Thursday, February 19, 2015
Should an Individual's "Vulnerability" be a Defining Criterion for Social Welfare Policy or Services?
Emory Law Professor Martha Fineman, long known for her feminist jurisprudence, has attracted increasing attention for her work on specific concepts of dependency and vulnerability. Her 2008 analysis of vulnerability, rather than, for example, gender or race, as a tool to shape a more responsive state and a more egalitarian society, has been seminal.
Syracuse Law Professor Nina Kohn, in her latest work, "Vulnerability Theory and the Role of Government," notes the "attractiveness" of vulnerability theory, but pushes back against the growing reliance on it as a policy tool, using her own understanding of old-age related government services as the basis for comparison. She raises a serious concern about the potential for the current definition and focus on vulnerability to promote "unduly paternalistic laws." For example, Professor Kohn writes:
"Vulnerability theory as currently articulated would focus attention on maximizing safety and security without adequately considering the impact of potential laws and policies on individual autonomy, or how a sense of autonomy may actually contribute to an individual’s safety and security. This effect is particularly problematic in the context of evaluating laws that seek to protect individuals from entering into or maintaining personal relationships perceived to be unsavory, as is the case with many of the policies designed to protect older adults from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. This is because the autonomy being undermined is the autonomy of the person whom the state is trying to help; since undermining an individual’s autonomy can harm that person in both tangible and intangible ways, the state’s actions are prone to being at least partially counterproductive. Thus, vulnerability theory might be of greater prescriptive value if it distinguished between infringements on autonomy where the person whose autonomy is being sacrificed is the supposed beneficiary of the infringement and infringements on autonomy designed to benefit another."
Professor Kohn's article, published in the most recent issue of Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, uses recent changes in California law to demonstrate a framework for revision of the current theory of vulnerability, with a goal of identifying a "standards based approach" for specific government response.
Monday, February 16, 2015
The themes for the two day conference are:
November 12 (Day 1): Connecting Across Discipline and Geography:
Join practitioners from law, social work, health care, finance, non-profit and other sectors from across the country and around the world to talk about the challenges and issues involved in working with older adults. Particular topic areas we are seeking include:
- elder abuse,
- assisted living and retirement housing,
- financial abuse,
- age friendly communities, and
- outreach strategies.
November 13 (Day 2): Key Practice Challenges and Hot Topics in Legal
Explore issues engaged in powers of attorney and substitute decision-making, health care decision-making and end of life care, mental capacity and dementia, elder abuse and neglect, and other challenging subjects that arise in representing older adults and their families.
Contact National Director Krista Bell with any questions, and additional details, including submission information are available here.
February 16, 2015 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, International, Retirement, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Sunday, February 15, 2015
George Washington University Law Professor Naomi Cahn sent us a link to an interesting study that seeks to demonstrate the impact of income equality -- and wage stagnation for low and middle income workers -- on the long-term solvency of Social Security.
In a release accompanying the release of its study, the Center for American Progress (CAP) explains:
"Specifically, CAP’s issue brief finds that the trust funds would be $753.8 billion larger had the average worker’s wages kept pace with productivity growth between 1983 and 2013, thereby reducing the expected 75-year shortfall of the trust funds by 6.8 percent. The brief also shows that the trust funds would be greater by more than $1.1 trillion had the maximum taxable wage base remained fixed at 90 percent of earnings over the same time period, reducing the expected 75-year shortfall by 10.1 percent. Both scenarios would have added years of additional solvency to the Social Security trust funds. These findings come on top of Social Security trustees’ projections that, looking ahead, freezing the taxable wage base at 90 percent today would on its own close more than one-quarter of the projected 75-year shortfall....
CAP’s brief outlines how, as a result of the [existing] cap on taxable earnings--$118,500 for 2015—Social Security’s funding is tied directly to the full wages that low- and middle-income workers earn—but not to the full wages that higher-earning workers receive. The brief finds that in 2013, the top 1 percent of earners took home nearly the same share of the nation’s total wage income as the entire bottom half of workers. As a result, income has shifted away from workers whose full earnings are subject to payroll taxes and toward high-income workers whose additional dollars are exempt."
Monday, January 26, 2015
National Senior Citizens Law Center, an important advocate for low income seniors in the U.S. since its inception in 1972, has announced a new identity, "Justice in Aging." But, don't worry, this change represents a deepening of their long-standing commitment (including a cherished role in training and education of senior advocates, including free webinars). As explained in news releases:
"The new name and accompanying 'look' will more accurately reflect the nature of our work, build on our legacy of impact, and open the door to engage more supporters and partners across the country. And it is a LOT easier to say and remember!
Our new name will be Justice in Aging. Our new tagline will be Fighting Senior Poverty Through Law.... Our new website will be www.justiceinaging.org. We will begin using the new name on March 2, 2015.... While our name is changing, our work will remain the same. As income inequality increases across the nation and the population ages, senior poverty is growing to unprecedented levels.... We still serve serve as a resource for advocates on important programs like Medicare, Medicaid, LTSS, Social Security and SSI."
We wish the hardworking staff of NSCLC -- or now JiA, perhaps? -- all the best as they roll out their new identity, and in their continuing commitment to advocating for seniors across the nation.
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
"The Coming Congressional War Over Social Security Disability," by Forbes' Howard Gleckman, is recommend reading from Elder Law Attorney Morris Klein. Here's a taste:
"A technical rule change engineered by House Republicans on the first day of the new Congress may signal the beginning of a major battle over the future of the Social Security Disability program—and, more broadly, other federal programs for people with disabilities.
The immediate issue is the fate of the SSDI trust fund, which is expected to become exhausted in 2016. If new funding is not found, SSDI benefits will be cut by about 20 percent for 9 million workers, 2 million of their children, and about 160,000 spouses."
Seems like just yesterday we were complaining about Congressional inaction and gridlock. Could it be that those were the "good ol' days?"
Thursday, January 8, 2015
Check out this new report on SSA's Rep Payee system. The Administrative Conference of the United States released the report, SSA Representative Payee: Survey of State Guardianship Laws and Court Practices. ("The Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) is an independent federal agency dedicated to improving federal administrative processes through consensus-driven applied research, and provision of non-partisan expert advice and recommendations to federal agencies." (report at page 1)).
This report was done pursuant to a request in 2014 by SSA to ACUS to learn more about various state guardianship laws and the court practices. ACUS did this by:
(1) carrying out legal research on state laws nationwide governing guardian selection, monitoring, and sanctions; (2) conducting a survey that captures information on state court practices and procedures relating to guardianships, and analyzing the results of the survey; ... and (3) conducting interviews with up to nine state organizations or governmental entities with expertise in, or that provides services related to, adult protective services or foster care in order to evaluate their respective practices related to guardianship and benefits monitoring.
The report includes key findings, trends and "common themes and observations." The summary of findings runs for 4 pages and addresses a variety of topics, including guardian selection, sanctions and removals, court monitoring, outreach and interaction, and caseloads.
The key findings section recognizes the variations amongst the states, but still offers useful information
The study presented challenges because a number of identified problems are local and unique to a particular court within a particular state, or with a specific SSA office. Problems experienced by courts in major cities may be quite different than problems experienced in small or rural courts... The strategy behind this project was to cast a broad net and seek a large respondent pool to collect a dataset that would provide a rich description of the issues... The fact that there are over 850 court responses and over 140 guardian responses means that we can glean a lot of useful information in terms of the nature of the problems, even if some of those problems are localized. The results of this study should be a good starting point for SSA; and the agency should be able to assess and act on any serious problems, albeit localized ones.
The report identifies 5 common areas of concern, including inconsistent electronic information and inconsistency in dealing with various SSA offices, variations in e-filing procedures, and the lack of a nationwide database of guardians or guardianship cases.
Monday, December 15, 2014
The Washington Post has had several articles over the last two years, examining records of debt collection effforts and individual cases where "overpayments" are alleged by the Social Security Administration, leading to claims not just against the direct beneficiaries of the benefits, but also against family members. Sometimes the claims are made many years after the alleged payments took place, making it hard for families to understand the basis of the claims or to defend against the claims. In April of 2014, as we summarized here, following protests the SSA announced it was immediately suspending its intercept program -- used to target IRS tax refunds -- for purposes of stale debt collection. As I commented then, it seemed SSA was more concerned about the government's "self help" approach to debt collection, than answering questions about how and why it was seeking refunds from children of the alleged debtors.
Is this a SSA-specific form of "filial support" claims, where children are liable for certain debts of their parents, or are the claims based on a theory of indirect benefit to the children?
George Washington Law Professor Naomi Cahn alerted us to the latest news on renewed debt collection by SSA from the Washington Post. (Thanks, Naomi!) Some of the same families who were granted refunds of intercepts earlier in the year, were once again asked to pay their ancestors' debts. Five of the families have filed a lawsuit to seek answers, and the Post has also asked for an explanation, apparently with less than satisfactory results:
"Asked to explain the about-face, Social Security officials said they would respond only to written questions. Late Friday, four days after The Post provided questions, the agency issued this statement from spokesman Mark Hinkle: 'We are finalizing our review of the Treasury offset program, but cannot discuss specifics due to the pending litigation.' The offset program is Treasury’s effort to collect on debts to Social Security and other agencies by confiscating Americans’ tax refunds."
For more on the controversy, read Marc Fisher's article, "Social Security Continuing to Pursue Claims for Old Debts Against Family Members" from the Washington Post.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
I've heard about the backlog for SSD appeals, but I had no idea how much of a backlog exists until I read the story in the October 19, 2014 Washington Post. Waiting on a Social Security disability appeal? Get in line — a very long line brings a new perspective on waiting lists. The story reports that there are 990,399 (you read that right, 990,399) SSD appeals waiting for ALJ hearings. We have been hearing a lot about the backlog with the VA (526,000 according to the story) so why haven't we heard about the SSDI case backlog? Want to know how long it takes for a backlog of almost one million cases to occur? According to the Post story, the backlog has been going on since President Ford's administration, but a significant increase occurred between 2008-20014. Why did this occur? "[T]he system became, in effect, too big to fix: Reforms were hugely expensive and so logistically complicated that they often stalled, unfinished. What’s left now is an office that costs taxpayers billions and still forces applicants to wait more than a year — often, without a paycheck — before delivering an answer about their benefits." As well, factor in the "Great Recession" and Boomers. The article also mentions budget cuts to SSA as well as the government shutdown in 2013.
A sad irony-the story quotes one of the ALJs in S. Florida who had 2 claimants die before their appeals were heard, but the ALJ still had to hear the case of one, because if the decedent were determined to have been disabled, then the decedent's surviving child might receive benefits.
Although SSD waiting lists outnumber both VA and Patents, according to the story, the wait time to decision is shorter than that for the VA and Patent office. The SSA ALJs "are the moral centerpiece of this system: a symbol that the government intends to apply the old American ideal of due process before the law to the vast new caseloads of the American welfare state. They are also the system’s biggest problem — a 40-year-old clog in the pipe." A law prof at GW, Richard Pierce, takes the position "that the government should eliminate the judges altogether and just let the bureaucrats with the paperwork decide. [Professor Pierce] said that the main thing these hearings bring to the process — that face-to-face interaction between judges and applicants — often adds only pathos, not useful information."
A push to shrink the backload resulted in a drop of both cases and wait time in 2010 but a review of the decisions noted an uptick in the award of benefits. It would seem, from reading this article, that part of the problem is outdated requirements and resources available to the judges (or lack thereof). SSA has lessened the pressure on the ALJs to some extent, so now the ALJs are "limited ... to 720 cases a year and [SSA] imposed new checks to make sure the “yes” decisions are as well thought-out as the 'noes.'" The uptick in benefits awards has dropped, with the award of benefits at 44%. Despite the fact that SSSA has hired more ALJs, the backlog is pushing one million. The Post reports that there were an additional 13,000 added in the first two weeks of October! The story concludes by noting that the backlog isn't limited to just the ALJs. The Appeals Council also has a backlog: "There are 150,383 people waiting for an Appeals Council decision. The average wait there is 374 days."
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
The New York Times ran a story on October 11, 2014 about the Dutch pension system. No Smoke, No Mirrors: The Dutch Pension Plan focuses on the straightforward way that the Netherlands runs their pension program. "The Dutch system rests on the idea that each generation should pay its own costs — and that the costs must be measured accurately if that is to happen." The Dutch system works well, but it isn't without costs. The workers put away almost 2% more than U.S. workers but the Americans are including Social Security, which is not intended to fully replace pre-retirement earnings, but instead should "provide just 40 percent of a middle-class worker’s income in retirement."
The article notes that Dutch employers, like those in the U.S., contribute as well, but usually with a ceiling on contributions. Seem odd to have it capped? The article offers that this is actually an incentive for employers to stay with the plans. There's also another advantage to the Dutch system-if the markets do well and the pension has a surplus, the employer can't access it.
There are additional provisions that ensure success and checks and balances put into the system. Check out the article.
Friday, August 22, 2014
Articles recently posted by U.S. law school academics on the Social Science Research Network's (SSRN's) Elder Law Studies network:
- "Rethinking ERISA's Promise of Income Security in a World of 401(k) Plans," by Prof. Larry Frolik (Pitt Law), to be published in the Connecticut Insurance Law Journal (2014)
- "Making Mediation Work in Guardianship Proceedings: Protecting and Enhancing the Voices, Rights and Well-being of Elders," by Prof. Jennifer L. Wright (St. Thomas Law), for the Journal of International Aging, Law and Policy (2014)
- "Storm Surges, Disaster Planning and Vulnerable Populations at the Urban Periphery: Imagining a Resilient New York after Superstorm Sandy," by Prof. Andrea McCardle (CUNY Law) to be published in the Idaho Law Review (2014)
- "Letters Non-Testamentary," by Deborah Gordon (Drexel Law), to be published in Kansas Law Review (2014)
- "Complex Decision-Making and Cognitive Aging Call for Enhanced Protection of Seniors Contemplating Reverse Mortgages," by Profs. Debra Stark (John Marshall Law), Jessica Choplin (Depaul), Joseph Mikels (Depaul), and Amber McDonnell (John Marshall Law), for the Arizona State Law Journal (2014)
Thursday, August 21, 2014
We have blogged several times on articles about whether Americans are "retirement ready". A recent article published by Rand offers good news (or at least better news) about retirement readiness. The recent research brief, More Americans May Be Adequately Prepared for Retirement Than Previously Thought, concludes "that, overall, about 71 percent of individuals ages 66–69 are adequately economically prepared to retire, given expected consumption... [there are] large disparities across subsets of the population and the significant contribution of Social Security to seniors’ financial preparation for retirement [continues]. The key findings from the research explains a bit more:
•Overall, 71 percent of Americans are adequately prepared for retirement: 80 percent of married persons and 55 percent of single persons.
• Those with low education are much less adequately prepared than those with higher levels of education, especially single women.
• Social Security benefits contribute significantly to financial security at older ages.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Jared Bernstein, former chief economist to Vice President Biden and a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, reminds us that is easy -- perhaps a bit too easy -- to blame the federal government for problems. In a piece for the Washington Post, Bernstein points to several successes wrought by Social Security, a program that celebrated its 79th "birthday" on August 14, 2014, including:
• Social Security lifts the incomes of 58 million Americans, and for most of its elderly beneficiaries it’s the single most important income source, accounting for two-thirds of their income on average.
• For more than one-third of retirees on the program, Social Security accounts for at least 90 percent of their income.
• [Figures show] that were it not for Social Security benefits, over 44 percent of the elderly would be poor. With it, that share falls to 9 percent. What’s that again about government programs failing to reduce poverty?
The impact of monthly Social Security benefits on impoverished older persons is demonstrated by this chart from Kathy Ruffing, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
The July, 2014 issue of the Social Security Administration's International Update is now available.
The Update includes articles on Germany's new pension rules, proposals for revamping Australia's social support system, and more.
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Arin Fife, from the family law firm of Boyle and Feinberg in Chicago, offers "Don't Let Divorce Derail Your Retirement Plans: Understanding Your Options Before, During and After Your Marriage" in the Summer issue of the ABA's magazine Family Advocate. She reviews retirement basics, including differences between defined benefit and defined contribution plans, how accounts are valued, how accounts may be divided and addresses what do do with contributions during the divorce proceedings. She reminds that a low-income spouse may be advised to delay a divorce if approaching the ten-year anniversary of the marriage date, thereby maximizing Social Security options based on the stronger earner's SSA record. She warns that some "states consider this an offset against accumulation during marriage. Ask your lawyer for clarification in your state."
Lots of good tips here, including the reminder that if retirement accounts will be divided using a "Qualified Domestic Relations Order" or QDRO, it is important to give the plan administrator an opportunity to review and "pre-approve" the plan, thereby avoiding arguments or surprises after the property division or divorce is complete.
Thursday, July 24, 2014
The CarTalk Guys on National Public Radio have a crazy tradition of breaking their one hour radio program into "three halves" (okay, they have a lot of crazy traditions -- I'm focusing on just one). In that tradition, I'd been thinking about how the practice of "elder law" might also have three halves, but then I realized that perhaps it really has five halves. See what you think.
- In the United States, private practitioners who call themselves "Elder Law Attorneys" usually focus on helping individuals or families plan for legal issues that tend to occur between retirement and death. Many of the longer-serving attorneys with expertise in this area started to specialize after confronting the needs of their own parents or aging family members. They learned -- sometimes the hard way -- about the need for special knowledge of Medicare, Medicaid, health insurance and the significance of frailty or incapacity for aging adults. They trained the next generations of Elder Law Attorneys, thereby reducing the need to learn exclusively from mistakes.
- Closely aligned with the private bar are Elder Law Attorneys who work for legal service organizations or other nonprofit law firms. They have critical skills and knowledge of health-related benefits under federal and state programs. They also have sophisticaed information about the availability of income-related benefits under Social Security. They often serve the most needy of elders. Their commitment to obtain solutions not just for one client, but often for a whole class of older clients, gives them a vital role to play.
- At the state and federal levels, core decisions are made about how to interpret laws affecting older adults. Key decisions are made by attorneys who are hired by a government agency. Their decisions impact real people -- and they keep a close eye on the financial consequences of permitting access to benefits, even if is often elected officials making the decisions about funding priorities. I would also put prosecutors in this same public servant "Elder Law" category, especially prosecutors who have taken on the challenge of responding to elder abuse.
- A whole host of companies, both for-profit and nonprofit, are in the business of providing care to older adults, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, group homes, home-care agencies and so on -- and they too have attorneys with deep expertise in the provider-side of "Elder Law," including knowledge of contracts, insurance and public benefit programs that pay for such services.
- Last, but definitely not least, attorneys are involved at policy levels, looking not only to the present statutes and regulations affecting older adults, but to the future of what should be the legal framework for protection of rights, or imposition of obligations, on older adults and their families. My understanding and appreciation of this sector has increased greatly over the last few years, particularly as I have come to know human rights experts who specialize in the rights of older persons.
Of course, lawyers are not the only persons who work in "Elder Law" fields and it truly takes a village -- including paralegals, social workers, case workers, health care professionals, and law clerks -- to find ways to use the law effectively and wisely. Ironically, at times it can seem as if the different halves of "elder law" specialists are working in opposition to each other, rather than together.
My reason for trying to identify these "Five Halves" of Elder Law is that, as with most of us who teach courses on elder law or aging, I have come to realize I have former students working in all of these divisions, who began their appreciation for the legal needs of older adults while still in law school. Organizing these "halves" may also help in organizing course materials.
I strongly suspect I'm could be missing one or more sectors of those with special expertise in Elder Law. What am I forgetting?
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Mexico and countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America have been working very hard on the question of whether laws are needed to recognize and promote the human rights of older persons. This commitment was demonstrated during the 2014 International Elder Law and Policy Conference in Chicago, by Rosa Bella Caceres Mongelos from Paraguay, as one of the speakers on the panel focused on "Dignity, Equality and Anti-Ageism Rights of Older Persons."
Professor Caceres Mongelos is the current president of the Central Association of Retired Public Servants and Teachers in Paraguay, and has experience as a master teacher, educational administrator, and vocational counselor. She has also taught classes at the university level on leadership. When I asked whether her organization is comparable to AARP in the U.S., which was started by a retired teacher, she laughed and said "maybe some day." I think she would not mind me saying that she's tiny but powerful -- and certainly she is an articulate spokesperson for the issues her country, with a total popularion of 6.8 million, is facing.
Professor Caceras Mongelos has served as a spokesperson for her civil society organization during regional meetings for Latin America and the Caribbean in 2012 and 2013 that led to endorsment of a formal international convention on the rights of older persons.
The participation of Paraguay in international discussions of aging is forward-thinking, as it is actually a comparatively young country in terms of its overall population. Persons aged 60 and over comprise approximately 8% of the population. Recent news reports indicate that more than 66% of its population is less than 30 years old. At the same time, with their citizens already experiencing relatively long-life spans, especially on a comparative basis (average life span is now 75 according to some reports), the country will begin to see the impact of aging as a nation starting in 2038.
The organization headed by Caceres Mongelos has adopted advocacy goals for its members, including health related goals, such as securing free health care (including mobile clinics) for retirees for critical matters such as vision and dental care, and for treatment of cancer and chronic diabetes, all issues recognized as important for the self-esteem of older persons. Her Central Association has a project called "Hogares de Jubliados" or "Homes for the Elderly," with a goal of providing space for as many as 200 persons deemed vulnerable and unprotected. Her organization seeks to "monitor and insure safekeeping of social security funds under control of the treasury" during the current fiscal crisis. A better system of public transportation is another key goal.
She described her Central Association's recent Yellow Ribbon Campaign to re-enforce recognition of the rights of civil services and retirees to be free from pay discrimination under the Constitution of Paraguay. She described the yellow ribbons as symbols for the "struggle to claim solidarity, love, better living and the light of hope for a bearable and dignified old age." Despite the small proportion of Paraguayans currently deemed older -- in their "third age" -- she said "fragility" often characterizes their life conditions, with more than a quarter of the population of older adults illiterate and with only 19% currently receiving any form of income from pension or retirement benefits. In addition, her association stresses that real attention must be paid to the needs of older persons in indigenous communities and Afro-descendants.
In closing, Professor Caceres Mongelos called for an end to procrastination on international recognition of the rights of older persons. She said, "Declaring and implementing the regulations calling for dignity, equality and non-discrimination ... for older persons needs to be achieved as quickly as possible [toward] the goal of improving quality of life and respecting the human rights of older persons."
Sunday, July 20, 2014
The growing significance and scope of "elder law" is demonstrated by the program for the upcoming 2014 Elder Law Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to be held on July 24-25. In addition to key updates on Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans and Social Security law, plus updates on the very recent changes to Pennsylvania law affecting powers of attorney, here are a few highlights from the multi-track sessions (48 in number!):
- Nationally recognized elder law practitioner, Nell Graham Sale (from one of my other "home" states, New Mexico!) will present on planning and tax implications of trusts, including special needs trusts;
- North Carolina elder law expert Bob Mason will offer limited enrollment sessions on drafting irrevocable trusts;
- We'll hear the latest on representing same-sex couples following Pennsylvania's recent court decision that struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriages;
- Julian Gray, Pittsburgh attorney and outgoing chair of the Pennsylvania Bar's Elder Law Section will present on "firearm laws and gun trusts." By coincidence, I've had two people this week ask me about what happens when you "inherit" guns.
Be there or be square! (Who said that first, anyway?)
July 20, 2014 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, Property Management, Retirement, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
An interesting moment for me at the 2014 Internatonal Elder Law and Policy Conference at John Marshall Law School in early July occurred when I asked several speakers from China to comment on recent reports suggesting "filial support" or "family support" is attracting interest of legislators, courts and older persons in China. For example, I shared with them the text, in English and Chinese, from Chinese Law Prof Blog on "Controversy Over Elder Law in China," that included news reports on consideration of laws in Shandong province in northeastern coastal China. If passed the laws would appear to require adult children to maintain "their parents' standard of living at a level at least equal to their own."
My question sparked a vigorous debate among the Chinese participants and quite a few chuckles from the audience as we tried to keep up with the translators. Over the course of the next two days Professor Lihong Tang from the law school at Fuzhou University in Fujian Province, Professor Chey-Nan Hsieh from Chinese Culture University in Taiwan, and Professor Xianri Zhou of South China Normal University School of Law in Shanghai attempted to help me understand. Here is my understanding of several points made during our discussion, a conversation we have agreed to continue via email:
- The population of individuals aged 65 and older in China is already 119 million. From my separate research I know that the older population is projected to continue to grow at a rate of 3.2 percent per year. The percentage of the population deemed older is also increasing, and according to some reports, it is projected to hit 1/6th of the total population by 2018 and possible as high as 1/5th of the total population by 2035. In other words, as Professor Tang explained, at some point in the relatively near future the total number of elderly in China could exceed the total population -- young, middle-aged and old -- of the U.S.
- With these population statistics in mind, they advised caution in making any judgments or predictions about trends based on a single case decision or from news stories reporting about any single family controversy involving support. And of course, this point is valuable to remember in all legal research, but the importance (and challenge) of having an adequate empirical base in China may be even more significant.
- Court actions to mandate younger family members to care for their elders are not a major trend in China. Rather, they emphasized that most families voluntarily provide the majority of care and financial assistance needed by their elders.
- There are efforts to create a stronger public system of income support where necessary to meet basic needs.
- Recent news reports (that received high profile attention in the U.S., such as this 2013 report on CNN) about a Chinese law that would mandate that adult children also "visit" their elderly parents were focusing on a "proposed" law, not one that was enacted.
In addition to my on-going discussion with the law professors at the conference, Yihan Wang, Senior Judge in the People's Court of the Jing'an District in Shanghai, gave a fascinating presentation on "The Path of Judicial Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly in China." He has served for many years as a judge, and is currently in charge of "civil trials, commercial trials, finance trials and elderly trials" in his judicial district in Shanghai. He explained that an "elderly judicial tribunal" was established in 1994, for civil cases in which one or both parties is aged 60 or more. His court recognizes that older adults may have unique needs for legal assistance in disputes, including a potential need for free legal representation or guidance.
After the presentation of his paper via a translator, Judge Yihan Wang provided me with a copy of the English language translation of his paper. Thus, I was able to both hear and read about his examples of cases that have occurred in the Shanghai court:
"For one example, in the disputes of sale contracts of real estate, some adult children sell their parents' apartment and violate their parents' residency by stealing their parents' identification -- or make them sign the contract with the older person is unconscious. In [some] cases, the judge will judge the contract as valid to protect the third-parties' legal rights according to the Property Law. However, in cases involving the older [person], judges will consider more about the buyer's duty of care and the residency rights of the senior. They will be more cautious and much more strict to confirm the effectiveness of the contract. Mainly to protect the older people's residency right."
In contrast to my on-going discussion with the three Chinese law professors who emphasized the voluntary nature of assistance provided by families to their elders, Judge Yihan Wang's paper suggested that some level of litigation or claims review does occur over the issue of "family support," including what he described as efforts to "remind the adult children of their duty." His paper reported that "statistics show that 56% of the claiming alimony cases are closed by conciliation. In most of these cases, after the trials, children go to visit their parents automatically and the family relationship is improved." He emphasized that for older adults, "conciliation not only protects their legal rights and interests, but also maintains their family relationship and brings their children home."
Judge Yihan Wang's paper, in translation, concludes with these words: "China's 5,000-year-old culture emphasizes respect for the elderly, pension, help age virtues, which [are] absorbed by Chinese law and policy concerning the elderly, reflected in the Chinese judicial practice and become the judicial characteristics on protection of the rights and interests of the elderly in China."
Thus, I can see that my efforts to understand the role of "filial support" or "family support" laws in China will continue, especially as it appears that there may be regional differences in how any such laws are used or needed. In most countries I have studied, voluntary assistance, both practical and financial, flowing from adult children to elderly parents, is the norm. What I find interesting is the question of to what extent is "voluntary" filial assistance also encouraged, mandated, or subject to enforcement by laws. Is the 5,000 year tradition of filial piety under sufficient pressure in the 21st century that law is necessary?
Friday, June 20, 2014
I'm at the mid-point in a three-week period of fairly intense focus on elder protection issues.
Last week, I accepted the invitations of Dickinson Law alum Bob Gerhard and Judge Lois Murphy to join them at the Montgomery County Elder Justice Roundtable to discuss practical concerns about elder abuse at the local level. Bob and I conducted two sessions on Powers of Attorney.
This week, I've had the privilege of being part of working sessions of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Elder Law Task Force. Judge Murphy, right, is also a part of this effort. A fascinating mix of trial and appellate level judges, district attorneys, legal aid specialists, solo practitioners, "big firm" lawyers, court administrators, state officials, protective service case workers, social workers (and a couple of us academic types) spent two intense days discussing a year's worth of research on how better to serve the interests and needs of adults who may be at risk of neglect or intentional harm, including financial abuse. Guided by the charge of Justice Debra Todd of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, we're looking to issuance of a comprehensive report and recommendation for actions, probably in the early fall 2014.
Next week, I land in Belfast, Northern Ireland for several days of working group meetings on law and aging topics. On Tuesday, June 24, I am part of a research team's Roundtable discussion on recommendations regarding "social care" for older persons. hosted by the independent Commissioner of Older Persons in Northern Ireland (COPNI). Our team leader for that project is Dr. Joseph Duffy of Queen's University Belfast. The following day, I will attend the COPNI's launch of "Protecting our Elder People in Northern Ireland: A Call for Safeguarding Legislation in Northern Ireland." Commissioner Claire Keatinge and her team have been tireless in pursuing a full agenda of safeguarding, care and dignity goals for seniors. Last winter I worked on research findings and recommendations with team leader Dr. Janet Anand, also of Queens University Beflast, that served as a base for the Safeguarding Law proposals. These two projects have involved amazingly talented scholars from diverse backgrounds, including social work and law in Scotland, England, Wales, Australia and, of course, both the north and south of Ireland. The truth is that I've been an avid "student" during my opportunities in Northern Ireland, often facing the reality that those on the other side of the Atlantic are ahead of the U.S. in thinking about key concepts, especially "social care" goals. I look forward to more work, writing several follow-up articles in collaboration with team members as a result of the rich research environment of the last year.
Following this schedule, I'm probably going to take a break from "daily" blogging for a few weeks. I fear my brain may explode if I don't give it a bit of a rest, and I hear the green hills and fields of Ireland calling to me.
June 20, 2014 in Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Property Management, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, May 29, 2014
Law & Society Association's Annual Meeting is always a feast -- with hundreds of presentations and papers, often with cross-discipline themes and presenters. This year's four day program starts today in Minneapolis. On tap are three elder law-themed sessions hosted by Aging, Law & Society. The session on "Rethinking Elder Law's Rules & Norms" will be chaired by Nina Kohn, Syracuse University.
Scheduled paper presentations include:
- Adult Protective Services and Therapeutic Jurisprudence, by Michael Schindler, Bar-Ilan University;
- Age, Gender and Lifetime Discrmination against Working Women, by Susan Bisom-Rapp, Thomas Jefferson School of Law and Malcolm Sargeant, Middlesex University Business School;
- Effective Affective Forecasting in Older Adult Caregiving, by Eve Brank and Lindsey Wylie, University of Nebraska-Lincoln;
- Sexuality & Incapacity, by Alexander Boni-Saenz, Chicago-Kent College of Law;
- Beyond the Law: Legal Consciousness in Older Age Care Contexts, by Sue Westwood, Keele University
Nancy Knauer of Temple Law School is chairing the session on "Accessing and Experiencing Jusice in Older Age." Presentations include:
- From Vienna to Madrid and Beyond, by Israel Doron, University of Haifa;
- Lessons from Detroit: Retiree Benefits in the Real World, by Susan Cancelosi, Wayne State University Law School;
- Older Persons Use of the European Court of Human Rights, by Benny Spanier, Haifa University;
- Crossing Borders and Barriers: Assessing Older Adults' Access to Legal Advice in the Search for Effective Justice, by Katherine Pearson, Penn State University Dickinson School of Law, Joseph Duffy, Queens University Belfast, and Subhajit Basu, University of Leeds
A workshop on "Ethics of Care and Support in Law and Aging," to be chared by Sue Westwood, Keele University, includes:
- Aging with a Plan: What You Should Consider in Middle Age to Plan for Caregiving and Your Own Old Age, by Sharona Hoffman, Case Western Reserve University;
- An Ethic of Care Critique of the UK Care Bill/Act, by Sarah Webber, University of Bristol;
- Both Property and Pauper: Slaver, Old Age, and the Inverted Logic of Capitalist Exchange, by Alix Lerner, Princeton University;
- Responding to Financial Vulnerability: Advances in Gerotchnology as an Alternative to the Substitute Decision Making Model, by Margaret Hall, Thompson Rivers University and Margaret Easton, Simon Fraser University
An international cast of characters, yes? More soon, with details from the front.