Thursday, September 27, 2018

Rhode Island's Brown University Student Investigators Tackle Topic of Elder Abuse Prosecutions

Recommended reading!  The Rhode Island Providence Tribute published a series of in August and September 2018 that flow from a student journalism project at Brown University in Rhode Island.  The team of students conducted an investigation over the course of a year, looking for the outcome of elder abuse allegations in the state.  What they found were plenty of arrests but very few successful prosecutions.    

Over two semesters, four student reporters pulled hundreds of court files and police reports of people charged with elder abuse to explore the scope of the problem and the way law enforcement and prosecutors handle such cases. In addition, the reporters used computer data purchased from the Rhode Island judiciary to track every elder-abuse case prosecuted in Rhode Island’s District and Superior courts over the last 17 years.

 

The student project, sponsored by a new journalism nonprofit, The Community Tribune, was overseen by Tracy Breton, a Brown University journalism professor and Pulitzer Prize winner who worked for 40 years as an investigative and courts reporter for The Providence Journal.

 

As part of the year-long investigation, the students analyzed state court data to evaluate how effective Rhode Island has been at prosecuting individuals charged with elder abuse. This had never been done before — not even the state tracks the outcomes of its elder-abuse cases. The data, based on arrests made statewide by local and state police, was sorted and analyzed by a Brown University graduate who majored in computer science.

 

The investigation found that 87 percent of those charged with elder-abuse offenses in Rhode Island over the 17-year period did not go to prison for those crimes. Moreover, fewer than half of those charged were convicted of elder abuse. This left victims in danger and allowed their abusers to strike again and again.

The above excerpt is from the first article documenting the students' amazing  investigation. I definitely recommend reading the following articles.  Caution: there is a paywall that appears after you open some number of articles on the Providence Tribune website, so if you aren't in the position of being able to pay for all the articles, you may want to prioritize the order in which you "open" the individual parts.  

Part 1: Reported Attacks Are on the Rise, Yet Perpetrators Avoid Prison

Part 2:  Barriers to Prosecution Leave Victims at Risk

Part 3: Creating a Stronger Safety Net for Victims

Part 4:  Mother and Son Locked in a Cycle of Violence

Part 5:  Police Training is Crucial Part of Solution

Part 6: When a "Guardian" Becomes a Fiscal Predator

Part 7:  Gaming the Systems is Easy for Guardians

Part 8: Scammers Prey on Victims' Trust and Fear

Part 9: Exploitation Puts a High Price on Friendship

Part 6 is somewhat different, as it tracks the "successful" prosecution of a court-appointed guardian who pled "no contest" in 2015 to charges of embezzling money from an 80-year old elderly client.  The embezzlement scheme allegedly involved false claims for services and double-billing.  According to other news sources, the guardian, an attorney who was eventually disbarred in connection with her plea, was required to pay more than $130k in restitution and serve 30 months of home confinement in lieu of a "suspended" sentence of seven years in prison. 

September 27, 2018 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Thinking about Capacity

Last weekend, Penn State's Dickinson Law held our annual alumni weekend, combined with a convocation ceremony for first year law students. I also happened to attend a non-law school function.   In breaks during scheduled events, I had time to chat with alums and friends and by the end of the weekend, I realized there was a bit of theme to my conversations the last few days.  In several of the conversations, someone described to me scenarios where an older individual had become involved with a new friend or a new caregiver, or a long-lost family member and was "allowing" that third person to take advantage of them, usually in the form of monetary gifts or "loans," that would never be repaid.  

As we talked, I think we mostly agreed that one possible motivating factor for the older person was some level of fear, and not fear of the third person, but fear of being alone.  The exploitive behavior was tolerated because it was apparently preferable to being alone, or worse, being compelled to living in the dreaded nursing home.  

Another analysis I heard, but was less willing to agree with, was the lament, "what can you do, because X is competent and he has a right to give away his money if he wants to do so?"

In one example, the elderly person removed all of his life savings from a long-time professional money manager and placed the assets with a "new" manager, all because the new manager promised to charge "no" management fees.  The new manager held no licenses or professional qualifications.  A few months later, the client passed away -- and the new manager turned out to be the sole beneficiary of the estate.  

In another instance, the observation about competency or capacity was made about an older person over the course of several months, even as that person became more and more entangled with seemingly opportunistic "befrienders" who were viewed as untrustworthy by others.  Several weeks after the man seemed to disappear, his body was found in a shallow grave, while someone was still accessing his Social Security income.  A pretty dramatic end to that story of misplaced trust.  

My question:  How is it that we all tend to emphasize that the older person was competent -- or appeared to have capacity -- even as there is also evidence he or she is trusting the wrong persons?  

What I have learned from working with neuropsychologists is that so-called mini-mental exams used by primary care physicians do not necessarily evaluate an important, core component of capacity, a person's ability to exercise judgment in a sound way. Some screening tools tend to focus on cognitive  components that are more easily evaluated through a brief exercise, such as asking the individual to perform exercises that tend to focus on short-term memory or even delayed-recall abilities.  This is important because one aspect of judgment is the ability or inability to evaluate risk. Impaired judgment is viewed as an executive dysfunction or impairment, but it can exist without (or with only modest) memory impairment. Plus, impaired executive function can also be associated with lack of awareness or denial that there is a problem. 

The significance of loss of executive function has been tracked by legal practitioners, such as Patterns in Cases Involving Financial Exploitation of Vulnerable Adults (2014 Michigan Bar Journal).  On the important differences in screening tests used, see also Assessing Executive Dysfunction in Neurodegenerative Disorders: A Critical Review of Brief Neuropsychological Tools, published November 2017 in Frontiers in Aging: Neuroscience.  

 

  

September 25, 2018 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Will New Long-Term Care Products Fare Better than "Traditional" Policies?

Last week, students in my Elder Law class at Dickinson Law had the benefit of a fascinating, detailed presentation by Pennsylvania's Deputy Commissioner of Insurance Joseph DiMemo about the history of insolvency for Penn Treaty American Network and American Independent Insurance Company as sellers of long-term care insurance policies.  In 2009, the State took the reins as the receiver for the two companies' administration of more than 126,000 policies sold nationwide. 

From the history, I would summarize reasons for failure of long term care insurance in its "traditional" form as including the following:

  1. Selling products with a promise or at least a strong expectation of level premiums, especially in the early years of the industry.  While contract language permitted companies to seek rate increases, the companies often delayed asking for increases or were frustrated by states that refused to grant requested increases;
  2. Assumptions made about "lapse" rates for policyholders that proved to be inaccurate;
  3. Assumptions made about "interest" rates for invested premiums that proved to be inaccurate, even before the 2008-10 financial crisis;
  4. Assumptions made about lower morbidity and higher mortality that proved not to be accurate for policyholders overall;
  5. The continued use of invalid assumptions about future premium rate increases. 

In light of this tour through history, I was interested to read about New York LIfe Insurance Company's description of its "new and innovative long-term care insurance product" in its press release dated September 5, 2018:  

A new long-term care solution announced today by New York Life, NYL My Care, promises to make the purchase of long-term care insurance simpler and more affordable. The innovative product features design concepts familiar to purchasers of other types of insurance, including a deductible and co-insurance, and offers the benefit of a dividend, which can help offset future premiums. NYL My Care clients will also benefit from the peace of mind that comes from working with a mutual life insurance company with the highest available financial strength ratings.

 

“New York Life is committed to helping people plan for the future, which includes protecting themselves and their loved ones from the financial burden of an extended health care event,” said Aaron Ball, vice president, New York Life Long-Term Care. “NYL My Care’s simpler, first-of-its-kind product design will help more people understand, access and afford the protection they need against the potential cost of long-term care.”

 

NYL My Care covers a wide range of long-term care needs, including home care, community-based care and facility care, and offers four pre-designed plan levels ... bronze, silver, gold and platinum. 

For more on so-called "hybrid" or "asset" based products that couple long-term care benefits to annuities or life insurance polices, read New Life Insurance Brings New Innovations to Long-Term Care Insurance Market from Forbes.

September 12, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Retirement, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

How Lack of Transparency Harms "Senior Living" as an Industry

I'm preparing for an upcoming program in North Carolina and residents of senior living communities have sent me questions in advance.  The questions I've received are a reminder that "transparency" is a big issue.  As one resident candidly explained, "No population is more vulnerable than seniors living in managed care.... I consider myself among the vulnerable."   I've come to believe that lack of transparency impacts virtually all of the options for financing of senior living, including long-term care insurance and continuing care communities.  The problem is that many prospective clients do not know who they can trust, and many end up trusting no one.  They end up not making any advance plan.

For example, this week there is industry-sourced news that 33 facilities operated under the umbrella of Atrium Health and Senior Living, a New Jersey-based company, are going into receivership. These include 9 "senior living communities" and 23 "skilled nursing facilities" in Wisconsin, plus a skilled nursing facility in Michigan.  Atrium is also reported as operating 3 senior living communities and 9 skilled nursing facilities in New Jersey that "are not part of the receivership."  If you look at the company's website today, however, it won't be easy to find news that insolvency is already impacting this company's sites.  At least as of the time of my writing this blog post, there's only "good news" on the company's website.   

The public tends not to distinguish between different types of senior living options, at least not until individuals get fairly close to needing to make choices about moving out of their own homes.  I can easily imagine anyone who has done enough advance research to know about troubled companies to simply make a decision to steer clear of all facilities operated under a particular company name.  But, I suspect there is also a much larger population of prospective residents who view reports of troubled senior living companies or facilities as a reason to reject all of the options.  

Some providers will say that the problem is that "bad news" is over-reported.  I don't think that is actually true.  Rather, I think that there in most states is it hard to distinguish between financially sound or unsound options.  Certainly, I've known state regulators who decline to talk about troubled properties on a theory that bad news may make it harder for struggling operations to work out their problems as they cannot attract new customers.  Lack of transparency is argued as an explanation for giving operators a fair chance to recover, and recovery helps everyone.  

States, however, have unique opportunities to learn from their roles as receivers for troubled operations.  Wouldn't it be helpful for states to publish accurate information about what factors they have discovered that contribute to success or lack of financial success?  And if not the regulators, why not have the industry itself publish standards of financial health.

September 11, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Property Management, Retirement, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Thinking Above The Bad Apples: Elder Law Attorneys Who Have Stolen from Clients

I'm giving a big sigh as I begin to type this particular blog post.  I hate the topic of thieving lawyers, and especially those who hold themselves out as elder law professionals.  But, I also can't ignore the topic.  I keep a notebook of news articles and bar association disciplinary cases on elder abuse involving lawyers and although certainly the bad apples are a tiny fraction of the profession, my notebook is growing. 

The latest news comes from New Jersey, where a high profile lawyer -- who hosted a radio show and taught seminars on elder law -- pleaded guilty in late July in state court to stealing "millions" from clients.  Robert Novy, 66, faces sentencing on September 28, and the AG recommends 10 years in state prison.  

In some ways Novy's history mirrors other cases I've followed more closely in Pennsylvania, as it began with him placing client funds into his firm's trust accounts, accounts which are usually meant to be a temporary spot for use in future client-directed transactions.  At some point he then proceeded to transfer the funds to his own operating accounts, in direct violation of statutory and ethical rules.  Also, counterintuitively, his "mature" age and experience are something I've seen with other attorney fraud cases in Pennsylvania.  Were they always bad apples or did they just stay too long in the bin?  The histories often seem to begin with the lawyer's "promise" to invest the funds for clients, relying on long-years of practice as a sign of reliability, even though, generally speaking, lawyers probably aren't the best source of investment advice. In fact, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted new rules in 2014 that placed restrictions on attorneys' involvement in "investment products." 

In another way, Novy's history is unusual.  I've found that most of the big ticket thefts by attorneys from older clients involve sole practitioners.  They seem like lone wolves, operating without traditional checks and balances.  Novy, who called his firm Robert C. Novy & Associates, had other attorneys in the firm. Sadly, it seems that Novy may not have been operating solo in his fiduciary crimes, as an "associate" attorney who had also been practicing law for many years was charged with similar crimes involving client funds.  I could not find the outcome of those charges, or whether the charges are still pending. 

In these New Jersey cases, the charges date back to 2015 and 2016. I suspect delays in bringing the cases to trial or plea may be tied to efforts to "permit" the lawyers some opportunity to repay the defrauded clients by liquidating their personal assets; ultimately, however, going forward with the criminal charges (rather than "mere" disciplinary sanctions) suggests the reimbursement opportunity was unavailing.  

August 22, 2018 in Crimes, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 10, 2018

Filial Friday: N.D. Nursing Home's Claim Against Adult Children for Father's Unpaid Bills Set for September Trial

According to news reports, here and here,  three siblings are facing a September 2018 trial date after being sued by a North Dakota nursing home for more than $43,000 in unpaid costs of care for their father, incurred during a seven month stay at the facility.  The children maintain they have no contractual obligation with the nursing home, and were not involved in their father's application for Medicaid, nor did they receive disqualifying gifts from their father.   A denial of a Medicaid application can arise if there is an uncompensated transfer of assets within a five year look back period, or because of certain other unexplained failures to use the father's "available" resources to pay for his care.  

A North Dakota's statute, N.D.C.C. Section  14-09-10, with language that can be traced back to filial support laws of  Elizabethan England,  provides: 

It is the duty of the father, the mother, and every child of any person who is unable to support oneself, to maintain that person to the extent of the ability of each. This liability may be enforced by any person furnishing necessaries to the person. The promise of an adult child to pay for necessaries furnished to the child's parent is binding.

One news report quotes the executive director of the North Dakota Long Term Care Association, Shelly Peterson, as saying nursing homes use the law to go after adult children in only one circumstance:  "When parents transfer income or assets to their children, and then the parents don't qualify for Medicaid."  The director is reported as further contending that "facilities are 'legally obligated' under Medicaid to pursue every avenue possible to collect that debt, including suing, before they can get reimbursed from the state Department of Human Services for a debt that cannot be recovered."

According to some sources, local legislators, aroused by this suit, are looking at whether North Dakota should continue to permit nursing home collections under North Dakota's indigent support law.  Such laws have been blocked or repealed in most other U.S. states.  North Dakota and my own state, Pennsylvania, are the two most notable exceptions. 

My reaction to the news articles on this case is "something doesn't add up here" and some key facts seem to be missing. 

  • First, if the father was in the nursing home for 7 months, who did the children think was paying for his care?  I can't imagine no one in the family asked that question for that period of time (although certainly Medicaid applications can take time to process and perhaps the denial came in after the father's death). 
  • What was the basis for any denial for Medicaid?  I've seen Medicaid denied for inability of the applicant (or applicant agent) to track down some old resource, such as a demutualized life insurance policy. Also, what is the source of the contention that Medicaid law "requires the facility to sue" to collect the debt?  I'm not aware of any such rule at the federal level.
  • Is there another member of the family involved in the application -- someone other than the three target children --  or is there another family member involved in any "transfers" causing an alleged ineligibility period?  In the U.S., filial support laws don't prioritize collection, nor require recovery from so-called "bad" children, rather than more "innocent" children.
  • Finally, why weren't there care planning meetings with the family that included discussions of costs of care?  It always raises a red flag for me when the "first" alleged notice of such a claim arises after the death or discharge of a resident.  

Perhaps we will hear the results of the trial or any settlement, and thus hear a more complete picture of how these bills came to accumulate.  

  

August 10, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Pennsylvania Adopts Emeritus Status for Retired Attorneys to do Pro Bono Work

On May 9, 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court approved Pennsylvania Rule of Disciplinary Enforcement 403, recognizing an emeritus status for attorneys who retire from the practice of law and seek to provide pro bono services to legal aid organizations. 

Emeritus programs serve as a pool of qualified volunteer attorneys to provide services to those in need. Emeritus attorneys can perform valuable roles in the community by bolstering legal aid and other nonprofit programs to help close the gap between the need for and the availability of free legal services.  

In order to transfer to emeritus status in Pennsylvania, an attorney must be on retired status. The retired attorney must complete six hours of continuing legal education within one year prior to the application date as a prerequisite to transferring to emeritus status. The emeritus applicant must verify that he or she is authorized solely to provide pro bono services, is not permitted to handle client funds, and is not permitted to ask for or receive compensation. At the time of application, the applicant must pay a registration fee of $35. 

Emeritus attorneys can renew their status on an annual basis, paying an annual fee, or can "transfer back" to retired status.  While on emeritus status, they are subject to annual continuing legal education requirements.  

Pennsylvania doesn't tend to rush to adopt "new" ideas, and thus it is relatively late among the states to approve such a program.  Emeritus programs have existed for quite some time.  For more on them, see the white paper on "Best Practices and Lessons Learned,"  authored for the ABA in 2010 by David Godfrey and Erica Wood.  See also the 2016 updated report by David Godfrey and April Faith-Slaker.  

 

July 26, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Programs/CLEs, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 11, 2018

Aging: "The One Shark We Cannot Escape"

My good friend and colleague, Pennsylvania Elder Law Attorney Linda Anderson, has a thoughtful essay about her personal journey in elder law in a recent issue of  GPSolo,  the ABA journal for solo, small firm, and general practitioners.  Her closing paragraphs address several core issues, comparing her elder law focus with traditional tax and estate planning concerns.  I enjoyed her use of classic lines from the movie Jaws.  

My early work with elder clients or their adult children across a variety of asset levels certainly involved tax and estate planning. But it became clear that serving and protecting these clients demanded more than just good lawyering, that good planning needed “a bigger boat.” It entailed comprehensive knowledge of the Social Security, Medicaid, and VA benefits bureaucracies, close engagement with insurance providers, geriatric care managers, social workers, and other professionals, as well as close monitoring of state and federal regulatory and policy changes and housing and age discrimination laws, among others. The eventual next step for me was completing the requirements to become a certified elder law attorney (CELA).
 
 
Solo or general practice attorneys do not have to become dedicated elder law experts when taking on clients seeking long-term care and funding planning. Take those clients, but be prepared to augment tax and estate planning expertise with a deep dive into areas of elder and special needs law and funding mechanisms. All this is doable, of course, but the biggest difference is in mindset. Attorneys often approach estate and long-term care planning as transactional or episodic--needs arise, documents are drafted or revised, and we and the clients move on. But the nature of the legal work I've touched on above demands a continuing, flexible outlook and a lot of homework. When in doubt, consult with or refer your client to a CELA-qualified attorney. These attorneys are listed in the website for the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF, nelf.org). Another resource for lawyers (who may or may not be CELA-qualified) is the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA, naela.org). Both organizations are excellent sources for information and referrals.
 
 
Finally, as we all learn in time, everything that we've covered here will become very personal for each of us. This may first happen through our parents or siblings as they transition and age, but it's necessarily part of our own futures as well. That's true whether you're a Baby Boomer looking at 70, a Gen Xer thinking that 40 is “old,” or any age in between.
 
 
Aging is the one shark we cannot escape. But as attorneys, we know how to plan and can build our clients' (and our own) “boats” to manage aging as well as possible.
 
The full article is currently behind a paywall on the ABA website. For more of Linda's wise words, it is worth tracking down a copy of An Elder Care Lawyer's Story.  It is in Volume Issue No. 2 (March/April, 2018) of GPSolo.  It is also available on Westlaw, although, of course, that's another paywall.   

 

June 11, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Michigan Bar Journal Issue Explores the Intersection of Elder Law and Disability Law

A recent issue of the Michigan Bar Journal offers interesting practitioner perspectives on disability law and elder law issues.  The January 2018 issue includes:  

Introducing the theme of the issue, attorney Christine Caswell writes: 

While there may be a perception that the section focuses on helping clients qualify for public benefits, its mission is actually much broader. Elders and those with  disabilities have many of the same issues as the rest of the population— divorce, consumer problems, bankruptcy, business ownership, and litigation—but these issues are magnified when questions arise concerning competency, the need for ongoing care, and discrimination. Moreover, these different legal areas may conflict when determining what is in the best long-term interests of these clients.

June 7, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Congrats to NAELA

NAELA celebrated its 30th year with its annual conference in New Orleans, LA on May 17-19, 2018. The conference consisted of three tracks: legal tech, advocacy and public benefits.  The well-attended conference packed in a great amount of programming in two and a half days. Speakers included leaders from the field of elder law, consultants, cyber security experts, researchers and more.  NAELA members unable to attend may check the NAELA website for more information.

In addition, Michael Amoruso was sworn in as the next NAELA president by outgoing president Hy Darling.  Congrats NAELA!

(In the interest of full disclosure, I'm a former president of NAELA and co-chair of the planning committee for this conference.)

 

May 22, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, Property Management, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Maryland Offers On-Line Orientation Video for Prospective Court-Appointed Guardians

As is true for many states, Maryland is increasing the education, support and supervision for guardians appointed by the Maryland courts.  In connection with this, beginning on January 1, 2018, prospective guardians must watch a video-based  "orientation program" before they are appointed guardian of a minor or disabled person.  The 9-minute video introduces the "roles, duties and responsibilities" of a guardian and explains mch of what to expect if appointed by the Maryland Courts.   Here is a link to the video.  

What I particularly like about this video is the message "You Are Not Alone as a Guardian," and the emphasis that Court-appointed guardians are subject to the ultimate authority of the Court.  I think that many courts are still struggling with their  own roles in this regard, but here the lines of responsibility are explained clearly.

The balance here is delicate, requiring careful thought about how to provide threshold information essential for a candidate to make an informed decision about whether to serve, but  without making the information so overwhelming that good candidates decline the role.  The Maryland courts caution that this particular orientation and the related training requirements do NOT apply to public guardians or guardianships that terminate parental rights. 

In my opinion, this type of video is a good first step.  But just a first step.  

May 6, 2018 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Programs/CLEs, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Webinars | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 3, 2018

21st Annual Elder Law Institute in Pennsylvania, July 19-20, 2018, Open for Registration

Hard to believe, but this summer will mark the 21st annual Elder Law Institute in Pennsylvania  It functions as both a gathering of the clan and an educational update, and I always walk away with new ideas for my own research and writing.  On the second day of the event (which runs July 19 and 20), Howard Gleckman will give the keynote address on "Long Term Care in an Age of Disruption."  Doesn't that title capture the mood of the country?!  

Practical workshops include:

  • Using Irrevocable Trusts in Pre-Crisis and Crisis Planning - Ms. Alvear & Ms. Sikov Gross
  • Guardianship for Someone Who Is 30/30 on the MMSE (Advanced Mental Health Capacity Issues) - Ms. Hee & Mr. Pfeffer
  • Medicaid across State Lines: Pennsylvania vs. New Jersey - Mr. Adler
  • Medicaid Annuities in Practice - Mr. Morgan & Mr. Parker
  • Business Succession Planning for Elder Law Practices - Ms. Ellis, Mr. Marshall, Mr. Pappas & Ms. Wolfe
  • Social Security Disability: What Elder Law Practitioners Need to Know - Mr. Whitelaw
  • Drafting Trusts for Beneficiaries with Behavioral Impairments and Mental Health Problems - Mr. Hagan & Dr. Panzer
  • Being a Road Warrior Attorney: Staying Organized and in Touch While Out of the Office (ETHICS) - Ms. Ellis

Mark your calendars and join us (Linda Anderson, Kimber Latsha and I are hosting a session on Day 1 about "new" CCRC issues).  Registration is here.  

May 3, 2018 in Books, Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

ABA Offers CLE on "Ethical Pitfalls Encountered by Lawyers with Diminished Capacity"

My thanks to Dickinson Law Professor Laurel Terry for pointing us to an upcoming seminar offered by the American Bar Association on "Competency and Cognitive Decline in the Legal Profession: Ethical Pitfalls Encountered by Lawyers with Diminished Capacity," on May 9, 2018, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. (ET). 

The promotional materials are a bit lean, but discussion topics are described as follows:

  • Understanding the effects of aging on the human brain
  • How to recognize some of the signs of diminished capacity
  • The practical and ethical considerations for intervention
  • Advice on how to facilitate discussion with the impaired person (or others who can help)
  • Resources and ways to locate assistance in your area
  • The importance of succession planning, and resources to help you develop or review your own succession plans

The speakers include Dr. Doris Gunderson, a psychiatrist in Colorado. 

Co-sponsors of the program including the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility, its Commission on Law and Aging, the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, the Section for Civil Rights and Social Justice, the Senior Lawyers Division, and the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.  

For more information on registering, see here.  

May 1, 2018 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Programs/CLEs, Webinars | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Access to Justice for Older Adults: Is the Glass Half Empty or Half Full?

Testimony before PA House Hearing on Access to Justice 4.11.18TThe Pennsylvania House Committee on Aging and Older Adult Services  invited representatives of legal aid organizations to speak on April 11, 2018.  As I listened to attorneys from SeniorLAW Center, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, MidPenn Legal Services and the Deputy Chief Counsel and Legal Assistance Developer for Pennsylvania's Department of Aging, it occurred to me that many of the client histories, including my own school's clinic story, were about positive outcomes in representing individuals facing potentially tragic futures, including eviction from the only housing they know, rejection for Medical Assistance, or no option but to rely on the unkindness of strangers. 

We were speaking, understandably, about the good that trained lawyers and lawyers-in-training (students in law school clinical programs) can do.  For example, Pam Walz, director of the Aging and Disabilities Unit at Community Legal Services (CLS) in Philadelphia told the story of a recent client, "Mr. D," who at age 70 was living alone in a single room in a rooming house.  He was found unconscious, leading to hospitalization:

He had suffered a stroke and at the hospital he was also diagnosed with throat cancer.  A treatment plan was created, including radiation therapy, and he had to have a feeding tube placed.  The hospital discharged him to a nursing facility because they did not think he could care for himself alone in a rooming house. . . .

 

Mr. D received rehabilitation for about two weeks at the nursing facility but the facility failed to coordinate with his oncologist or to provide him with transportation for his first radiation treatment.  Worse yet, the nursing facility told Mr. D that they were discharging him because his Medicare coverage had ended, despite the fact that he continued to need nursing facility care and is eligible to have his continued stay paid by Medicaid [under federal and state law]. . . .  The nursing facility had also failed to provide a legally required written notice of discharge, explaining Mr. D's rights to appeal the discharge to the Department of Human Services. . . . [S]ending Mr. D back to his rooming house in his condition would not be a safe discharge.

CLS attorneys stepped in and filed the appropriate papers to get the discharge stopped until the legally mandated "safe" discharge plan could be determined.  They recognized that Mr. D was further in jeopardy because he needed assistance in Spanish, a requirement safeguarded by Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act.  

CLS attorneys will continue to represent him.  The message in common for the speakers is about the better outcomes possible when trained experts step in.  On the one hand it is a success story and a success story heard across the nation at the hands of both legal aid attorneys and private attorneys who are skilled in the array of state and federal laws intended to protect older adults and provide greater dignity in circumstances of need, including ill health or extreme risk.  

I realized that with our testimony, including my testimony about students at Penn State's Dickinson Law's Community Law Center, who were able to prevent the wrongful eviction of an older man, we were painting a picture of a glass half full. But a half-full glass is also half-empty.  As I testified, the histories also made me a bit sad, because I know how many calls for help go unanswered, because there aren't enough free or low cost services for those in need. 

As one woman explained to me in seeking a lawyer, "I had a plan.  I planned to work until I was 70 and I made it.  I planned my savings to last until I was 80 and I made it.  Unfortunately, now I'm 85 and my savings weren't enough, Social Security isn't enough, and I don't know what to do. . . . I think I need help with my creditors, but I can't pay an attorney to help me."

I testified that law schools with clinical programs and legal aid organizations are willing to do more to represent the underrepresented, but to do so each such organization needs ines of funding dedicated to older adult legal services.  In more rural communities, the need may be especially serious.  It's not that the glass is half full or half empty, it's that the glass is probably just 20% full, as so many go without sound legal advice until desperation sets in, and even then only a small number get help in time. 

In the photo here, after testifying before the House committee, we're smiling because key members were listening and asking important questions. PA House of Representatives Hearing on Access to Justice for Older Adults 4.11.18
The tall man in the center, Chairman Tim Hennessey, has long served in a leadership role for senior services in Pennsylvania.  Around him, from left to right, me, Deborah Hargett-Robinson (Pa Department of Aging), Wendy Bookler (SeniorLAW Center), Karen Buck (Exec. Dir. SeniorLAW Center), Pam Walz (CLS) and Marisa Halm (Dickinson Law 1L student who will intern with SeniorLAW in summer 2018).

I'm often bouyed by the commitment of so many students to public interest law. Students who plan on private practice also, increasingly, recognize commitments to public service with their own pro-bono pledges.  Private attorneys who make a commitment of a percentage of their time to pro-bono services are part of the solution.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, before she made it to the bench of the highest court in the U.S., reminded lawyers of our duty to "represent the underrepresented in our society" and to "ensure that justice exists for all, both legal and economic justice."  A reminder in these challenging times of our ability and obligation to do good.  

For more, here's a link to my written testimony.

My special thanks to Karen Buck for her leadership role on the future of legal services in Pennsylvania.  Here is the link to SeniorLAW Executive Director Buck's testimony;  Karen opened the hearing.

April 17, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Discrimination, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, April 8, 2018

As Individuals with Developmental Disabilities Live Longer, They May Outlive Caregiver Parents

During Dickinson Law's recent program on Dementia Diagnosis and the Law, one of our panelists, Elder Law practitioner Sally Schoffstall raised an issue planning professionals are seeing more often, families who are concerned about the long-range needs of children with developmental disabilities. I know that over the years I have often had law students whose interest in disability and estate planning law began with a brother or sister with special needs, and they are thinking about their own future roles in helping the family plan. 

The good news is that better early health care often means an extended life for disabled children, but that very fact raises the probabilities on living longer than the people who have been primary caregivers, especially their parents. As we heard from medical professionals at our conference, individuals with Down Syndrome, for example, are now less likely to succumb to physical impairments such as developmental  heart problems, but still face a significant risk of early onset of dementias, with an estimated 30 percent of those in their 50s already experiencing symptoms similar to Alzheimer's Disease.  

On May 21-22, a St. Louis-based nonprofit organization, Association on Aging with Developmental Disabilities (AADD) will hold its 28th annual conference.  The conference draws an audience of professionals from a wide range, including social workers, nurses and other service providers.  As with most people, individuals with disabilities want to "age in place," and that takes extra planning to manage financial assets.  Pamela Merkle, executive director for AADD explains:

"Sessions will focus on giving them the tools they need to successfully support people with developmental disabilities who are aging,” says Merkle. 

 

She explains that many of the issues faced by older persons with developmental disabilities mirror those of aging individuals in general, such as isolation, depression and how to handle retirement. “Like most people, they want to ‘age in place,’ not spend their golden years in a nursing home. Given that living within the community is more cost-effective, it’s important to both the seniors and our communities that there be more public programs to support that choice,” she continues. . . . 

 

For individuals who are 50 or older, AADD offers retirement services. While some of the participants have held community-based jobs, others spent decades in sheltered workshops. As with many members of the general population, they often tend to define themselves through the jobs they held for so many years. “So we focus on identity: ‘I’m a volunteer” or “I’m active in my church,’” explains Merkle. “If you don’t have something in place to fill the void after retirement and to maintain the skills you’ve developed, you’ll retire to your couch. You won’t be an active part of the community, and will most likely spend your “golden years” alone.”

For more, see this commentary from the Special Needs Alliance, and look for related links.  My thanks to Sally for providing links to this conference information! 

April 8, 2018 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Programs/CLEs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 2, 2018

Supported Decision-Making as an Alternative to Adult Guardianship

Dickinson Law Presentation and Panel Discussing Guardianship Oversight and the Courts 3.29.18During the Continuing Judicial Education program on "Dementia Diagnosis and the Law" at Dickinson Law on March 29, I offered a list of developments potentially affecting the future of guardianships.  One item on my list could have been a stand-alone session in and of itself -- the concept of supported decision-making.  I promised the audience I would post some additional materials on the topic here.  

For background, as we discussed with the judges, under most states' laws governing guardianships, courts are obligated to search for the least restrictive alternative to a plenary guardianship.  Courts sometimes struggle with this issue, especially for older adults, if the incapacitating issue proves to be any of the forms of progressive neurocognitive disorders associated with dementia. If a judge makes a finding of incapacity, and if there is an appropriate, trustworthy guardian available, the judge may feel that it is better to leave it up to the appointed individual to strike the right balance between protection and autonomy on individual issues such as choice of housing or daily activities.  The court might find that granting full powers, but trusting the guardian to exercise the powers appropriately, is better than requiring the parties to return to the court for a series of orders, as the incapacity advances, conferring new directions for the guardian to follow. 

During the conference we confronted the issues driving the recent calls for reform of guardianship systems, including the latest well-publicized incidents of abuse of authority by an appointed guardian or a private guardianship agency, in locations such as Las Vegas, Nevada and New Mexico.

A published commentary by Cardozo Law's Rebekah Diller, an associate clinical professor, explains the movement behind supported-decision making as a better alternative: 

During  the last several decades, guardianship has been the subject of continual calls for reform, often spurred by revelations of guardian malfeasance and other abuses in the system. Recent developments in international human rights law and disability rights advocacy, however, pose a more fundamental challenge to the institution. Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), with its declaration that everyone, regardless of mental disability or cognitive impairment, is entitled to make decisions and have those decisions recognized under the law, offers no less than a promise to end adult guardianship as we know it.

So, what exactly is "supported decision-making?" Professor Diller explains:

 The support can take the form of accessible formats or technological assistance in communication.  Or it can take the form of "supported decision-making" arrangement, in which "supporters" assist individuals with decision-making in relationships of trust. In whatever form, the support is an appropriate accommodation that enables the individual to enjoy the right to legal capacity.

The author warns there is no single model for supported decision-making.  Ideally, the individual designates in advance his or her desired supporter, and the movement behind this approach believes this selection can be recognized even if the individual might not be found to have the requisite capacity to enter into a contract or to execute a formal power of attorney. 

In 2015, Texas became the first state in the U.S. to pass a supported decision-making statute, and the Texas statutory approach views this option as a better alternative for individuals who need assistance in making decisions about activities of daily living, but who are not considered to be "incapacitated" as that concept is defined in guardianship law.  The Texas statute contemplates an individual who can act voluntarily, in the absence of coercion or undue influence. Information about Texas' law is available here. 

In 2016, Delaware became the second state to enact legislation enabling the option of Supported Decision-Making, with Senate Bill 230.  

In 2012, the ABA Commission on Disability Rights and the ABA Commission on Law and Aging, working with U.S. government representatives, hosted a round table discussion on supported decision making for individuals with "intellectual disabilities."   The ABA captured a host of materials related to this discussion on this website.

In 2017, the ABA House of Delegates adopted a resolution on supported decision-making and endorsed its possible use as a less-restrictive alternative to guardianship, including use of this approach as grounds for termination of an existing guardianship and restoration of rights.   

Earlier this year, on February 15, 2018, the ABA hosted a webinar on "Supported Decision-Making as a Less Restrictive Alternative: What Judges Need to Know."  While the webinar appears to have been offered only as a one-time "live" option, perhaps a recording will become available in the near future.  Here's an ABA webpage providing details. 

My special thanks to Pennsylvania Elder Law Attorney Sally Schoffstall, who served as a panelist at the Dickinson Law event last week, for providing me with a copy of The Arc's information on the Texas Supported Decision-Making law, linked above. Additional thanks to Dickinson Law James Adams for photographing the conference! 

April 2, 2018 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Programs/CLEs, Property Management, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Penn State's Dickinson Law Hosts Pennsylvania Judges for Program on "Dementia Diagnosis and the Law"

Dickinson Law's CJE Program on Dementia Diagnosis and the LawOn Thursday, March 29, 2018 Penn State's Dickinson Law hosted a continuing judicial education program for the Pennsylvania Judiciary, with live attendance in Carlisle by more than 30 judges and with even more judges around the state participating via a live stream.  The program was "Dementia Diagnosis and the Law," organized into three parts:

Part 1:  Medical Science and Dementia

Panel Discussion and Audience Q & A

Part 2:  Legal Implications of a Diagnosis of Dementia

  • Keynote Presentation:  Clinical, Legal and Judicial Judgments of Capacity in Persons with Dementia
  • Why “Guardianship Oversight” is a Hot National (and State) Topic
    • Professor Katherine C. Pearson, Dickinson Law, Pennsylvania State University

Panel Discussion and Audience Q & A

Part 3:  Adjudication Exercises, facilitated by Professor Tiffany Jeffers, Dickinson Law, with Dickinson Law students in role plays on issues about capacity to contract, limited guardians, the roles of guardians ad litem and the potential for attorneys or judges to become affected by a neurocognitive disorder.

  • Panel Discussion and Audience Q & A

Panel Members included:

As the law school's organizer for the event, I know I learned a lot from this dynamic group of seasoned experts who spoke on the challenging legal, medical, and judicial issues that can arise from cognitive impairments associated with aging. The judges in our audiences were fully engaged, offering great comments, questions and experiences.

My special thanks to each and every one of the speakers, facilitators, judges, lawyers and students who made the program so informative.  It was fun to work with the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts on this project and we look forward to additional opportunities to collaborate in the future.  Once I catch up a little on my day job (and maybe on some missed sleep), I'll post again with some additional reactions and thoughts from this program.  

March 29, 2018 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Property Management, Science | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Friendship, Aging, Gender -- and Lawyers

The Hidden Brain is a great radio program with frequent stories relevant to aging.  A recent episode is titled Guys, We Have A Problem: How American Masculinity Creates Lonely Men.  Frankly, I think the title doesn't do the episode justice, as although the episode focuses primarily on the potentially disproportionate likelihood of isolation and loneliness for men as they get older, many of the program's most important points strike me as applying equally to anyone who finds his or her life becoming more isolated.

One interview explored the moving personal history of a lawyer, Paul Kugelman, as he went through life, starting with disconnections connected to frequent military-service-connected family relocation, followed by his own divorce and struggles with work/life balance, a temptation to drink, and a a recovery strategy that included completing an Iron-Man Marathon. But running wasn't enough. Over-reliance on a spouse put enormous pressure on the relationship. He had to learn new skills to create new friendships.

The program also explored findings from an early Harvard study of American men, now known as the Harvard Study of Adult Development, a study that has been on-going, with various adjustments based on funding sources, for 8 decades. One question asked over the entire course of the study's history was  deceptively simple:

Who would you call in the middle of the night if you were sick or afraid?

It turns out that if men had a solid answer to that question,  they were happier with their lives and their marriages.   "There were also connections with the men's answers to that question and their physical health.  Very strong connections."  

The program dug deeper into physical health and emotional connections, suggesting that we should think about how coming into work on a Monday morning.  Do you look forward to seeing people you like? That connection is energizing.  And calming.

The program explained that studies show that the people who are "happiest in retirement are those who actively work to replace colleagues with friends."  "Spending time building and nurturing your friendships might be just as important to your health as eating right and exercising."

Bottom line:  Don't miss the warning signs that your social circles are shrinking, regardless of gender.  

March 27, 2018 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Retirement, Science, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Perils of Serving as a Financial Caregiver

At the invitation of the editor for the ABA Commission on Law and Aging's journal, Bifocal, I wrote a recent article on The Perils of Serving as a Financial Caregiver. I described a fundamental challenge:

What are the family dynamics? Will appointment of one individual create a trap whereby an overlooked or disgruntled offspring, sibling or spouse demands an accounting?  Even successful defense against a weak claim will involve costs to the financial caregivers and to the principal's estate.  Family dynamics can also change over time, especially as feelings of resentment, guilt or denial begin to color relationships. Consider whether greater transparency within the family at all phases of the relationship involving handling of financial matters will deter later problems.

Using an article in the The New York Times today, my words of caution appear mildly framed, compared to the reality of what appears to be one family's deeply embedded dynamic following the death of the parents, pitting two sons against a daughter and her husband over the family fortune in Arkansas.  

“I want this finished, over and done,” Sanders McKee [one son] said in his deposition. “I am tired of wasting my life. She needs to stop wasting her own. And I’m tired of this. I’m absolutely exhausted with it.”

 

But that was in August 2014, and the legal battle continues, costing all sides money and time. The Noels [daughter and son-in-law] estimated that they have spent $1 million on legal fees in the case, and they’re not resting. 

 

Aside from the cost, the case also demonstrates the strain being a trustee can put on family members.

For the full cautionary tale, read Are Millions Missing? Some Relatives Want to Know.  Others Don't, by Paul Sullivan.

Hat tip to my Dickinson Law colleague, Professor Laurel Terry, for the pointer to this interesting New York Times  piece.

March 22, 2018 in Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Property Management, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 19, 2018

UPitt Law Prof Larry Frolik Urges Change in Pennsylvania Guardianship Law to Clarify Lawyer's Role in Representing Alleged Incapacitated Persons

Larry Frolik, University of Pittsburgh Law Professor and all-round elder law guru, responds to a 2016 decision by the Pennsylvania Superior Court for In re Sabatino with a strong call for change in existing guardianship laws.  In the abstract for his January 2018 article for the Pennsylvania Bar Association Quarterly on The Role of Counsel for an Alleged Incapacitated Person in Pennsylvania Guardianship Proceedings [currently membership-restricted], he writes:  

When a petition is filed requesting that court find an individual to be incapacitated and appoint a guardian for the individual, the alleged incapacitated person [AIP] has a right to counsel. If the individual does not have counsel, the court may, but is not required to,  appoint counsel. Whether counsel is hired by the [AIP] or appointed by the court, the question arises as to what is the proper role of counsel.  Should counsel act solely as a zealous advocate and attempt to resist the imposition of the guardianship if so directed by the [AIP] or should counsel act in the best interest of the person with counsel making the determination of what is in the person's best interest?

 

A 2016 Superior Court case considered that issue and concluded that if the [AIP] desired not to have a guardian, counsel should so inform the court, but counsel, acting in what counsel believed was the person's best interest, could also tell the court that counsel believed that the person needed a guardian.  That holding is not consistent with the fundamental obligation of counsel to advocate for what the client, the [AIP], desires.  Counsel should not be making an independent determination that the person would be better served if a guardian were to be appointed.  The decisions as to whether an [AIP] is legally incapacitated and, if so, whether the appointment of a guardian is appropriate, are decisions that only a court should make.  

 

The Pennsylvania Legislature should amend the law of guardianship to clarify that the role of counsel for an [AIP] is that of a zealous advocate, and that counsel should not act in what counsel believes are the person's best interest.  If the Legislature does not act, in the future courts should reexamine the issue and rule that counsel should act solely as a zealous advocate and not attempt to promote the person's best interest. 

January 19, 2018 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)