Thursday, April 19, 2018

Sentate Special Committee on Aging Hearing on Guardianships

Yesterday, the Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing on guardians exploiting individuals under guardianship. The hearing, "Abuse of Power: Exploitation of Older Americans by Guardians and Others They Trust.”  offered 4 witnesses, including elder law prof, and reporter of the new Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship & Other Protective Arrangements Act, Associate Dean Nina Kohn. The committee chair and ranking member opened the hearing with their individual statements.  Their statements, along with the witnesses' testimonies, are downloadable as pdfs. There is also a video of the hearing, available here.

April 19, 2018 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Health Care/Long Term Care, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

New Jersey Tackles "Refundable Fee" Issues in Pending CCRC Legislation ... and a Lawsuit

The New Jersey Legislature is considering changes to the state's laws governing "refundable" entrance fee agreements used by some Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs), also known as Life Plan Communities. 

Assembly Bills 2747/880 (and a similar bill in the New Jersey Senate, Senate Bill 1532) would limit the amount of time that CCRCs are permitted to retain "refundable" entrances fees after a resident vacates the facility.  The Assembly's bills are moving first, with significant floor amendments adopted on April 12, 2018.  Refundable entrance fees function, in essence, as a type of interest-free loan by the resident to the community.

The legislative statement accompanying Assembly Bill 2747 explains the original purpose of the proposed changes:

Under current law, a continuing care retirement community may retain an entrance fee for as long as it takes for the unit to be reoccupied by another resident.  Absent a maximum refunding period, there is little incentive for the facility manages to aggressively market any particular unit.  In some instances, a facility has retained the fee for several years after the unit has been vacated, unreasonably delaying the return of the fee.  Further, if the resident has died, an estate may be forced to pay distribution taxes on money representing the fee refund, years before the estate and beneficiaries receive that fee refund.

At the heart of the proposals is a system by which each fully vacated unit would be assigned a "sequential number" that would create an order of priority for payment of refunds, triggered when any refundable fee unit is resold.  Under the changes as originally proposed, the law would take immediate effect once passed.

The April 2018 floor amendments tinker with the language about the timing of the refunds (and my first impression is the language is confusing and could create a potential for manipulation of the order of repayments even after a sequential number has been assigned).  In addition, the floor amendments permit the facility to apply for an "alternate" method of paying refundable entrance fees based on the units' "similarity" of size and other factors; this change favors the facility. The third change delays the law's implementation date for 90 days after enactment, and also provides  that the mandatory sequential numbering system, intended to lead to more timely refunds, would apply only to CCRC agreements entered into on or after the effective date of the newly revised law.  

After catching up on the New Jersey legislature under consideration, it occured to me I should check-in on a New Jersey lawsuit about "refundable" entrance fees. In 2015, in the case of  DeSimone v. Springpoint Senior Living, Inc., the appellate division of the New Jersey Superior Court permitted residents to continue with their case asserting violation of state laws, arising out of the operators' alleged misrepresentation or failure to disclose a practice whereby the outgoing resident's refundable fees could be subject to reduction if the "resale" of that unit to an incoming resident was resold with a lower entrance fee. The appellate division explained in an unpublished opinion:

If Springpoint's staff or brochures distributed to the DeSimone family misrepresented the terms of the contract by the "lesser of" terms, or failing to disclose that the entrance fee was subject to market trends, and that the entrance fees were already being reduced by Springpoint due to market forces, plaintiff may be able to prove its various causes of action, including a violation of the [state's Consumer Fraud Act].  

A clear understanding of this reduction is important because the marketing offices may "discount" entrance fees to attract new residents, hoping to cover operating costs with monthly service fees, including any increases over time.  Refundable entrance fees are typically higher than nonrefundable entrance fees.  In Ms. DeSimone's case, she had paid $159,000, under a 90% refundable fee plan (plus monthly services fees, based on level of care).  She passed away about 16 months later.  The facility allegedly sent her estate a refund check for only $80,136, apparently reflecting, at least in part, the fact that the next resident of her unit paid a discounted entrance fee of $127,000.  

Checking in with Michael Coren, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the Springpoint case, I learned the parties have been actively pursuing discovery, and are nearing the stage where the plaintiffs' attorneys will soon ask for certification of the plaintiffs' class.  Since the original suit was filed, when there were five Springpoint CCRCs in New Jersey, the nonprofit Springpoint holdings have grown, through acquisition of three existing operations.  

These two developments in New Jersey remind me that the reason I added "Contract Law" to my teaching package (replacing Evidence) was because of how much time I was spending looking at contracts and consumer protection issues in elder law matters.  

April 18, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Mark Your Calendars: Drafting Advance Planning Documents to Reduce the Risk of Abuse or Exploitation

Mark your calendars for April 18, 2018 at 2 p.m. edt for a free webinar from the National Center on Law & Elder Rights, Drafting Advance Planning Documents to Reduce the Risk of Abuse or Exploitation. Here is the description that I received in the email announcing the webinar:

In 2016, Medicare began reimbursing physicians for counseling beneficiaries about advance-care planning. At around the same time, Health Affairs released a study finding that only one-third of older adults have completed any health care planning documents. For attorneys counseling older adults, completing advance planning documents is just one part of care planning. Drafting these documents in a way that reduces the risk of abuse and exploitation is a critical component of providing good counsel.

This webcast will discuss ways to work with clients to select lower-risk agents, tools to document and communicate health care values, and tips for drafting documents to reduce the risk of exploitation.

To register, click here.

April 11, 2018 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

More on Dementia Advance Directives

Recently we wrote about a dementia advance directive and now, Kaiser Health News has a story about an ‘Aggressive’ New Advance Directive Would Let Dementia Patients Refuse Food. where "a New York end-of-life agency has approved a new document that lets people stipulate in advance that they don’t want food or water if they develop severe dementia. ...The directive, finalized [in March] by the board for End Of Life Choices New York, aims to provide patients a way to hasten death in late-stage dementia, if they choose.."  The article explains that although dementia is a terminal condition, the medicaid aid-in-dying laws don't apply to someone with it. So instead, "[t]he document offers two options: one that requests “comfort feeding” — providing oral food and water if a patient appears to enjoy or allows it during the final stages of the disease — and one that would halt all assisted eating and drinking, even if a patient seems willing to accept it."

There was a significant amount of press coverage about whether an advance directive covers hand feeding as a result of a case out west where a patient with an advance directive was hand fed over her husband's objections.  Typically the directives are silent about the provision of food and fluids by hand. Here, "[t]he New York directive, in contrast, offers option A, which allows refusal of all oral assisted feeding. Option B permits comfort-focused feeding.... [with] both options ... invoked only when a patient is diagnosed with moderate or severe dementia, defined as Stages 6 or 7 of a widely used test known as the Functional Assessment Staging Tool (FAST). At those stages, patients would be unable to feed themselves or make health care decisions."  This document is different than the one  we reported on in our earlier blog post. As the article explains, "[t]he new form goes further than a similar dementia directive introduced last year by another group that supports aid-in-dying, End of Life Washington. That document says that a person with dementia who accepts food or drink should receive oral nourishment until he or she is unwilling or unable to do so... [while the]  New York document says, 'My instructions are that I do NOT want to be fed by hand even if I appear to cooperate in being fed by opening my mouth.'"

Experts interviewed for the article expressed concerns about whether such instructions would be honored.

Stay tuned.

 

April 3, 2018 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, March 29, 2018

New Mexico, Where New Guardianship Laws Will Take Effect July 1, 2018, Struggles With Reporting Systems

Earlier this week, The Albuquerque Journal reported on continued problems with accountability for court-appointed guardians within New Mexico. Colleen Heild writes:

What’s become of Elizabeth Hamel? Hamel is among dozens of people placed under a legal guardianship or conservator in southern New Mexico over the past 20 years whose welfare is unknown – at least according to state district court records. . . . Nothing in the online court docket sheet indicates that Hamel’s case has been closed. But since being appointed, Advocate Services of Las Cruces hasn’t filed any annual reports about Hamel’s well-being or finances, the docket sheet shows.

 

There’s no indication as to whether she is dead or alive, or if the  guardianship/conservatorship has been revoked. . . . 

 

As New Mexico prepares for a new law, effective July 1, to help its ailing guardianship system, the state’s district courts still don’t have a uniform way to ensure guardian compliance with reporting laws that have been on the books at least since 1989.

 

State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said last week that he was disappointed that annual reports haven’t been filed in some cases.

 

“And I’m not surprised the courts wouldn’t know,” said Ortiz y Pino, a longtime advocate for reform. “That’s what we ran into over and over again, the lack of any kind of system to make it possible to log them (annual reports) in, let alone read them, let alone send somebody out to verify whether or not what they’re reporting is the truth. Those are the kind of things we shouldn’t be missing. Somebody should be at least saying, ‘Hey, you never did file a report.’ ”

For more, read Missing Reports Plague Guardianship System (3/25/18). 

March 29, 2018 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Florida Governor Signs Generator Bill

Florida's governor signed into law a bill that requires nursing homes and ALFs to have generators. The Tampa Bay Times reports  that facilities will be required to not only have the generators but sufficient fuel.  Rick Scott signs bills requiring generators in nursing homes, assisted living facilities  explains that "[t]he bills require the facilities to keep backup generators capable of running air conditioners when the power goes out. They must provide at least 30 square feet of cool space for each resident – at a temperature of no more than 81 degrees – and keep several days worth of fuel on hand."

With hurricane season starting June 1, 2018, it's time to be prepared!

March 27, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink

Monday, March 26, 2018

Maryland Courts Tackle the Challenge on Guardianship Reform

Maryland is among the several states putting serious energy into modernizing and reforming rules governing guardianships, with major new rules that took effect on January 1, 2018.  In Bifocal, the journal of the ABA Commission on Law and Aging, the Honorable Karen Murphy Jensen, who chaired a multidisciplinary workgroup tackling the state reforms, describes the process during an interview.  She notes the work ahead for many: 

Judge Jensen: These are big changes and courts, attorneys, and guardians need time to navigate them. Maryland’s circuit courts are not uniform and the changes will affect each court differently. Guardianship attorneys need to familiarize themselves with the new requirements and procedural changes. The orientation and training requirements add a step to the process that may overwhelm some prospective guardians and each individual court will have to respond to that reality. 

 

Along the way, the Workgroup consulted with and got feedback from judges, court staff, private attorneys, public agencies, and other service providers outside of the Workgroup. It was clear that the Workgroup would need to provide ongoing technical assistance and develop resources to help everyone navigate these changes once in effect. While sensitive to the impact on family guardians, we believe it is important for guardians to understand what is expected of them and know what tools are available upfront, and for courts to screen out those unable to take on the responsibility.

For more, read: Maryland Judicial Workgroup Spearheads Guardianship Reforms, Vol. 39, Issue 3, Bifocal. 

March 26, 2018 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 23, 2018

National Council on Disability Calls for Nationwide Reforms for Guardianships

On March 22, 2018, the National Council on Disability (NCD) released a new 200-page report and recommendations,  calling for substantial reform of the rules and processes used to place individuals with disabilities or the elderly under guardianships. 

As set forth in the press release, NCD's findings include:

  • Guardianship is often imposed when not warranted by facts or circumstances, because guardianship proceedings often operate under erroneous assumptions that people with disabilities lack capability to make autonomous decisions.
  • Capacity determinations often lack sufficient scientific or evidentiary basis.
  • Although guardianship is considered a protective measure, courts often lack adequate resources, technical infrastructure, and training to monitor guardianships effectively and hold guardians accountable, which at times allows for guardians to use their positions to financially exploit people subject to guardianships or subject them to abuse or neglect.
  • People with disabilities are often denied due process rights in guardianship proceedings. 
  • Although most state laws require consideration of less-restrictive alternatives, courts do little to enforce those requirements.
  • Similarly, though every state has a process for the restoration of one’s rights lost through guardianship, the process is rarely used.
  • There is a lack of data on existing guardianships and newly filed guardianships, which frustrates efforts of policymakers to make determinations about necessary areas for reform.

NCD also makes seven sets of specific recommendations, often calling upon the U.S. Department of Justice to take a leadership position in protecting the civil rights of individuals, including providing states with guidance and support for review of existing guardianships with a goal of assessing the potential for restoration of rights.  

Here is a link providing access to the full report, Beyond Guardianship: Toward Alternative That Promote Greater Self-Determination, and to a literature review, and to a qualitative research report summary in support of the NCD recommendations.

My special thanks to Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Paula Ott for sending me timely information on these publications.

March 23, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Perils of Serving as a Financial Caregiver

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Senate Committee on Aging: Top 10 Elder Scams

A little mid-week reading for you. The Senate Committee on Aging has released their 2018 Fraud Book, listing the top 10 elder scams of 2018.  Fighting Fraud: Senate Aging Committee Identifies Top 10 Scams Targeting Our Nation’s Seniors  lists the top 10 scams of the year, based on reports to the hotline, which are (drum roll please) 

IRS Impersonation Scams

Robocalls and Unsolicited Phone Calls

Sweepstakes Scams / Jamaican Lottery Scams

"Can You Hear Me?” Scams

Grandparent Scams

Computer Tech Support Scam

Romance Scams

Elder Financial Abuse

Identity Theft

Government Grant Scams

Here is the executive summary for the report:

From January 1, 2017, through December 31, 2017, the Senate Aging Committee’s Fraud Hotline received a total of 1,463 complaints from residents all across the country. Calls pertaining to the top 10 scams featured in this report accounted for more than 75 percent of the complaints.

                The top complaint, the focus of more than twice as many calls as any other scam, involves seniors who receive calls from fraudsters posing as agents of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). These criminals falsely accuse seniors of owing back taxes and penalties in order to scam them. Due to the extremely high call volume and continued reports from constituents from across the country, the Aging Committee held a hearing on April 15, 2015, to investigate and raise awareness about the IRS imposter scam. Prior to a large law enforcement crackdown in October 2016, nearly three out of four calls to our Hotline involved the IRS impersonation scam. In the three months after the arrests, reports of the scam into the Committee’s hotline dropped by an incredible 94 percent. Though the numbers have since rebounded somewhat, they are still far below the levels we have seen in the past.

                The second most common scam reported to the Hotline involved robocalls or unwanted telephone calls. On June 10, 2015, the Aging Committee held a hearing on the increase in these calls that are made despite the national Do-Not-Call Registry. The Committee examined how the rise of new technology has made it easier for scammers to contact and deceive consumers and has rendered the Do-Not-Call registry ineffective in many ways. On October 4, 2017, the Aging Committee held an additional hearing on robocalls, this time examining recent developments by both the private and public sectors to combat robocalls and protect seniors from fraud.

Sweepstakes scams, such as the Jamaican lottery scam, continue to be a problem for seniors, placing third on the list. A March 13, 2013, Aging Committee hearing and investigation helped bring attention to these scams and put pressure on the Jamaican government to pass laws cracking down on criminals who convinced unwitting American victims that they had been winners of the Jamaican lottery. The United States government has had some recent success in bringing individuals connected to the Jamaican lottery scam to trial, but these types of scams continue to plague seniors.

A new scam to make the top 10 list for 2017 involves consumers receiving calls in which the caller would simply ask “Are you there?” or “Can you hear me?” in order to prompt the recipient to say “yes.” According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), these illegal robocalls are pre-recorded, and are

designed to identify numbers that consumers are likely to answer, allowing scammers to better identify and connect with potential victims. The increased use of this tactic by scammers in robocalls last year demonstrates how sophisticated scammers are.

Grandparent scams, the focus of a July 16, 2014, Aging Committee hearing, were next on the list. In these scams, fraudsters call a senior pretending to be a family member, often a grandchild, and claim to be in urgent need or money to cover an emergency, medical care, or a legal problem.

Computer scams were sixth on the list and the subject of an October 21, 2015, Committee hearing. Although there are many variations of computer scams, fraudsters typically claim to represent a well-known technology company and attempt to convince victims to provide them with access to their computers. Scammers often demand that victims pay for bogus tech support services through a wire transfer, or, worse yet, obtain victims’ passwords and gain access to financial accounts.

Romance scams were seventh on the list. These calls are from scammers who typically create a fake online dating profile to attract victims. Once a scammer has gained a victim’s trust over weeks, months, or even years – the scammer requests money to pay for an unexpected bill, an emergency, or another alleged expense or to come visit the victim – a trip that will never occur.

Elder financial abuse was eighth on the list and the topic of a February 4, 2015, Committee hearing. The calls focused on the illegal or improper use of an older adult’s funds, property, or assets. Chairman Susan M. Collins, former Ranking Member Claire McCaskill, and current Ranking Member Robert P. Casey Jr. have introduced the Senior $afe Act, which would allow trained financial services employees to report suspected cases of financial exploitation to the proper authorities without concern that they would be sued for doing so. The Committee also examined the financial abuse of guardians and other court appointed fiduciaries at a hearing in November 2016.

Identify theft was the ninth most reported consumer complaint to the Fraud Hotline in 2017. This wide-ranging category includes calls about actual theft of a wallet or mail, online impersonation, or other illegal efforts to obtain a person’s identifiable information. On October 7, 2015, the Aging Committee held a hearing titled “Ringing Off the Hook: Examining the Proliferation of Unwanted Calls”, to assess the federal government’s progress in complying with a new law requiring the removal of seniors’ Social Security numbers from their Medicare cards, which will help prevent identity theft. Medicare will start mailing the new cards in April 2018.

            Government grant scams rounded out the top 10 scams to the Fraud Hotline last year. In these scams, thieves call victims and pretend to be from a fictitious “Government Grants Department.” The con artists then tell the victims that they must pay a fee before receiving the grant.

The report is available here.

From January 1, 2017, through December 31, 2017, the Senate Aging Committee’s Fraud Hotline received a total of 1,463 complaints from residents all across the country. Calls pertaining to the top 10 scams featured in this report accounted for more than 75 percent of the complaints.

                The top complaint, the focus of more than twice as many calls as any other scam, involves seniors who receive calls from fraudsters posing as agents of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). These criminals falsely accuse seniors of owing back taxes and penalties in order to scam them. Due to the extremely high call volume and continued reports from constituents from across the country, the Aging Committee held a hearing on April 15, 2015, to investigate and raise awareness about the IRS imposter scam. Prior to a large law enforcement crackdown in October 2016, nearly three out of four calls to our Hotline involved the IRS impersonation scam. In the three months after the arrests, reports of the scam into the Committee’s hotline dropped by an incredible 94 percent. Though the numbers have since rebounded somewhat, they are still far below the levels we have seen in the past.

                The second most common scam reported to the Hotline involved robocalls or unwanted telephone calls. On June 10, 2015, the Aging Committee held a hearing on the increase in these calls that are made despite the national Do-Not-Call Registry. The Committee examined how the rise of new technology has made it easier for scammers to contact and deceive consumers and has rendered the Do-Not-Call registry ineffective in many ways. On October 4, 2017, the Aging Committee held an additional hearing on robocalls, this time examining recent developments by both the private and public sectors to combat robocalls and protect seniors from fraud.

Sweepstakes scams, such as the Jamaican lottery scam, continue to be a problem for seniors, placing third on the list. A March 13, 2013, Aging Committee hearing and investigation helped bring attention to these scams and put pressure on the Jamaican government to pass laws cracking down on criminals who convinced unwitting American victims that they had been winners of the Jamaican lottery. The United States government has had some recent success in bringing individuals connected to the Jamaican lottery scam to trial, but these types of scams continue to plague seniors.

A new scam to make the top 10 list for 2017 involves consumers receiving calls in which the caller would simply ask “Are you there?” or “Can you hear me?” in order to prompt the recipient to say “yes.” According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), these illegal robocalls are pre-recorded, and are

designed to identify numbers that consumers are likely to answer, allowing scammers to better identify and connect with potential victims. The increased use of this tactic by scammers in robocalls last year demonstrates how sophisticated scammers are.

Grandparent scams, the focus of a July 16, 2014, Aging Committee hearing, were next on the list. In these scams, fraudsters call a senior pretending to be a family member, often a grandchild, and claim to be in urgent need or money to cover an emergency, medical care, or a legal problem.

Computer scams were sixth on the list and the subject of an October 21, 2015, Committee hearing. Although there are many variations of computer scams, fraudsters typically claim to represent a well-known technology company and attempt to convince victims to provide them with access to their computers. Scammers often demand that victims pay for bogus tech support services through a wire transfer, or, worse yet, obtain victims’ passwords and gain access to financial accounts.

Romance scams were seventh on the list. These calls are from scammers who typically create a fake online dating profile to attract victims. Once a scammer has gained a victim’s trust over weeks, months, or even years – the scammer requests money to pay for an unexpected bill, an emergency, or another alleged expense or to come visit the victim – a trip that will never occur.

Elder financial abuse was eighth on the list and the topic of a February 4, 2015, Committee hearing. The calls focused on the illegal or improper use of an older adult’s funds, property, or assets. Chairman Susan M. Collins, former Ranking Member Claire McCaskill, and current Ranking Member Robert P. Casey Jr. have introduced the Senior $afe Act, which would allow trained financial services employees to report suspected cases of financial exploitation to the proper authorities without concern that they would be sued for doing so. The Committee also examined the financial abuse of guardians and other court appointed fiduciaries at a hearing in November 2016.

Identify theft was the ninth most reported consumer complaint to the Fraud Hotline in 2017. This wide-ranging category includes calls about actual theft of a wallet or mail, online impersonation, or other illegal efforts to obtain a person’s identifiable information. On October 7, 2015, the Aging Committee held a hearing titled “Ringing Off the Hook: Examining the Proliferation of Unwanted Calls”, to assess the federal government’s progress in complying with a new law requiring the removal of seniors’ Social Security numbers from their Medicare cards, which will help prevent identity theft. Medicare will start mailing the new cards in April 2018.

            Government grant scams rounded out the top 10 scams to the Fraud Hotline last year. In these scams, thieves call victims and pretend to be from a fictitious “Government Grants Department.” The con artists then tell the victims that they must pay a fee before receiving the grant.

rant.

TThe 60 page report is available here.

March 20, 2018 in Books, Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Toughest Issue for Protective Service Agencies? Self Neglect...

Boy, did this New York Times piece by always interesting Paula Span resonate for me.  I spent several years serving as designated counsel for individuals who were facing unwanted intervention by Adult Protective Services. The issue of self-neglect is just plain tough -- and it doesn't get any easier with age.  From the article:

[T]he state adult protective services agency sent a caseworker to the man’s home. She found an 86-year-old Vietnam veteran in a dirty, cluttered house full of empty liquor bottles. His legs swollen by chronic cellulitis, he could barely walk, so he used a scooter. He missed doctor’s appointments. He had the medications he needed for cellulitis and diabetes, but didn’t take them. Though he had a functioning toilet, he preferred to urinate into plastic gallon jugs. He didn’t clean up after his dogs. He wasn’t eating well. . . . 

 

In the Texan’s case, “he wasn’t happy that A.P.S. was there, and he denied that he was being exploited,” said Raymond Kirsch, an agency investigator who became involved. “He also denied that he had a drinking problem.”

 

Grudgingly, he allowed the agency to set up a thorough housecleaning, to start sending a home care aide and to arrange for Meals on Wheels.

 

But on a follow-up visit a month later, the caseworker found her client markedly deteriorated. His swollen legs now oozed. He’d become personally filthy and was ranting incoherently. She returned with an ambulance and a doctor who determined that the client lacked the capacity to make medical decisions.

 

Off he went to a San Antonio hospital, under an emergency court order. The caseworker locked up the house and kenneled the dogs. . . . 

Our special thanks to University of Illinois Law's Professor Dick Kaplan for pointing us to this article.  For the outcome of this particular case, read to the end of the full article, Elder Abuse: Sometimes It's Self-Inflicted.

March 8, 2018 in Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 5, 2018

News Feature Focuses on Court-Appointed Guardian in Pennsylvania, Raising Important Systemic Questions

From Nicole Brambila, an investigative journalist for the Reading [Pennsylvania] Eagle, comes an article examining the history of a specific individual appointed by courts to serve as a guardian in multiple cases, in different counties in Pennsylvania.  The article raises important questions about court oversight, including but not limited to whether there should be mandatory criminal background checks for those serving as court-appointed fiduciaries:  

If [an elderly couple in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania] were astonished to learn the court-appointed guardian [for the 79-year-old husband] had not been paying the mortgage and other bills, their surprise would pale in comparison to the revelations yet to come.  Unbeknownst to them, Byars [the guardian in question] had been convicted multiple times of financial theft.

 

Her most recent arrest came in 2005.  She pleaded guilty to felony fraud and was sentenced to 37 months in a federal prison after cashing $20,000 in blank checks [she] found while rummaging through trash cans at a Virginia post office. 

The article points to another case in Philadelphia Orphans Court, where an attorney representing family members of a different person alleged to be in need of a guardian, looked into the background of Byars, and discovered records detailing her history.  The attorney was successful in having her removed as the court-appointed guardian in that case.  The Reading Eagle reporter writes:

For six months she continued serving as guardian to 52 incapacitated Philadelphians. No other Philadelphia judge removed her until after the Reading Eagle made dozens of inquiries in January with the court, Adult Protective Services, the Pennsylvania Department of Aging and state lawmakers about her appointments. . . . 

 

Philadelphia Orphans Court works with more than a dozen professional guardians. Ten of these, including Byars, carry some of the highest caseloads: 22, 48, 54 and more. But none more than Byars, who was appointed in Philadelphia alone 75 times from 2014 through 2016, according to court dockets.

For more, read Unguarded: Montgomery County Couple's Trust Betrayed, published March 4, 2018 in the Reading Eagle [paywall protected, although there is a $1 fee for single day access].  

 

March 5, 2018 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, February 26, 2018

PA Appellate Court Rules Against Elder Care Planning Company Suing Elder Law Attorney for Defamation

In a "nonprecedential memorandum" -- but still interesting opinion -- filed on February 14, 2018, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed summary judgment in favor of defendants on an issue of defamation. The plaintiff is a retirement or planning company and the defendants are a law firm and an elder law specialist attorney in that firm.  The plaintiff alleged defamation and intentional interference with business relationships via letters on the law firm's letterhead that were signed by the defendant Attorney while serving on a county senior citizens board. 

The letters allegedly pointed to certain marketing presentations from companies that present programs on living trusts and estate planning, referencing plaintiff as "one such company." According to the court opinion, the "correspondence characterized the presentations as a 'sinister form of financial exploitation of the elderly' that 'often result in seniors losing thousands of dollars in unnecessary fees for documents they do not need,' and that 'can also result in the sale of investments that are not appropriate for seniors.'”   

The plaintiff Company's lawsuit was filed in January 2008.

The defendants sought summary judgment on the defamation count in October 2016.  

Under Pennsylvania statutory law, 42 Pa. C.S.A. Section 8343(a)(6), a plaintiff has the burden of proving specific elements of defamation including "special harm resulting to the plaintiff from . . . publication" of the alleged defamatory communication.  The defendants argued the plaintiff was unable to satisfy that element.

In the memorandum opinion, the Superior Court concluded:

Appellant incorrectly maintains that it did not have to prove the existence of any harm because the letter in question accused it of engaging in misconduct or fraud in marketing living trusts to senior citizens. While it did not have to establish economic loss, it did have to adduce some proof that its business reputation was affected by the communication. Appellant admitted to the trial court that it could present no witness to attest that its reputation in the community was harmed due to the dissemination of the correspondence in question. Since Appellant had the burden of proving that aspect of its defamation cause of action, summary judgment was properly entered herein.

For more, read the nonprecedential opinion in United Senior Advisors Group, Inc., v. Leisawitz Heller Abromowitch, Phillips., PC., and William R. Blumer.  The final footnote in the opinion suggests the summary judgment ruling resolves only the defamation count in this long running suit.  

February 26, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Md Court of Appeals Permits AG's "Improper Discharge" Suits Against Nursing Homes

As we've highlighted in recent posts on this blog, discharge or eviction of residents by nursing homes  -- also known as "patient dumping" -- is a hot topic right now, and the latest important news is from the highest tribunal in the State of Maryland, the Court of Appeals.  The Court tackles head-on the issue of who has the power to take action to address improper discharges.   

On February 20, 2018, the Maryland Court of Appeals concluded that as a matter of first impression, the Maryland Attorney General has the authority to bring suit on behalf of "multiple facility residents for unlawful discharge."  Further, the AG is permitted to seek injunctive relief to require a facility to assist residents receiving Medicaid benefits. 

In so ruling, the Court relied on specific provisions of Maryland's statutory Patient Bill of Rights (rather than similar federal law) enacted in the mid 1990s, saying the legislation demonstrated the General Assembly's clear "intent to limit involuntary discharges and transfers and to ensure that when they do occur, they are subject to procedural controls ensuring  a resident's health and safety." The Court did, however, look to federal precedent for authority to grant specific injunctive relief.

The Court rejected arguments by the challenging party, Neiswanger Management Services LLC, that operated 4 nursing facilities in Maryland.  The company claimed its signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with state authorities rendered moot all issues it had with the state.  As part of its ruling, the Court reviewed the history of State violations alleged against Neiswanger, including the State's assertion that during one 17-month period, Neiswanger had issued involuntary discharge notices to "at least 1,601 residents," in contrast to only 510 such notices issued during the same period of time by all of Maryland's other 225 licensed nursing facilities. The Court concluded, "Neiswanger has not met its burden of demonstrating to this Court that the case is moot."

There is a lot of meat to the ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals, especially with respect to the impact of low reimbursement rates under Medicaid, as compared to Medicare's 100 days of coverage. For the full ruling, see  State of Maryland v. Neiswanger Management Services LLC.

For the AG's own description of the ruling, see the Maryland AG Press Release on February 21, 2018.

See also the recent Business Section article from the New York Times, How to Challenge a Nursing Home Eviction Notice and Other Tips.  

February 25, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Discrimination, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 23, 2018

NYT: Focus is on Nursing Home Evictions and the Reality of Underfunding of Long-Term Care

The New York Times offers an important feature article, entitled Complaints About Nursing Home Evictions, and Regulators Take Note.  From the opening paragraphs:

Six weeks after Deborah Zwaschka-Blansfield had the lower half of her left leg amputated, she received some news from the nursing home where she was recovering: Her insurance would no longer pay, and it was time to move on.

 

The home wanted to release her to a homeless shelter or pay for a week in a motel.“That is not safe for me,” said Ms. Zwaschka-Blansfield, 59, who cannot walk and had hoped to stay in the home, north of Sacramento, until she could do more things for herself — like getting up if she fell.

 

Her experience is becoming increasingly common among the 1.4 million nursing home residents across the country. Discharges and evictions have been the top-ranking category of grievances brought to state long-term care ombudsman programs, the ombudsman agencies say.

This article is definitely worth a careful read.    

February 23, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Discrimination, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Federal Authorities Coordinate Filing of Charges Against Individuals and Companies on Telemarketing and Postal Mail Fraud Schemes

On Thursday, February 22, 2018, federal authorities released news of formal charges filed against individuals and companies accused of telemarketing and postal fraud schemes targeting seniors.  The charges focus on more than 250 defendants, located both in and outside of the U.S.

The Federal Trade Commission's press release provides specific details from two cases filed in coordination with authorities in the State of Missouri.  In the first case:

[T]he FTC and the State of Missouri charged two men and their sweepstakes operation with bilking tens of millions of dollars from people throughout the United States and other countries.

 

The FTC and Missouri allege that the defendants, doing business under dozens of different names, sent tens of millions of personalized mailers falsely indicating that the recipient had won or was likely to win a substantial cash prize, as much as $2 million, in exchange for a fee ranging from $9 to $139.99.

 The Defendants distributed three types of phony mailers:        

  • Notices such as “Congratulations, You Have Just Won $1,230,946.00,” when the consumer hasn’t actually won anything;
  • Fliers that claim the recipient can win a substantial cash prize by answering a simple arithmetic question and paying  a registration fee, but that don’t disclose that there are multiple rounds to the “game of skill,” that the consumer will have to pay additional fees to advance to each round, and that in order to win, the consumer will have to answer a final, complex puzzle that few people, if any, can solve; and
  • Mailers that appear to be notices that the consumer has won a prize of $1 million or more, but that are really just newsletter subscription solicitations.

In the second case: 

[T]he FTC alleges that the defendants worked with Indian telemarketers to trick older Americans into buying bogus technical support services. Specifically, the defendants set up business accounts for the telemarketers, collected and deposited consumer payments, and provided a gloss of legitimacy to the scheme.

During my sabbatical last year, I often had occasion to answer the phone in my elderly mother's home. The majority of calls were from scammers, including those posing as the IRS, those offering "specialized health insurance," or seeking to "confirm" the homeowners' bank numbers for deposit of some kind of "winnings."  I was stunned by the volume of the calls -- and the persistence of the callers. If you tried to hang up, the callers would often ring back within seconds.  

Also, during my time as director of  Dickinson Law's Elder Protection Clinic, I can remember one particularly troublesome case involving a so-called Jamaican lottery scam, where the senior in question had been a sophisticated investor for her entire adult life, but was unable to resist the siren song of a scammer who managed to convince her to repeatedly send him money.  It was one of my first personal experiences with how dementia and financial abuse can intersect, through a particular form of early onset dementia known as FTD (frontotemporal disease).  The impairment often impacts judgment and the ability to evaluate risk, including financial risk.  

February 22, 2018 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Seventh Circuit Interprets "Ambiguous" Special Needs Trust, Amid Background of Fraud Claims

On February 7, 2018, the Seventh Circuit ruled as a matter of law that language in documentation attempting to create a Special Needs Trust was ambiguous.  In its decision in National Foundation for Special Needs Integrity, Inc. v. Reese, the Court resolved the ambiguity in favor of the children of the Missouri woman who had established the trust, using proceeds of her personal injury settlement. 

The Court, with jurisdiction that appeared to be based on diversity, ordered an Indiana foundation that was named as the trustee of the account to reimburse the estate of the deceased Missouri woman.  The amount awarded is more than $243K, plus prejudgment interest.  The decision by itself is interesting, especially as it touches on issues such as the intention of the settlor, a defense of laches and the roles of a law office or others in counseling the Missouri woman, who was reportedly unable to read, on how to complete the trust documents.  Even more interesting is news indicating that the foundation was created by "a suspended Indiana attorney facing charges that he stole from other clients' trusts." See The Indiana Lawyer's report on Seventh Circuit Reverses, Orders Special Needs Trust Group to Pay Estate.

In the lawsuit, the foundation argued it was entitled to keep the funds designated in the trust, based on a variety of theories including laches; the laches defense failed when the court, in an extended footnote, observed there was no evidence the foundation ever notified the woman's personal representative of outstanding trust amounts, allowing the PR to believe that any proceeds had been used to reimburse the state for Medicaid expenditures.  Instead, the court concluded the foundation simply transferred portions of the mother's account into other accounts, which might have been permitted under certain guidelines, if it had been clear the trust was intended to be a "pooled" special needs trust.   

For another "great and timely" discussion (I have that description on good authority!) of the Foundation v. Reese case, see Arizona lawyer Robert Fleming's newsletter here.  As Robert says, "the background story . . . reinforces the need for transparency and disclosure in pooled special needs trust administration -- and in fact, in all special needs trust management."

February 11, 2018 in Crimes, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Medicaid, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 29, 2018

California Healthline Reports: Doctor Groups Dropping Opposition to Aid in Dying for Terminally Ill

California Healthline reports a shift in doctors' views on support for medical aid in dying, with the Massachusetts Medical Society becoming the latest chapter of the American Medical Association to drop its past opposition and to adopt a "neutral" position on medical aid in dying

From the Healthline report:  

When the end draws near, Dr. Roger Kligler, a retired physician with incurable, metastatic prostate cancer, wants the option to use a lethal prescription to die peacefully in his sleep. As he fights for the legal right to do that, an influential doctors group in Massachusetts has agreed to stop trying to block the way.

 

Kligler, who lives in Falmouth, Mass., serves as one of the public faces for the national movement supporting medical aid in dying, which allows terminally ill people who are expected to die within six months to request a doctor’s prescription for medication to end their lives. Efforts to expand the practice, which is legal in six states and Washington, D.C., have met with powerful resistance from religious groups, disability advocates and the medical establishment.

 

But in Massachusetts and other states, doctors groups are dropping their opposition — a move that advocates and opponents agree helps pave the way to legalization of physician-assisted death.

 

The American Medical Association, the dominant voice for doctors nationwide, opposes allowing doctors to prescribe life-ending medications at a patient’s request, calling it “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer.” 

 

But in December, the Massachusetts Medical Society became the 10th chapter of the AMA to drop its opposition and take a neutral stance on medical aid in dying.

The California Medical Association  ended its opposition to physician aid in dying in 2015,  and new laws followed there in 2016, along with new laws enacted in Colorado and Washington D.C.    The article also predicts that changing physician opinions are playing roles in New York.  For more read: As Doctors Drop Opposition, Aid-in-Dying Advocates Target Next Battleground States.

 

January 29, 2018 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

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

What to Do About Unlicensed Care Facilities? The Hawaii Issue

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)