.  In his explanation, at first he focused on the possibility of a memory problem, then instances of unexplainable mood changes, and then, finally, he gave me specific examples of what could be described as impairments in the loved one's "executive function."    

At what point -- especially if Kinsley and others are right about the looming tsunami of baby boomers with dementia -- do lawyers need to be much more sensitive to and skilled in the subtleties of impaired "executive function?"  Does our tendency to focus on the presence or absence of "memory problems" gloss over the biological explanations for a client's odd gifting decision?  I wonder how many lawyers would think to ask about Parkinson's disease, even if they witnessed a tremor or shake?  Do they therefore fail to ask appropriate questions of the "intelligent" client with the "clear" memory about the reasons for trusting a new "befriender" while becoming estranged from long-standing family or friends? Admittedly, I'm taking Kinsley's analysis one or two steps further.

As he winds to a close in his piece, Kinsley suggests the need for greater appreciation of age-related neurological disorders, observing:  "[W]eaknesses can be overcome, to some extent, by strengths somewhere else.... We are comfortable with the idea that physical health is not just a single number but a multiplicity of factors.  That's where we need to arrive about mental problems.  As we get older, we're all going to lose a few of our marbles."    

May 1, 2014 in Cognitive Impairment, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Dementia Diagnosis and the Law

On April 24, I have the good fortune to be working with a neuropsychologist from the neurology department at Penn State Hershey Medical Center in presenting a program on "Dementia Diagnosis and the Law," for a meeting of the Estate Planning Council in York, Pennsylvania.  Professor Claire Flaherty and I have "traded" presentations in the past, with her speaking at the law school and me speaking at the medical school, but this will be our first time presenting together.  We're excited. 

One of the important lessons that I've learned in working with Claire is the clear potential for cognitive impairment to exist without the "usual" symptoms associated with "Alzheimer's."  For example, much of Claire's work is with patients and families coping with early onset dementias.  Because Frontotemporal Dementia or FTD (sometimes also referred to as Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration or FTLD) can begin to manifest in persons aged 45 to 64 years, the onset may be overlooked or misunderstood. Plus, as Claire reminds me, "FTD is primarily a disease of behavior and language dysfunction, while the hallmark of Alzheimer's Disease is loss of memory."

For legal professionals, including those asked to prepare deed transfers, wills or estate planning documents, the potential for subtle presentations of cognitive impairment can be especially significant.  Making sure the client is oriented as to "time, place and person" may not be enough to address the potential for loss of judgment, thus opening the door for unusual gifts, risky financial decisions or even of adamant rejection of once trusted family members. 

A good place to turn for information about early onset forms of dementia, including FTD, is the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration or AFTD -- or join us for the York Estate Planning Council meeting this week.  

April 23, 2014 in Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

ProPublica publishes road map for patients injured while getting health care

ProPublica’s patient safety guide iss a viable resource for those who don’t know where to turn for answers and accountability after suffering a preventable injury, infection or medical error.  Reporter Marshall Allen explains what readers should do after suffering patient harm, based on advice from Helen Haskell, founder of Mothers Against Medical Error.
 
Some of the key steps include:
  • Get a copy of medical records, which every patient has a right to under federal law. These records can provide important information about what happened -- and what might have gone wrong.
  • If the patient has died, order a forensic autopsy, which includes toxicology tests. Autopsies -- though not always 100 percent accurate -- are the most reliable means of finding out what happened in an unexpected death. Hospitals do not routinely conduct autopsies, but the family has the right to get one.
  • Consider calling an attorney. Be aware that the standards for proving medical malpractice are much higher than most patients expect. Attorneys take few cases because they're expensive to pursue and difficult to win.

Read more at ProPublica.

March 27, 2014 in Health Care/Long Term Care, Legal Practice/Practice Management | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 24, 2014

ABA Webinar on Retirement Issues for Lawyers, Especially Young Lawyers

From January through March, the ABA Journal has run an interesting series of articles on retirement planning for lawyers, with clear messages for all age groups. Following that series, the ABA is hosting a live Webinar on "Retirement Expectations and Trends for 2014" on Wednesday, March 26.  The program is scheduled to begin at noon Eastern time.  The faculty, including Sally Hurme from AARP, Dean Deanell Reece Tacha from Pepperdine School of Law, and financial planning consultants, will

"...go beyond the basics of retirement and financnial planning to discuss other factors that can make your retirement what you want, including goal-setting; making the actual transition to retirement; determining whether a second or part-time post-retiremetn career is right for you; and dealing with the emotions of being retired.  Faculty will also provide guidance on the ethics of transitioning out of your practice, transitioning your clients, and selling your practice."

The 90 minute program is free for ABA members and $50 for the general public; no CLE credits are attached to the program.  Registration is here. 

March 24, 2014 in Current Affairs, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Retirement | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Aging with Dignity Offers Free Resources for National Healthcare Decisions Day Events

National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD) is April 16th, the date set aside each year to encourage everybody over age 18 to discuss and plan ahead of a serious illness. Five Wishes makes it easy because it is written in everyday language and deals with the things people care about most: their comfort, maintaining their dignity and other personal, spiritual and family matters.
  
Interested in $25 worth of free resources?

If you send us a photo and short account of your NHDD event or family gathering we'll give you a $25 credit for Five Wishes resources. Use this credit for a free DVD or to get copies of the 26 language translations of Five Wishes, pediatric documents, discussion guides, presenters guides, or access to Five Wishes Online. Get more information and tell us about your event here. Submit before May 15 to receive your credit.

NHDD button

NHDD buttons and stickers = more visibility for your good efforts:
If you're thinking about doing a community event, we want to help ensure it is a success, so we're again offering you a limited number of free "Five Wishes - Have You Signed Yours?" buttons and stickers. Just send us a message here, and we'll get the buttons and stickers to you.
 
NHDD Five Wishes

Five Wishes can deliver your message.  Don't miss the chance to customize the back cover of Five Wishes with your organization's logo and message. To receive your customized documents in time for NHDD, please complete your request by March 14 (that's the end of next week!).

More Info Here

March 11, 2014 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Health Care/Long Term Care, Legal Practice/Practice Management | Permalink | TrackBack (0)