Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Has Acceptance of Same Sex Marriage Created Opportunities for Recognition of Other "Family Relationships?"
Columbia Law Professors Elizabeth S. Scott and Robert E. Scott have a new article, "From Contract to Status: Collaboration and the Evolution of Novel Family Relationships." They describe the successful movement to achieve marriage rights for LGBT couples as creating potential opportunities for recognition of other legal relationships that do not depend on "traditional" notions of marriage or family, such as "cohabiting couples and their children, voluntary kin groups, multigenerational groups, and polygamists."
In analyzing relationships that may gain greater legal recognition, the authors examine the possible influence of statutory obligations, including Pennsylvania's filial support laws used to impose care obligations on adult children, or more recent statutes granting visitation rights to grandparents:
"Probably the strongest candidate for full family status is the linear family group composed of grandparent(s), parent(s), and child(ren). It is clear that this familiar type of extended family can function satisfactorily to fulfill family functions. Further, the genetic bond among the members, together with well-defined family roles, reinforces already existing norms of commitment and caring. The primary challenge for these extended families may be the creation of networks with other similar families pursue their goals of increasing public support and attaining official family status.More complex multigenerational groups pose a greater challenge because they are less familiar to the public and less likely to be bound by family-commitment norms than are linear family groups. Partly for this reason, regulators may find it more difficult to verify the family functioning of these unconventional multigenerational groups."
The article was published in the Columbia Law Review, March 2015.
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
In Draper v. Colvin, petitioner sought judicial review of SSA's denial of her application for SSI benefits. Her claim was sympathetic, as "[e]ighteen-year-old Stephany Draper suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident in June 2006."
In an admittedly "hard line" ruling on March 3, the 8th Circuit rejected her argument that her parents' intent to establish a valid third-party-settled special needs trust, using proceeds from a settlement of a personal injury suit on her behalf, should permit her to claim SSI.
The ruling means that over $400,000 will be treated as "available resources," thus requiring spend down before she would be eligible for benefits. The court explained (minus citations):
Admittedly, some evidence in the record supports Draper's claim that her parents intended to act in their individual capacities. Draper's parents identified themselves individually as settlors and trustees, and the trust document explicitly states that it was established “pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1396p(d)(4)(A)," a provision which notes that a third party, such as a parent, must create the special needs trust for the benefit of the disabled person. Nevertheless, as discussed [earlier in the opinion], other facts provide substantial evidence to support the conclusion that Draper's parents acted using the power of attorney when establishing the trust.
The Court continued on to its tough bottom line:
March 10, 2015 in Cognitive Impairment, Estates and Trusts, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Property Management, Social Security, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Sunday, March 1, 2015
This week, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the latest challenge to the ACA, in King v. Burwell. The New York Times offers historical perspective about an earlier journey to enact federal legislation that mandated the nation's first broad health care coverage, the Medicare program:
Lyndon B. Johnson was often derided for being egocentric, but when it came time to sign his landmark bill creating Medicare, 50 years ago this July, he graciously insisted on sharing the credit with the 81-year-old Harry Truman. At almost the last moment, Johnson decided to change the location from Washington to Truman’s presidential library in Independence, Mo.
During the ceremony, Johnson noted that in 1945, the newly installed President Truman had called for national health insurance, planting “the seeds of compassion and duty which have today flowered into care for the sick, and serenity for the fearful.” Johnson then presented his host with the nation’s first Medicare card. Deeply moved, Truman later wrote in a letter to Johnson that the ceremony was “the highlight of my post-White House days.”
For more details, read "LBJ and Truman: The Bond That Helped Forge Medicare."
For more on this week's Supreme Court challenge, from the Washington Post, see "Five Myths About King v. Burwell."
Friday, February 27, 2015
Texas attorney Renée C. Lovelace has literally written the book -- a guidebook -- on Pooled Trust Options. Renée was a recent guest speaker at Penn State's Dickinson Law, appearing before students in an advanced seminar on planning techniques. Indeed, our students had specifically asked to hear from experienced practitioners on special needs trusts, and with the help of the National Elder Law Foundation we were able to host a nationally known speaker to do just that.
Renée (third from the left, in blue) helped our students identify appropriate uses of pooled trusts, such as where the beneficiary's needs could be uniquely well-served by a trustee who is familiar with the challenges sometimes encountered in managing assets on behalf of persons with disabilities.
While the special needs beneficiary may be frustrated by a manager's handling of "his" (or "her") money, sometimes it is the family that has questions about application of the law. Recently I was reading a New Jersey case decision, where a family was challenging the state's attempt to seek reimbursement for medical and care expenses expended by the state, following the death of their disabled daughter. At the core of the dispute was what appeared to be a misunderstanding on the part of the family about the nature of their daughter's special needs trust, which they were describing as a pooled trust. The court pointed out, that in the absence of a nonprofit manager, the trust could not be deemed a (d)(4)(C) trust or "pooled" trust, that would have allowed assets remaining after the death of the daughter to stay in the trust for the benefit of other disabled persons, rather than be subject to the state's reimbursement claim.
Thus, the case is a reminder that pooled trusts, properly created and managed are usually drafted as special needs trusts (SNTs). However, not all SNTs are pooled trusts. Or as Renée explains so well in her thorough guidebook:
Sunday, February 22, 2015
The first White House Conference on Aging Regional Forum was held on February 19, 2015 in Tampa Florida. The morning featured comments by the WHCOA Executive Director Nora Super and remarks by Cecilia Munoz, Assistant to the President and Director, Domestic Policy Council. Two panels followed, with comments by panelists on the 4 topics of emphasis for the 2015 WHCOA, healthy aging, long term services and supports, retirement security and elder justice. In the afternoon, participants were divided into working groups for those 4 topics, where they discussed priorities, obstacles, and actions. Representatives from each working group presented the group's topic recommendations in a closing panel presentation moderated by Kathy Greenlee, Administrator for the Administration on Community Living and the Assistant Secretary for Aging. In person attendance was invitation only, but the event was live webcast through HHS. The next regional forum is set for Phoenix, Arizona on March 31st. Visit the WHCOA forums website a day or so before the event to register for the live webcast.
February 22, 2015 in Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Programs/CLEs, Retirement, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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?