Friday, January 26, 2018
New Mexico Legislature Considers Comprehensive Reform of Guardianship Laws, Following Fraud & Embezzlement Scandals
In a bipartisan effort, two New Mexico state senators have introduced Senate Bill 19 -- some 187 pages in length -- in an effort to completely overhaul the state's laws governing guardianships in New Mexico. The proposed changes, which largely track the Uniform Law Commission's recommendations for "Guardianship, Conservatorship and Other Protective Arrangements," will make such proceedings open to the public and require more notification of family members about the process. The reform follows high-profile scandals involving two companies that are alleged to have "embezzled millions of dollars of client funds," while appointed-guardians also sometimes restricted family access to their wards.
Hearings on the bill began on January 25, 2018, during the regular 30-day session of the legislature. From the Albuquerque Journal's coverage on the reforms:
Under the bill pending at the Roundhouse, legal guardians would not be able to bar visitors – both in person and via letters and emails – unless they could show the visit would pose significant risk to the individual or if authorized to do so by a court order.
[State Senator and Co-Sponsor of SB 19 Jim White] said the legislation does not call for any additional funding to be appropriated, though it could shift some money from the state guardianship commission to the courts for administrative duties. His bill is the only bill filed so far on the issue of guardianships, though others could be introduced in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, the proposed law would also permit bonds to be required of conservators – a protection already proposed by the New Mexico guardianship commission and recently put into place by district judges in Albuquerque.
For more on the criminal charges filed against executives at Ayudando Gaurdians Inc. and Desert State Life Management, read Who Guards the Guardians? by Colleen Heild.
January 26, 2018 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, January 24, 2018
According to reports from Hawaii media, the state has a growing number of unlicensed long-term care facilities for the elderly and disabled. One critic describes the problem as facilities that have "gone rogue." I strongly suspect that Hawaii isn't alone on the issue, where providers operate in the shadows of the law, seeking to avoid regulations setting minimum standards, authorizing inspections and implementing other state oversight. Operators push back on regulation, citing the costs of compliance. Certainly, I've seen issues in my own state of Pennsylvania, where some operators attempt to change their names or identities to avoid whatever is viewed as the latest or most demanding regulations. I remembering watching as an employee of one long-time, respected provider of "assisted living," chipped those words off the granite sign at the front of the property, part of his boss's effort to avoid Pennsylvania's then "new" regulation of assisted living operations.
Legislators in Hawaii have introduced new legislation in an attempt to plug the oversight holes, but operators are pushing back:
Care home operators, case managers, industry regulators and others filled a conference room Monday at the [Hawaii] Capitol for a tense briefing about the consumer protection, fairness and enforcement issues that these unregulated facilities present.
Rep. John Mizuno, chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, said he and health officials have crafted a bill that they hope cracks down on the problem. “We cannot lose any more kupuna,” he said. “No one else dies. That’s it.”
The situation has gotten to the point that some health officials are worried that Hawaii’s rapidly aging population may end up with unsafe options for their care. “If the Legislature is unable to stop this trend, more licensed facilities will drop out and this will place more seniors at risk,” said John McDermott, who has served as Hawaii’s long-term care ombudsman since 1998.
By the way, "kupuna" is a Hawaiian word for elders, grandparents or other older persons. For more information, read "Why Hawaii's Unlicensed Elder Care Industry Is Out of Control," by Nathan Eagle," and review HB 1911, which seeks to authorize Hawaii's Department of Health to investigate care facilities reporting to be operating without an appropriate certificate or license.
January 24, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (2)
Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Pennsylvania Attorney Charles Shields and former Dickinson Law Librarian [now West Virginia Law Librarian] Mark Podvia have teamed to present a provocative history of public pensions and public corruption, using Pennsylvania as the focus. The first of their two-part series is available in the January 2018 issue of the Pennsylvania Bar Association Quarterly. For an overview, the authors write:
On June 12, 2017, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed a bill authorizing significant reform of the Commonwealth's public pension system. The law will replace the current traditional pension system with three 401(k) style options for future state employees and public school teachers. This is the first article in what will be a two-art series on the laws regulating public pensions and pension forfeitures in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This part will examine the historical development of public pensions and provide an overview of the public corruption in the Commonwealth [tied to these pension systems]. The second part will examine the adoption and application of the Pennsylvania pension forfeiture law.
To provide more incentive for our readers to track down this disturbing history, here's a concluding line from part one of the series:
The combination of a corrupt political system with public pension funds -- ranging from local retirement systems, small but with little oversight, to large statewide funds -- created a situation open to graft and corruption.....
January 23, 2018 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Property Management, Retirement, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, January 18, 2018
The Wall Street Journal has an update article this week on the financial health of the long-term care insurance industry, detailing recent rate increases and reminding us that even with contraction of this specialized market for sellers of new policies, there are still more than 7 million policies affected by the inadequate pricing structure issues.
Steep rate increases that many policyholders never saw coming are confronting them with an awful choice: Come up with the money to pay more—or walk away from their coverage.
“Never in our wildest imagination did we consider that the company would double the premium,” says Sally Wylie, 67, a retired learning specialist who lives on Vinalhaven Island, Maine.
In the past two years, CNA FinancialCorp. has increased the annual long-term-care insurance bill for Ms. Wylie and her husband by more than 90% to $4,831. They bought the policies in 2008, which promise future benefits of as much as $268,275 per person. The Wylies are bracing for more increases.
Even with the rate increases, companies are looking at losses in anticipation of claims as existing policy holders are now aging into a claims mode. General Electronic Company, has attempted to reassure shareholders about the impact of its LTCI business on profits.
Only a dozen or so insurers still sell the coverage, down from more than 100. General ElectricCo. said Tuesday it would take a pretax charge of $9.5 billion, mostly because of long-term-care policies sold in the 1980s and 1990s. Since 2007, other companies have taken $10.5 billion in pretax earnings charges to boost reserves for future claims, according to analysts at investment bank Evercore ISI. . . .
Almost every insurer in the business badly underestimated how many claims would be filed and how long people would draw payments before dying. People are living and keeping their policies much longer than expected. After the financial crisis hit, nine years of ultralow interest rates also left insurers with far lower investment returns than they needed to pay those claims.
Long-term-care insurers barreled into the business even though their actuaries didn’t have a long record of data to draw on when setting prices. Looking back now, some executives say marketing policies on a “level premium” basis also left insurers with a disastrously slim margin of error.
“We never should have done it, and the regulators never should have allowed it,” Thomas McInerney, president and chief executive ofGenworth FinancialInc. since 2013, says of the pricing strategy. “That’s crazy.”
For more of this detailed article, see Millions Brought Insurance to Cover Retirement Health Costs. Now They Face an Awful Choice. Our thanks to University of Illinois Law Professor Dick Kaplan and New York attorney Karen Miller for bringing this article to our attention.
Wednesday, January 17, 2018
FINRA has released FAQs specifically to address elder financial exploitation. Frequently Asked Questions Regarding FINRA Rules Relating to Financial Exploitation of Seniors explains the new rules that take effect on February 5, 2018. "[T]he SEC approved: (1) the adoption of new FINRA Rule 2165 (Financial Exploitation of Specified Adults) to permit members to place temporary holds on disbursements of funds or securities from the accounts of specified customers where there is a reasonable belief of financial exploitation of these customers; and (2) amendments to FINRA Rule 4512 (Customer Account Information) to require members to make reasonable efforts to obtain the name of and contact information for a trusted contact person (“trusted contact”) for a customer’s account."(citations omitted) FAQs 1 and 2 deal with temporary holds, 3 with trusted contacts, and 4 with disclosures. The FAQ are available here.
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
California Law, Amended in 2017, Sets Process for Contesting Transfer Decisions in Continuing Care Communities
Following my recent post about "evictions" in Continuing Care and Life Plan Communities, Margaret Griffin, the president of the California Continuing Care Residents Association (CALCRA) provided me with a copy of legislation that was signed into law by the Governor in October this year, amending California law on Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) contracts. This history is another window on how to handle involuntary transfers of residents. California's law already provided detailed topics that must be addressed in admission contracts. The newest provision requires greater sharing of any reasons for an involuntary transfer. For "disputed" transfers the law now mandates that the provider:
"... shall provide documentation of the resident's medical records, other documents showing the resident's current mental and physical function, the prognosis, and the expected duration of relevant conditions, if applicable. The documentation shall include an explanation of how the criteria [supporting the involuntary transfer decision] are met. The provider shall make copies of the completed report to share with the resident and the resident's responsible person. "
Further, the amended law provides that even though the CCRC has the right -- under certain conditions -- to transfer the resident, the resident may "dispute" the decision and have the reasons reviewed in a timely manner by the "Continuing Care Contracts Branch of the State Department of Social Services" in California. That office has statutory authority to determine whether the facility has followed its own contractual basis and process for transfers, and "whether the transfer is appropriate and necessary."
Ms. Griffin explains that the law "basically . . . requires an assessment be done to establish a functional reason for the transfer (as opposed to merely having the administrator’s whim be sufficient), and it allows the resident to appeal the actual decision (previously we were limited to requesting a review of the process)."
Thank you, Margaret, both for sharing the latest information on CALCRA's successful advocacy with California Assembly Bill 713, and for your additional commentary.
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Our friend and colleague, Professor Naomi Cahn at GW Law, sent us a link to a story published in Slate. The Digital Afterlife Is a Mess recounts the tangle created by the number of accounts a person may have, knotted up by company policies and wrapped around various laws.
Today’s world is different. Many of us have chosen to go paperless, so all of our financial statements are delivered electronically; we even file digital tax returns. Our love letters may no longer be written in ink on paper, our reading and listening and viewing interests no longer documented by hardcover books and magazines, record albums, and VCR tapes, and our photos no longer stored in boxes under out beds.
So once the digital asset owner dies, how does the executor gain access to these digital assets and further, determine their value, if any? The article explains the hurdles, including the potential for committing a crime unwittingly by using the decedent's account and password to access digital files. The article turns to the Uniform Act designed to address this growing problem: the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, Revised, which has been adopted by almost 2/3 of the states. The Act "allows a fiduciary to manage much of a decedent’s digital property, giving access to many things other than the content of electronic communications (unless this access has been limited by the user or by a court order) and even permitting access to content in certain limited situations." The article explains the 4-tiered system the Act uses for prioritizing and offers practical suggestions such as starting with inventorying your own digital assets, subscribing to an online account management program, and include coverage of digital assets in estate planning documents.
Monday, December 4, 2017
In the Wall Street Journal, there is a recent, wonderful profile of Boston University Law Professor Tamar Frankel, who has been fighting the good fight to gain adoption of "The Fiduciary Rule" for financial advisors, investment brokers and others in positions of trust for her entire academic career.
And, at age 92, she's still fighting the good fight, as the Trump administration recently delayed full implementation.
When Ms. Frankel began researching fiduciary law in earnest in the 1970s, she dwelled on that idea: A fiduciary is someone trusted by others because he or she has superior knowledge and expertise. People hire brokers because the brokers know what they’re doing and the clients don’t. That gives fiduciaries power and responsibility over those who trust them.
The unconditional trust that clients place in a fiduciary creates a paradox, argues Ms. Frankel. “When you get power, you lose the power you might otherwise have,” she says.
A fiduciary adviser can’t abuse the relationship of trust by collecting unreasonable compensation or harboring avoidable conflicts of interest. The relationship is meant to satisfy only the needs of the client.
Professor Frankel appears to be remarkably sanguine about the latest delays:
With the Trump administration putting parts of the fiduciary rule on hold, Ms. Frankel counsels patience.
“What the rule has done is sown the seed, and the longer it takes the better off we are, because what we must change is the culture and the habits in the financial industry,” she says. “Habits don’t change in one day. It takes time.”
After she turns 93 next July 4, Ms. Frankel says, she will stop teaching—although she will continue to research and write. What accounts for her longevity? “Caring less and less about what other people think,” she says, “and more and more about questions you don’t have answers to.”
I have a copy of Professor Frankel's thoughtful treatise on Fiduciary Law (Oxford Univ. Press, 2011) on the shelf behind my desk, complete with sticky notes and much yellow and red highlighting. I've been meaning to write Professor Frankel to thank her for her work over the years -- and now this article reminds me to get to that task!
My thanks to my always eagle-eyed friend and correspondent, Karen Miller, in Florida for this latest find and reminder.
December 4, 2017 in Books, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Property Management, Retirement | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, November 30, 2017
Recently I wrote about a high profile suit filed by AARP attorneys on behalf of residents at a California skilled care (nursing home) facility to challenge evictions.
I've also been hearing about more attempts to evict residents from Continuing Care Communities, also known as CCRCs or Life Plan Communities. For example, in late 2016 a lawsuit was filed in San Diego County, California alleging a senior's improper eviction from a high-end CCRC. The woman reportedly paid a $249k entrance fee, plus additional monthly fees for 15 years. When she reached the age of 93, however, the CCRC allegedly evicted her for reasons unconnected to payment. The resident's diagnosis of dementia was an issue. Following negotiations, according to counsel for the resident, Kelly Knapp, the case reportedly settled recently on confidential terms.
Is there a trend? Are more CCRC evictions happening, and are they more often connected to a resident's diagnosis of dementia and/or the facility's response to an increased need for behavioral supervision? If the answer is "yes," then there is a tension here, between client expectations and marketing by providers. Such tension is unlikely to be good news for either side.
CCRCs are often viewed by residents as offering a guarantee of life-time care. Even if any promises are conditional, families would not usually expect that care-needs associated with aging would be a ground for eviction.
The resident and family expectations can be influenced by pricing structures that involve substantial up-front fees (often either nonrefundable or only partially refundable), plus monthly fees that may be higher than cost-of-living alone might explain. Marketing materials -- indeed the whole ambiance of CCRCs -- typically emphasize a "one stop shopping" approach to an ultimate form of senior living.
In one instance I reviewed recently, the materials used for incoming residents explained the pricing with a point system. The prospective resident was told that in addition to the $100+k entrance fee, an additional daily fee could increase as both "medical and non-medical" needs increased. A resident who "requires continual and full assistance of others . . . is automatically Level C" and billed at a higher rate. The graded components included factors such a need for assistance with "cognition, mood, or behavior," or "wandering." All of that indicates dementia care is part of the "continuing" plan.
CCRCs, on the other hand, may turn to their contract language as grounds for an eviction. Contracts may have language that attempts to give the facility sole authority to make decisions about a resident's "level" of care. Sometimes that authority is tied to decisions about "transfers" from independent living to assisted living or to skilled care units within the same CCRC, as the facility sees care needs increasing. Even same-community transfer decisions can sometimes be hard for families. Complete evictions can be even harder to accept, especially if it means a married couple will be separated by blocks or even miles, rather than hallways in the same complex.
November 30, 2017 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1)
Friday, November 17, 2017
In Pennsylvania, we awoke today to news media images of flames shooting into the night sky from a nursing home near Philadelphia. I suspect many of us feared the worst outcome, including serious injuries to helpless residents, or worse. In the region, wooden structures, narrow streets, and densely populated neighborhoods are the norm.
But, although we are still in the early aftermath of the fire which reportedly ignited around 10:30 at night in a dementia care unit, evacuations occurred swiftly and with the help of the entire community, including college students who joined in the effort. As my blogging colleague has pointed out recently in the context of hurricanes, often the real impact for seniors displaced by emergencies occurs in the days or even weeks after the event. Let's hope we hear positive news about "best practices" in this instance. Lesson number one may involve whether sprinklers in the building operated appropriately.
From one early news account:
November 17, 2017 in Consumer Information, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Property Management, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, November 1, 2017
This week, the last session I was able to attend at LeadingAge's annual meeting was a panel talk on "Legal Perspectives from In-House Counsel." As expected, some of the time was spent on questions about "billing" by outside law firms, whether hourly, flat-fee or "value" billing was preferred by the corporate clients.
But the panelists, including Jodi Hirsch, Vice President and General Counsel for Lifespace Communities with headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa; Ken Young, Executive VP and General Counsel for United Church Homes, headquartered in Ohio; and "outhouse" counsel Aric Martin, managing partner at the Cleveland, Ohio law firm of Rolf, Goffman, Martin & Long, offered a Jeopardy-style screen, with a wide array of legal issues they have encountered in their positions. I'm sorry I did not have time to stay longer after the program, before heading to the airport. They were very clear and interesting speakers, with healthy senses of humor.
The topics included responding to government investigations and litigation; vetting compliance and ethics programs to reduce the likelihood of investigations or litigation; cybersecurity (including the need for encryption of lap tops and cell phones which inevitably go missing); mergers and acquisitions; contract and vendor management; labor and employment; social media policies; automated external defibrillators (AEDs); residency agreements; attorney-client privilege; social accountability and benevolent care (LeadingAge members are nonprofit operators); ACO/Managed Care issues; Fair Housing rules that affect admissions, transfers, dining, rooms and "assistance animals"; tax exemption issues (including property and sale tax exemptions); medical and recreational marijuana; governance issues (including residents on board of directors); and entertainment licensing.
Whew! Wouldn't this be a great list to offer law students thinking about their own career opportunities in law, to help them see the range of topics that can come up in this intersection of health care and housing? The law firm's representative on the panel has more than 20 lawyers in the firm who work solely on senior housing market legal issues.
On that last issue, entertainment licensing, I was chatting after the program with a non-lawyer administrator of a nursing and rehab center in New York, who had asked the panel about whether nonprofits "have" to pay licensing fees when they play music and movies for residents. The panelists did not have time to go into detail, but they said their own clients have decided it was often wisest to "pay to play" for movies and videos. Copyright rules and the growing efforts to ensure payments are the reasons.
The administrator and I chatted more, and she said her business has been bombarded lately by letters from various sources seeking to "help" her company obtain licenses, but she wanted to know more about why. For the most part, the exceptions to licensing requirements depend on the fairly broad definition of "public" performances, and not on whether the provider is for-profit or nonprofit.
It turns out that LeadingAge, along with other leading industry associations, negotiated a comprehensive licensing agreement for showing movies and videos in "Senior Living and Health Care Communities" in 2016. Details, including discussion of copyright coverage issues for entertainment in various kinds of care settings, are here.
November 1, 2017 in Current Affairs, 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, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, October 30, 2017
Over the Halloween weekend, I arrived in New Orleans for overlapping annual meetings involving law and aging issues. Whoa! The Big Easy can be a crazy place at this time of the year! Once I recovered from mistaking the annual "Voodoo Festival" at one end of the convention center for the meetings sponsored by LeadingAge and the National Continuing Care Residents Association (NaCCRA) at the other end, I was safely back among friends. (I suspect a better comedienne than I am could come up with a good "undead" joke here!)
Settling down to work, I participated in half-day NaCCRA brainstorming sessions on Saturday and Sunday. Members of the NaCCRA board and other community representatives worked to identify potential barriers to growth of this segment of senior housing. Why is it that there is still so little public understanding of communities that are purpose-designed to meet a wide range of interests, housing and care needs for seniors who are thinking about how best to maximize their lives and their financial investments over the next 10, 15, 20 or more years?
During the Sunday session led by Brad Breeding of MyLifeSite.net, we heard how Brad's experience as a financial planning advisor for his older clients (who were eager for advice on how to evaluate contracts and financial factors when considering communities in North Carolina), led him and a business partner to develop a more nationwide internet platform for comparative information and evaluations.
I first wrote about Brad's concept on this Blog in 2013 when his My LifeSite company was just getting started, and it is exciting to see how far it has come in less than 5 years. They now offer a searchable data base on over 1,000 continuing care and life plan communities. Best of all, they have managed to stay remarkably independent and objective in the information they offer, and have both consumer and providers as customers for their information. They haven't gone down the slippery slope of reselling potential resident information to providers as "leads."
One audience member, a CCRC resident, who is frustrated about a lack of lawyers in her area with knowledge about the laws governing CCRCs, asked "is there a way to get more 'elder law' attorneys to understand regulations and contracts governing this part of the market so as to be informed advisors for prospective residents seeking objective advice?"
I believe the answer is "yes," particularly if current clients in CCRC-dense areas reach out to Elder Law Sections of Bar Associations in their states, suggest hot topics, and offer to work together on Continuing Legal Ed programs to develop that expertise. I know that almost every year at the annual summer 2-day-long Elder Law Institute in Pennsylvania offers breakout sections for lawyers on the latest laws, cases, and regulations affecting individuals in CCRC settings. Indeed, for "future" attorneys I often use CCRC contracts and related issues as teaching tools in my 1L basic Contracts course.
Friday, October 13, 2017
The National Guardianship Association takes the understandable position that "guardians are entitled to reasonable compensation for their services," while bearing in mind "at all times the responsibility to conserve the person's estate when making decisions regarding providing guardianship services" and in setting their fees. See NGA Standard 22 on Guardianship Service Fees.
Should there be "schedules" for fees, such as hourly fees, or maximum fees? Modern courts often struggle with questions about how to determine fees, and some states, such as Pennsylvania, have a fairly flexible list of common law (not statutory) factors for the court to consider.
In a April 2017 trial court opinion in Chester County, PA, for example, the court reviewed $54k in fees for the lawyer appointed to serve as guardian, and another $13k in fees for an attorney the guardians had hired. According to the court, "Neither had sought leave of court prior to paying these sums out of the principal of the estate; the court learned of this when its auditor reviewed the annual report wherein these payments were disclosed." The ward in question was 87-years old and a resident in a skilled nursing faciility, with dementia and other health issues. The court struggled with the bills, commenting the format used was "inordinately difficult to follow" and at least on first review seemed "high for ten (10) months." For guidance in evaluating the bills, the court did "two things. It first searched the dearth of cases available for any guidance." It also called the individuals to discuss the billing formats and learn more about the work completed.
The Pennsylvania precedent was almost exclusively unpublished opinions, often from trial courts. The Chester County court recounted some of the history of guardianships, from English times to colonial courts to the present, concluding, "In any event, no reported decisions have been located concerning professional compensation of guardians of the persons. Apparently, society had no need of their services until more recent times."
Ultimately, Chester County Court of Common Pleas's Judge Tunnell approved the fees, finding "a number of untoward events which transpired during the year in question," including a serious injury the ward sustained from a fall in the nursing home, additional health related concerns, the decision to relocate her to a different nursing home, and difficulties in selling the home that had remained empty for more than year. The case had a history of accounting disputes, as evidenced by a 2013 decision by the same judge, although it did not appear anyone had challenged the latest fees reviewed sua sponte by the court in the 2017 decision.
In another Pennsylvania opinion, this time from an appellate court but also unpublished, the court observed, apparently with approval, that in Allegheny County, the Guardianship Department in the Orphan's Court uses "court investigators" to review guardians' requests for payment of fees from the incapacitated person's estate. See e.g., In re Long, Superior Court of Pennsylvania, February 14, 2017 (not officially reported).
I'm curious whether our readers have thoughts on "scheduled" fees for guardians?
Monday, October 2, 2017
The case of Fisher v. King, in federal court in Pennsylvania, strikes me as unusual on several grounds. It is a civil rights case, alleging malicious prosecution, arising from an investigation of transferred funds from elderly parents, one of whom was in a nursing home, diagnosed with "dementia and frequent confusion."
Son-in-law John Fisher was financial advisor for his wife's parents, both of whom were in their 80s. He and his wife were charged with "theft by deception, criminal conspiracy, securing execution of documents by deception and deceptive/fraudulent business practices" by Pennsylvania criminal authorities, following an investigation of circumstances under which Fisher's mother-in-law and her husband transferred almost $700k in funds to an account allegedly formed by Fisher with his wife and sister-in-law as the only named account owners. A key allegation was that at the time of the transfer, the father-in-law was in a locked dementia unit, where he allegedly signed a letter authorizing the transfer, prepared by Fisher, but presented to him by his wife, Fisher's mother-in-law. The mother-in-law later challenged the transaction as contrary to her understanding and intention.
Son-in-law Fisher, his wife, and his wife's sister were all charged with the fraud counts. They initially raised as defense that the transactions were part of the mother's larger financial plan, including a gift by the mother to her daughters, but not to her son, their brother.
As described in court documents, shortly before trial on the criminal charges the two sisters apparently agreed to return the funds to their mother, and, with the "aggrieved party" thus made whole, Fisher and his wife entered into a Non-Trial Disposition that resulted in dismissed of all criminal charges. At that point, you might think that everyone in the troubled family would wipe their brows, say "phew," and head back to their respective homes.
Not so fast. Fisher then sued the Assistant District Attorney and the investigating police officer in federal court alleging violations under Section 1983 -- malicious prosecution and abuse of process.
October 2, 2017 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
Recently, our law school's Community Law Clinic represented a woman who had been living with her brother for more than a year at his 2-bedroom rental apartment. The landlord was fully aware of the situation. Both brother and sister were 70+, and the sister's presence meant that the brother had appropriate assistance, including assistance in paying his bills (and rent!) on time. However, a few weeks ago the brother was hospitalized on an emergency basis, and then required substantial time in a rehabilitation setting, and may not be able to return to his apartment.
What's the problem? When the landlord learned that the brother had been living away from the apartment for several weeks, and was not likely to return, the landlord notified the sister she could not "hold over" and eventually began eviction proceedings against her. Fortunately, the Clinic was able to use state landlord-tenant law to gain some time for the sister to find alternative housing (and to arrange for her brother's possessions to be moved), but both brother and sister were unhappy with the compelled move.
Lots of lessons here, including the need to read leases carefully to determine what that contract says about second tenants, who aren't on the lease. In this situation, the landlord's attempted ouster was probably triggered by the sister making a few reasonable "requests" for improvements to the apartment. The landlord didn't want a "demanding" resident!
The question of "rights" of non-tenant residents happens often in rental housing -- without necessarily being tied to age.
I was thinking about this when I read a recent New York Times column, which offered an additional legal complication -- New York City's rent control laws, and the needs for "dementia-friendly" housing, that can involve caregivers. See Renting a Second Apartment for a Spouse Under Care.
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Dispute Between Texas Senior Living Providers Sheds Light on Marketing Labels Such as "Assisted Living"
We have written on many legal issues that arise from the attempt by the senior care living industry to market their housing products. For example, see here, here and here for coverage of recent disputes and proposals affecting so-called "assisted living" or "personal care" providers.
Recently In Texas, two competitors have been arguing over the definition of assisted living.
In LMV-AL Ventures, LLC d/b/a The Harbor at Lakeway vs. Lakeway Overlook, LLC., a licensed assisted living facility, Harbor, is attempting to block operations by a new competitor, LTIL, arguing that despite the competitor's attempts to self-identify as offering only "independent living," it is really an unlicensed assisted living community. Harbor earlier had negotiated with the developers of the large-scale community for a deed restriction that would have prevented a competitor offering "assisted living" from moving in.
On May 20, 2017, the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas denied Harbor's motion for preliminary injunctive relief, concluding that Harbor had failed to satisfy its burden to establish "a substantial likelihood of success on the merits."
Part of what is interesting in this dispute is the magnitude of Harbor's efforts to prove their theory that LTIL was an assisted living community in disguise. Harbor hired a private investigator to pose as a prospective client for LTIL. The investigator tape-recorded a sales representative for LTIL.
Arguably, it seems the representative walked a very narrow line between emphasizing ways in which the planned community would meet the assistance needs of an older and potentially disabled client, while also attempting to characterize the menu of services available for purchase from an on-site home-health company as more affordable than the similar services offered by an "assisted living" facility.
During the meeting, Ms. Parker described some of the amenities and services LTIL expected to offer. She explained that LTIL intended to offer three meals a day for residents prepared by an onsite chef, housekeeping, and transportation services. . . . Ms. Parker also described how LTIL features 140 apartments with a variety of floor plans. . . . Ms. Parker stated Capitol [a "home health provider compamy]would be renting space inside LTIL and could provide care such as bathing assistance an elderly resident might need. . . . She indicated personnel would staff the concierge desk twenty-four hours a day and residents would be given a pendant to call for assistance.
Ms. Parker also explained the difference between LTIL and an assisted living facility. According to Ms. Parker, “with[ ] assist[ed] living you're paying a little bit more money but you're also getting care givers that are there on site, uh, all hours of the day. ... and you kind of pay for, the different services that you need. Some medication reminders, bathing and stuff like that. Uh, our community is an independent living.... so the residents that live there are pretty much independent. We don't provide caregivers to help do these things all the time.” . . . Ms. Parker further described how a resident may later need to move to a place that “can give her more care or an assisted living [facility]” when she needs more help.
Monday, September 18, 2017
In a case with sad facts, the lower court in Smith v. Smith certified a question to the Florida Supreme court as follows:
"Where the fundamental right of marry has not been removed from a ward [under state guardianship law], does the statute require the ward to obtain approval from the court prior to exercising the right to marry, without which the marriage is absolutely void, or does such failure render the marriage voidable, as court approval could be conferred after the marriage?"
During the guardianship proceeding at issue, apparently the original court had not specifically addressed the right to marry. In light of that fact, in its ruling on August 31, 2017, the Florida Supreme Court answered a slightly different issue, because it viewed the "right to marry" as being tied to the "right to contract," which had been expressly removed from the ward.
The Florida Supreme Court ruled that "where the right to contract has been removed [under Florida guardianship law], the ward is not required to obtain court approval prior to exercising the right to marry, but court approval is necessary before such a marriage can be given legal effect."
Counsel representing the wife of the incapacitated "husband," argued that, in effect, such ratification had already happened, during a proceeding where the guardianship judge had made comments treating the marriage as "fact." The Supreme Court disagreed:
Although the invalid marriage between Glenda and Alan is capable of ratification under [Florida law], it is unlikely that the Legislature intended for “court approval” to consist merely of acknowledging the existence of a marriage certificate and commenting on the alleged marriage, without issuing an order ratifying the marriage or conducting a hearing to verify that the ward understands the marriage contract, desires the marriage, and that the relationship is not exploitative. Therefore, we conclude the guardianship court's statements here were not sufficient to approve the marriage. However, the parties are not foreclosed from seeking court approval based on our decision today.
The ward in the Smith case was not alleged to be older or elderly; rather, the determination of his lack of legal capacity followed a head injury in a car accident. Recognizing the larger implications about validity of a marriage occurring during a guardianship, however, the Real Property Probate Section and the Elder Law Section of the Florida Bar and the Florida chapter of the National Association of Elder Law Attorneys submitted amicus briefs, arguing generally in favor of a ward's right to marry and urging the Supreme Court to approve post-marriage ratification by the guardianship court.
Thursday, September 14, 2017
How well-prepared are you for financing your retirement? Do you know your family's finances? The New York Times examined the situations that may be faced by women who are older who are not involved in the handling of their family's finances. Helping Women Over 50 Face Their Financial Fears covers a lecture series, Women and Wills, designed specifically for women over 50 that cover a variety of topics, including estate planning. health care, insurance, long term care, business succession planning and more. The founders are well aware that some women may not be up to speed on their family's finances, or other circumstances such as a spouse's illness, may present challenges for them. The founders plan to take their lecture series on the road, nationwide, and publish a book on the importance of planning.
Thanks to Professor Naomi Cahn for sending a link to the article.
Thursday, July 27, 2017
The inheritance system is beset by formalism. Probate courts reject wills on technicalities and refuse to correct obvious drafting mistakes by testators. These doctrines lead to donative errors, or outcomes that are not in line with the decedent’s donative intent. While scholars and reformers have critiqued the intent-defeating effects of formalism in the past, none have examined the resulting distribution of donative errors and connected it to broader social and economic inequalities. Drawing on egalitarian theories of distributive justice, this Article develops a novel critique of formalism in the inheritance law context. The central normative claim is that formalistic wills doctrines should be reformed because they create unjustified inequalities in the distribution of donative errors. In other words, probate formalism harms those who attempt to engage in estate planning without specialized legal knowledge or the economic resources to hire an attorney. By highlighting these distributive concerns, this Article reorients inheritance law scholarship to the needs of the middle class and crystallizes distributive arguments for reformers of the probate system.
When I teach Wills, Trusts & Estates, I always include a few of the latest news articles or case reports that focus on LegalZoom or other, less high-profile on-line document drafting venues that are used directly by consumers. Alex's article examines the implications of formalism for this important reality. Thanks, Alex!
Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Kiplinger has a nifty quiz for you to test your knowledge about estate planning. The quiz, What Do You Know about Wills and Trusts? Test Your Estate-Planning Smarts consists of 10 multiple choice questions with explanations once you have answered a specific question. Take the quiz - it only takes about 5 minutes. Your results are instantaneous and you can compare your knowledge against the rest of us (the average is 7 correct answers out of 10). If you teach Trusts & Estates, this would be a good exercise to give during the first class!