Saturday, December 13, 2014
AirTalk, a program aired daily by Public Radio affilliate KPCC in Southern California, hosted a discussion about the issues identified in news articles about the Iowa criminal case, where a husband faces "statutory rape" charges for having sexual relations with his wife after she was diagnosed with advanced dementia and began residing in a nursing home.
Here's the link to a podcast of the December 12, 2014 segment.
December 13, 2014 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, December 12, 2014
"Nonprecedential decisions" sometimes make me a little crazy. Talk about them? Ignore them? What if that's where all the action is happening on a tough topic?
This time I think it is important to report a nonprecedential decision, one of the few to emerge from the appellate courts in Pennsylvania in recent years where sons or daughters are not held liable under Pennsylvania's filial support law, and thus were not required to pay for the parent's nursing home care.
In the case of Rest Haven York v. Deitz, Case No. 426 MDA 2014, the Pennsylvania Superior Court issued a nonprecedential memorandum ruling on August 22, 2014. Mom resided in the plaintiff-nursing home for about two and a half years, and when she died there was an alleged unpaid bill of approximately $55k. No details are provided in the opinion about why that debt accrued or whether Medicaid was used for any payments. The amount is large enough to suggest something went wrong somewhere on the payment side of the ledger, but it also is not large enough to suggest that no payments were made.
The facility sued the resident's daughter, who was alleged to have "signed the admitting papers as agent under a power of attorney" executed by her mother. The complaint, filed three months after the mother's death, alleged breach of contract, implied contract, unjust enrichment, fraud, "and breach of duty to support" under Pennsylvania's filial support law, 23 Pa.C.S.A. Section 4603.
Daughter was granted summary judgment by the trial court, dismissing the entire suit. The only issue on appeal was whether the nursing home had "failed to provide evidence that could have allowed the trial court to declare [the mother] indigent." Indigency, an undefined term in the statute, is one element of Pennsylvania's filial support law.
The appellate court rejected the daughter's argument that indigency must somehow be declared or established by a judgment before a family member's support obligation can be triggered. However, the court also concluded that attaching a copy of the contract signed by the daughter, as agent for her mother, and attaching a copy of "overdue" charges on the mother's account did not suffice. Interestingly, the court then went on to offer a bit of a lesson on how nursing homes "could" prove their case -- so, a nonprecedential opinion with a moral?
"To present competent evidence to prove indigence, Rest Haven should have provided a bank statement or similar documentation attesting to [the mother's] financial condition."
In giving this lesson, the court cited two very precedential cases decided by the same court, Healthcare & Retirement Corp. of America v. Pittas (2012) and Presbyterian Medical Center v. Budd (2003).
As I often say to family members or lawyers who are startled to read about filial support law obligations, Pennsylvania appellate courts take this law very seriously when it comes to unpaid nursing homes. There are some defense strategies available, but a successful defense is not easy.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
In August, I reported on criminal charges filed that month in Iowa, charging a husband with sexual abuse of his wife who was living in a nursing home.
As a result of that post, I was invited by a reporter, who was working on an extended analysis of the case, to review certain information and records emerging from the case. Much of my own research is closely focused on issues both of capacity and protection.
The more one reads about the Iowa case, the sadder it seems. Even though at first it seemed the husband, a state legislator, might be expected to have sophisticated legal knowledge of the implications of what it might mean for his wife to be diagnosed with dementia, it became pretty clear -- at least to me, reading from afar -- that the husband is a fairly simple guy: A farmer, high school education, part-time legislator who liked pig roasts and parades, and someone who cared deeply for his second wife, trying as hard as possible to see her as "just a little" impaired.
I suspect that for many of us who have experiences with a loved one with dementia, there is a phase of denial, not just about the fact of dementia, but about the level of dementia. I remember one instance where a client always had her husband sign their joint tax returns, because even with Alzheimer's, he was "able" to sign his name clearly.
Reading the statute used to charge the Iowa husband also gave me pause. Iowa Code Section 709 was the basis of the sexual abuse charges. Sexual abuse in the third degree under Section 709.4 could be charged where a sex act "is done by force or against the will of the other person." That provision did not seem to apply. Charges could also be brought where the act is between persons who are not cohabiting as husband and wife, "if any of the following" is true: "The other person is suffering from a mental defect or incapacity which precludes giving consent."
Section 709.1A of the Act defines "incapacitation" to include "mentally incapacitated" or "physically incapacitated" and neither quite seemed to apply. Under Iowa law, "mentally incapacitated" means that a person is "temporarily incapable of apprising or controlling the person's own conduct due to the influence of a narcotic, anesthetic, or intoxicating substance." And "physically incapacitated" means that a person has a bodily impairment or handicap that substantially limits the person's ability to resist or flee."
So, how was the husband charged? He was charged under Section 709.4 (2)(a) on the grounds that his wife, with whom he was not "cohabiting," suffered from a "mental defect" that precluded giving consent.
So that makes the "elder law" issue fairly stark: Has his wife's diagnosis of dementia, especially advanced dementia, prevented her from giving legally effective "consent?"
Saturday, November 29, 2014
On November 26, 2014, in Nay v. Department of Human Services, the Oregon Court of Appeals invalidated a 2008 attempt by the state to expand Medicaid estate recovery rules to reach assets conveyed prior to death by the Medicaid recipient to his or her spouse.
The court's ruling analyzes the portion of federal statutory law that permits, but does not require, states to expand Medicaid estate recovery programs to cover "any other real or personal property and other assets in which the [deceased] individual had any legal title or interest at the time of death... including such assets conveyed to a survivor, heir, or assign of the deceased individual through joint tenancy, tenancy in common, survivorship, life estate, living trust or other arrangement." Analysis of this language, which was mirrored by Oregon statutory law, leads the court to conclude that some ownership interest at time death of the Medicaid recipient must be present to make the asset a valid target of Medicaid estate recovery:
"Therefore, we conclude that 'other arrangement' in the context of the definition of “estate” means that assets transferred from the deceased 'individual'—the Medicaid recipient—by operation of law on account of or occurring at the recipient's death are included in that definition. Thus, the 'including' clause in the federal permissive definition of 'estate' incorporates nonprobate assets that are transferred from the Medicaid recipient to a third party by operation of law or other mechanism, but in which the deceased Medicaid recipient retained legal title or 'any' interest at the time of his or her death."
"By including the 'interspousal transfer' text in the pool of assets from which the state can recover from the surviving spouse's estate, the rule includes assets that necessarily were transferred before the recipient's death. Because we have concluded that such predeath transfers are antithetical to the definition of estate as provided by federal and state law (requiring that the recipient have an interest in the property at the time of his or her death), we conclude that DHS's amendments of OAR 461–135–0835(1)(e)(B)(iii) relating to interspousal transfers exceeded its statutory authority granted by ORS 416.350 and 42 USC section 1396p, and we hold those provisions invalid."
Friday, November 28, 2014
In Wagner v. State of Maryland, decided October 30, 2014, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland affirmed the conviction of a daughter on charges of theft and misappropriation as a fiduciary, arising from her withdrawal of funds from her father's bank account which she used for her own purposes. The daughter had been added as a "joint owner" on the account by her 80+ year old father following the death of his wife.
The issue as framed on appeal was whether a person can be guilty of theft from a joint account on which that person is named as a joint owner.
The amount in controversy was more than $120,000 withdrawn by the daughter over 3 years. The appellate court concluded that "even though [the daughter] was named as a 'joint owner' in the parties' agreement with the bank, and not a convenience person, it does not determine conclusively that [she] was an [owner] for the purpose of the criminal statute."
Several key facts supporting the conviction are described in the decision, including:
- Testimony by the father at trial that the only reason he added his daughter's name to the account was to permit her to get money for him, if he was unable to get it for himself.
- The father retained control over the checkbook for the account.
- Evidence that thousands of dollars were withdrawn from the father's account by the daughter using a cash card, which the father said he was unaware existed.
- The daughter had failed to make payments on a $85k mortgage taken out by her father on his home, which the father testified was a loan to his daughter to help her business, and not a gift as the daughter claimed. Notice of foreclosure on the home was apparently what tipped the father to ask questions about his finances.
Maryland has not, apparently, adopted the Uniform Multiple Person Accounts Act, (UMPAA, first approved 1989) which is intended to clarify the rights of depositors and other parties in jointly titled bank accounts.
Monday, November 24, 2014
Several high profile incidents, such as those reported here in our Blog and here by the Philadelphia Inquirer, involving attorneys disciplined or convicted of theft of client funds, have triggered proposed changes in Pennsylvania's Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys. The rule changes proposed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Disciplinary Board include:
- imposing restrictions on an attorney's brokering or offering of "investment products" connected to that lawyer's provision of legal services;
- clarifying the type of financial records that attorneys would be required to maintain and report, regarding their handling of client funds and fiduciary accounts;
- clarifying the obligation of attorneys to cooperate with investigations in a timely fashion;
- clarifying the obligation of suspended, disbarred, or "inactive" attorneys to cease operations and to notify clients "promptly" of the change in their professional status.
The Disciplinary Board called for comments on the proposed rule changes, noting that although individual claims against the Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund for Client Security are confidential, "Fund personnel can attest that from time to time, the number of claims filed against a single attorney will be in double digits and the total compensable loss will amount to millions of dollars." The comment window closed on November 3. 2014.
In recommending changes, the Disciplinary Board noted common threads running through many of the cases, including:
November 24, 2014 in Crimes, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, November 13, 2014
Does "Unlimited" Gifting Power in POA Protect the Agent from Criminal Liability for Self-Gifting? PA Appellate Court Says "No"
Following a nonjury trial in 2012, David Patton was convicted of 95 counts of statutory theft by unlawful taking, arising out of his use of a power of attorney (POA). The POA named him as agent for his 86 year-old aunt. At issue was more than $200,000. Patton appealed the conviction, alleging the POA that expressly granted him authority to make "limited or unlimited gifts," made it impossible for him to be held liable for theft by cashing checks and making withdrawals from his aunt's accounts for his personal use in 2008, 2009 and 2010. In September 2014, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, an intermediate appellate court, issued a "nonprecedential" written opinion affirming the convictions, concluding:
"Simply stated, we reject Appellant's bold claim that the 'unlimited gift' provision in the power of attorney provided Appellant with a license to steal [his aunt's] assets and use all of her money for Appellant's own benefit. To the contrary, the gifting power was clearly subject to the condition [stated in a statutorily required affidavit signed by Appellant] that Appellant use the power 'for [his aunt's] benefit' - and Appellant clearly violated this condition when he took all of [his aunt's] money and used it as if it was his own. Therefore, since Appellant's actions were not authorized by the power of attorney, Appellant's sufficiency of the evidence claim necessarily fails."
In reaching this decision, the appellate court adopted the trial court's "meticulous" rulings as its own. In the trial court's final order, the judge rejected the defendant's testimony that he had no awareness or notice that using the POA to make the transfers in question was a crime. The trial judge wrote: "He did not need to be notified in writing to know that he could be charged with theft for taking for his own personal use over $200,000 of [his aunt's] savings, using some of it to go gambling in Erie and depriving her of sufficient funds to pay for her nursing home care in her old age."
An additional interesting, and perhaps confusing aspect of the case, is testimony by the attorney who drafted the POA.
When called by the defense to testify as "an expert" on powers of attorney, as well as a fact witness, the attorney testified he "always" included both "limited and unlimited" gifting authority in his POAs. He testified he explained to the aunt that the broadly-worded POA enabled the agent to "do anything that she could do." On direct examination, he testified the gifting language was "completely unconditional."
Monday, October 27, 2014
Last week I was part of a panel hosted by the National Continuing Care Residents' Association (NaCCRA) in Nashville, a component of the larger (much larger!) annual meeting of LeadingAge. The theme for the panel was "Resident Engagement in Continuing Care Life" and for my part of the panel, I used an interesting Third Circuit bankruptcy court decision, In re Lemington Home for the Aged, to discuss whether residents of financially troubled CCRCs should be treated as entitled to enforce specific fiduciary duties owed by the CCRC owners to creditors generally, even unsecured creditors, fiduciary duties that may give rise to a direct cause of action connected to "deepening insolvency."
Jennifer Young (pictured on the left), a CCRC resident, talked about what it is like to "be" an unsecured creditor in a CCRC's Chapter 11 bankruptcy court proceeding. Her explanation of how creditors' committees operate in bankruptcy court (including how they hire legal counsel and how that counsel is paid out of the Debtor's estate) was both practical and illuminating. The closing speaker on the panel was Jack Cumming (below left). Jack's has deep experience as an actuary and a CCRC resident. He noted the disconnect between the intentions of providers and the realities faced by residents and called for stronger accountability in investment of resident fees. I always come away from my time with Jack with lots to think about. Our moderator was NaCCRA president Daniel Seeger (right), from Pennswood Village in Pennsylvania.
In my final comments, I reminded our audience that even though our panel was focusing on "problems" with certain CCRC operations, including some multi-site facilities, many (indeed most) CCRCs are on sound financial footing, especially as occupancy numbers rebound in several regions of the country. Both panelists and audience members emphasized, however, that for CCRCs to be able to attract new residents, the responsibility of the CCRC industry must improve. For more on these financial points, go to NaCCRA's great educational website, that includes both text and videos, here.
Interestingly, during the LeadingAge programming that began on Saturday, October 18 and continued through October 22, I was hearing a lot about a potentially major shift in the long-term housing and service market. Some of the largest attendance was for deep-dive sessions on new service models for "Continuing Care at Home," sometimes shortened to CCAH or CCaH. CCAH is often seen as a way for more traditional CCRCs to broaden their client base, particularly in the face of occupancy challenges that began with the financial crisis of 2008-2010.
As a corollary of this observation about market change, one of the topics under debate within the leadership of LeadingAge is whether Continuing Care Retirement Communities need a new name, and I can see movement to adopt a name that aligns better with the larger menu of non-facility based services that many providers are seeking to offer.
Of course, as a law professor, I wonder what these market changes mean for oversight or regulation of new models. Not all states are keeping up with the changes in the Continuing Care industry, and name changes may complicate or obscure the most important regulatory questions.
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Following several months of investigation of complaints from older adults and their family members, in 2004 the Pennsylvania Attorney General announced a civil suit against an array of companies and individuals, including several attorneys, alleging their participation in a scheme to defraud through sales of unnecessary revocable living trusts and unsuitable annuities and insurance products. The alleged target was "senior citizens age 65 and older."
Ten years later, one of the Pennsylvania attorneys named in that original investigation, Brett B. Weinstein, has been disbarred. This particular disciplinary action has been a lo-o-o-o-ng-time coming.
Beginning as early as 2000, the Pennsylvania disciplinary board received complaints about Weinstein's role in the sales by non-lawyer third-parties of so-called "living trusts," often packaged with high-priced annuities. Weinstein himself rarely met with the clients, and provided little in the way of legal advice or counseling. He was formally cautioned about his use of unsupervised non-lawyers to provide legal advice and in 2001 he entered into a written Assurance of Voluntary Compliance.
The conduct, however, apparently did not stop. An undercover investigator was used to document continued problems. In recommending disbarrment, the Disciplinary Office concluded that from 2002 to 2012, acting on his own and in concert with others, Weinstein "assisted sales and delivery agents for a series of estate planning companies in the un-authorized practice of law." Further, he engaged in "false and misleading conduct, failed to consult with his clients concerning their objectives and placed his own interests above his responsibilities to his clients."
In discussing the case against Weinstein and rejecting his attempts to justify his conduct, the Disciplinary opinion points to a long-history of concerns about attorneys involved with living trust "mills" in other states (including Colorado, Missouri, and Ohio), where the products are pushed on older persons with little or no analysis of the clients' real legal needs and specific financial circumstances. Read here for the complete Disciplinary findings and the PA Supreme Court Order dated July 28, 2014.
September 16, 2014 in Consumer Information, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, August 28, 2014
Pennsylvania has a long and colorful history with charitable trusts and bequests coming from wealthy entrepreneurs, including the histories of The Barnes Foundation and The Hershey Trust, both of which have generated "classic" cases studied in law school courses.
This week, a Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas (the trial level court) issued the latest decision on the Stephen Girard Trust from 1831, the "painstaking details" of which created Girard College. For much of its existence Girard College functioned as a multi-year, residential boarding school program for orphan boys. Past court cases have resulted in rulings that permitted significant "deviations" from the terms of the wealthy philanthropist's will, including admission of minority students, female students, and expansion of the definition of "orphans" to admit students who still had one living parent.
At issue now is whether the trustees (actually a "Board of City Trusts" created by statute in 1869 to administer trusts left to Philadelphia for charitable purposes) will be permitted to further "deviate" from the settlor's original vision for the school, in order to create a more "financially sustainable" model.
Despite the long history of changes, leading the court to describe Stephen Girard's will as "the most litigated will in history," the court treated the latest proposals -- elimination of the residential program and "high school" classes -- as triggering a stricter standard of review, under the doctrine of cy pres:
"This Court does not agree that the requested modifications relate to administrative provisions of Stephen Girard's Will. The design of Girard College as a boarding school, intended to provide a residence, as well as an education to its students is reflected in the very terms of the Will....
Rather than an administrative decision, this Board [of City Trusts, acting as trustees] is seeking a cy pres remedy. This doctrine, unlike administrative deviation, is applied where a change is sought to the purpose of the trust.... Divorcing the residential aspect of Girard College and the high school program from a Girard education is inconsistent with the very terms of the Will and the directions of the testator.
The cy pres doctrine, now codified,... permits this Court to approve a change in the terms of a Trust to direct it to purposes that are as close as reasonably possible to the settlor's original intent and that are possible to fulfill. The cy pres doctrine cannot be invoked until it is clearly established that the direction of the donor cannot be carried into effect."
After reviewing the evidence about the operating finances of Girard College, the court takes the time to commend the trustees "for beginning to confront the myriad of financial, educational and institutional challenges currently facing Girard College." Nonetheless, the court concludes that based on the financial information it "cannot permit the Board to modify the Will of Stephen Girard as requested.... This Court cannot treat those proposed changes as administrative deviations and will not apply the cy pres doctrine absent a showing that achieving those objectives is impracticable."
In addition to the discussion that clearly distinguishes the law of "deviation" from "cy pres," the outcome is also notable because:
- The court had earlier rejected "standing" for a Girard College alumni group that sought to oppose the proposed changes;
- The changes were denied despite the fact that the Attorney General, who has statutory standing to enforce terms of charitable estates in Pennsylvania, had apparently declined to take action;
- The court appointed an individual to serve as "amicus curiae" to examine and report on the Trustees' proposal to modify the trust terms and the individual's recommendations were clearly important to the ruling.
Pennsylvania Attorney Neil Hendershot (and Dickinson Law alum) who represented the Girard College Alumni Association, and who alerted me to this interesting decision, has additional details on his Pa Elder, Estate and Fiduciary Law Blog. Thanks, Neil!
Whether the trial court's decision will be appealed is not yet known.
And by the way, as evidence of the long litigation history of the Stephen Girard Trust, this latest ruling is filed under what appears to be the original -- or at least a very early -- Orphan's Court docket number: "O.C. No. 10 DE of 1885." A docket number that lasts 129 years? Impressive.
Monday, August 25, 2014
In a feature article on Medicare's "star ratings," the New York Times reports that some nursing homes are able to "game the system" through self-reports of data that fail to include complaints filed with state agencies. The article uses examples to show that even five star ratings, the highest available, can be obtained despite pending state investigations into serious allegations of mishandled care. The ratings by Medicare were intended to provide an objective measure for consumers and in recent years a growing proportion of nursing homes have obtained higher ratings.
"But some nursing homes are not truly improving. Instead, they have learned how to game the rating system, according to ]New York Times] interviews with current and former nursing home employees, lawyers and patient advocacy groups. Nationally, the proportion of homes with above-average ratings has risen steadily. In 2009, when the program began, 37 percent of them received four- or five-star ratings. By 2013, nearly half did.
The Times analysis shows that even nursing homes with a history of poor care rate highly in the areas that rely on self-reported data. Of more than 50 nursing homes on a federal watch list for quality, nearly two-thirds hold four- or five-star ratings for their staff levels and quality statistics. The same homes do not fare as well on the sole criterion that is based on an independent review. More than 95 percent of the homes on the watch list received one or two stars for the health inspection, which is conducted by state workers."
For more, see "Medicare Star Ratings Allow Nursing Homes to Game the System" by Kate Thomas.
Sunday, August 24, 2014
We've reported several times, including here and here, on recent academic and professional publications that address the sensitive topic of "consent" to sexual relations for individuals residing in nursing homes.
The Huffington Post and other media reports now bring the topic into the general public realm with coverage of a complicated case emerging in Iowa, where a husband has been arrested on charges connected to sexual relations with his wife, a resident with Alzheimer's, in her nursing home room.
Two items that may be critical to the outcome of the case: Alleged "notice" to the husband by the facility that his wife was no longer legally able to give consent to sexual relations, and the identity of the husband as a public figure. The fact that the husband is a state legislator is a reason why the case may get wide news coverage. But that wider coverage could also generate important discussion and debate about the deeper legal, personal and public issues. From one article:
"An Iowa legislator who allegedly had sex with his mentally incapacitated late wife has been charged with sexual abuse. Henry Rayhons, 78, a Republican state representative from Iowa House District 8, was told by medical staff on May 15 that his wife, 78-year-old Donna Rayhons, no longer had the mental ability to consent to sexual activity, according to a criminal complaint obtained by WHO-TV. Donna Rayhons, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, had been living in Concord Care Center in Garner, Iowa, since March, according to the Des Moines Register....
In an interview with law enforcement in June,Rayhons allegedly confessed to 'having sexual contact' with his wife, according to KCCI. He also allegedly admitted that he had a copy of the document that stated his wife did not have the cognitive ability to give consent. Rayhons was charged with third-degree sexual abuse on Friday.
Elizabeth Barnhill, executive director of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, told the Des Moines Register that even though spousal rape has been illegal in Iowa for about 25 years, arrests for the crime are rare and 'convictions are even rarer.' Barnhill also noted that sexual assault between spouses is not considered a 'forcible felony' in Iowa."
According to new sources, the family has also made a statement.
August 24, 2014 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
The Pennsyvania Joint State Government Commission issued a final report of its Advisory Committee on Long Term Care Services and Support for Older Pennsylvanians on August 21, 2014, following a year-long assessment of existing concerns of independent and care-dependent elders in Pennsylvania.
In a one-page summary of the 200 page report, the Commision makes the following Recommendations:
"Opportunities exist to improve system structure and organization, reduce barriers, and break down silos that characterize service delivery and payment. Better care transitions and improved coordination of service providers are also crucial, along with increased support for family caregivers. Focused information and awareness for consumers and families helps ensure they know where to turn when a crisis hits, which is often their first exposure to long term care. Expanding access to services and supports, through a tiered system that shares costs, will help improve quality and increase accountability. Enhancements to local resources, including Area Agency on Aging networks, will focus services and advance more equal community, facility, and home care options. These reforms will help ensure access to long term care for all Pennsylvania seniors, and prevent those who need assistance but don’t qualify for supports, from falling between the cracks."
Now comes the hard work . . . getting to an implementation stage.
Thursday, August 21, 2014
Wow! Medicaid transfer rules argued in prime time! (Well, almost...)
On August 20, the Ohio Supreme Court heard oral argument on Estate of Atkinson v. Ohio Dept. of Job & Family Services, Case No. 2013-1773. Video of the presentations (including the very interesting questions from the bench) can now be viewed here on the Ohio Channel.
This strikes me as a great opportunity for Elder Law course students to read briefs and observe lawyers in oral argument tackle technical, challenging legal issues (listen to the Court ask one attorney to slow down and explain his use of pronouns). Can you predict the outcome? Note: The Supreme Court's arguments on Ohio Channel appear as high quality productions, well edited, with subtitles indicating the names of the speakers and the identity of the issues on appeal, and the website is searchable for other appellate cases for faculty members looking for examples to use in other classes.
As framed in the appeal, the issue is whether the community husband's actions triggered a period of ineligibility for Medicaid benefits for his wife in the nursing home. The record showed the husband transfered the couple's home "out" of the couple's long-standing revocable trust to the name of the institutionalized spouse, and then in turn, the same day, to the community spouse. As described in one news account:
"The county department of job and family services found that the transfer of the home, valued at $53,750, was improper because it violated federal and state Medicaid rules. While Mrs. Atkinson’s Medicaid benefits were approved, the agency temporarily excluded nursing-home care from her coverage because of the transfer."
The state has been successful with its arguments before state agencies up to this point. The Ohio Supreme Court, however, asked the attorneys about the applicability and relevance of the 6th Circuit's 2013 decision in Hughes v. McCarthy regarding permitted use of spousal annuities in Medicaid planning in Ohio. During the oral argument, one Justice also asks whether the state should be bound by the position taken by the federal agency, Health and Human Services (apparently in an amicus brief), in support of the family's argument.
There are also opportunities here to think about whether -- and how -- this particular transfer issue might have been avoided with different planning.
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
In recent Formal Ethics Opinion 2014-F-158, the Board of Professional Responsibility for the Supreme Court of Tennessee addressed the following interesting question:
"Can a lawyer who represented a testator refuse to honor a court order or subpoena to disclose, prior to the client's death, a Will or other testamenatry document executed when the testator was competent on the basis that the document is protected against disclosure by the attorney-client privilege or confidentiality."
The Board's opinion indicates that not only "may" the lawyer refuse to disclose the will, but where circumstances indicate the client is no longer able to give informed consent because of intervening dementia, the lawyer may have a duty to raise all "nonfrivolous grounds" to protect the will from disclosure, including privileges under Tennessee statutes, citing Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6(c)(2).
In opening its analysis, the Board noted that it has become "increasingly common for courts to appoint attorneys in a representative capacity to represent individuals suffering from dementia and/or Alzheimer's who are the subject of a dispute or litigation regarding management of the individual's funds and/or person." During the course of the dispute, parties may attempt to seek review of the will prior to the death of the testator, citing reasons such as the need to "engage in estate planning."
The Board acknowledged the potential for facts that would permit the lawyer to disclose the contents of the disabled client's will, such as when a "lawyer believes the disclosure of the contents ... would be in furtherance of client's interest."
In commentary on the Tennessee Board Ethics Opinion, the ABA/BNA Manual on Professsional Conduct, in Vol. 30, No. 15, observed that "a 2010 law review article cites demographic patterns that have increased the likelihood of such scenarios," pointing to "A Common Thread to Weave a Patchwork: Advocating for Testatmentary Exception Rules," 3 Phoenix L. Rev. 729, 734-35 (2010) by then law student Andrew B. Mazoff, now an attorney in Phoenix.
Thanks to my colleague and ethics guru, Laurel Terry, for sharing this ethics opinion.
Monday, July 28, 2014
Recently a former law student who is considering a career change asked me about elder law, wanting to meet with me to discuss what is involved. I'm happy to chat any time with current and former students, especially about elder law, but this time my advice was simple: "Drop everything and go to Pennsylvania's 2014 Elder Law Institute." Indeed, this year saw some 400 individuals attend.
Important to my advice was the fact that ELI is organized well for both "newbies" and more experienced practitioners. After the first two-hour joint session, over the course of two days there are four sessions offered every hour. One entire track is devoted to "Just the Basics" and is perfect for the aspiring elder law attorney. Indeed, I usually sponsor two Penn State law students to attend. As in most specializations, in elder law there will is a steep learning curve just to understand the basic jargon, and the more exposure the better.
One of my favorite sessions is the first, "The Year in Review," a long tradition at ELI and currently presented by Marielle Hazen and Rob Clofine. Marielle reviews new legislation and regulations, both at the state and federal level, while Rob does a "Top Ten Cases" review. Both speakers focus not just on what happened in the last 12 months, but what could or should happen in the future. They frequently pose important policy perspectives, based on recent events.
Among the highlights from the year in review session:
- Analysis of the GAO Report on "Medicaid: Financial Characteristics of Approved Applicants and Methods Used to Reduce Assets to Qualify for Nursing Home Coverage" released in late June 2014. Data collection efforts focused on four states and reportedly included "under cover" individuals posing as potential applicants. The report summarizes techniques used to reduce countable resources, most occuring well within the rules and thus triggering no question of penalty periods. Whether Congress uses the report in any way to confirm or change existing rules remains to be seen.
- A GAO Report on Medicaid Managed Care programs, also released in June, concluding that additional oversight efforts are needed to ensure the integrity of programs in the states, which are already reporting higher increases in outgoing funds than fee-for-service programs.
- The need to keep an eye open for Pennsylvania's Long Term Care Comission report, expected by December 2014. Will it take issue with the Governor's rejection of the Affordable Care Act's funding for expansion of Medicaid?
- Report on a number of lower court decisions involving nursing home payment issues, including a report on a troubling case, Estate of Parker, 4 Pa. Fiduciary Reporter 3d 183 (Orphans' Court, Montgomery County, PA 2014), in which a court-appointed guardian of the estate of an elderly nursing home patient "agreed" to entry of a judgment, not just for nursing home charges, but also for pre- and post-judgment interest, plus attorneys' fees for the nursing home's lawyer of almost 20% of the stipulated judgment, in what was an uncontested guardianship.
In light of the number of nursing home payment cases in Rob's review, perhaps it wasn't a surprise that my co-presenter, Stanley Vasiliadis, and I had a full house for our session on "Why Am I Being Sued for My Parents' Nursing Home Bill?" We examined how adult children (and sometimes elderly parents of adult children in care) are finding themselves the target of collection efforts by nursing homes, including actions based on theories of breach of promise (contract, quatum meruit, and promissory estoppel), fault (common law fraud or statutory claims of "fraudulent transfers), or family status, such as statutory filial support.
The extensive course materials from all of the presenters, both in hard copy and electronic formats, are available for purchase directly from the Pennsylvania Bar Institute.
July 28, 2014 in Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Sunday, July 20, 2014
The growing significance and scope of "elder law" is demonstrated by the program for the upcoming 2014 Elder Law Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to be held on July 24-25. In addition to key updates on Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans and Social Security law, plus updates on the very recent changes to Pennsylvania law affecting powers of attorney, here are a few highlights from the multi-track sessions (48 in number!):
- Nationally recognized elder law practitioner, Nell Graham Sale (from one of my other "home" states, New Mexico!) will present on planning and tax implications of trusts, including special needs trusts;
- North Carolina elder law expert Bob Mason will offer limited enrollment sessions on drafting irrevocable trusts;
- We'll hear the latest on representing same-sex couples following Pennsylvania's recent court decision that struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriages;
- Julian Gray, Pittsburgh attorney and outgoing chair of the Pennsylvania Bar's Elder Law Section will present on "firearm laws and gun trusts." By coincidence, I've had two people this week ask me about what happens when you "inherit" guns.
Be there or be square! (Who said that first, anyway?)
July 20, 2014 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, Property Management, Retirement, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, July 14, 2014
Professional guardians have become important players in the world of adult and elder care. As the need has grown, so have efforts to establish standards or oversight mechanisms. The Center for Guardianship Certification (CGC), for example, offers a national certification process that requires applicants to pass a test, meet minimum eligibility requirements, pay a fee, and make attestations about their background. As reported recently by Sally Hurme for the ABA's Commission on Law and Aging, "as of April 2013, CGC had approved over 1,600 National Certified Guardians and 65 National Master Guardians throughout the country."
Some states have required professional guardians (as opposed to family member or similar one-time guardians) to obtain CGC certification or have adopted state-specific certification standards. In some states, such as Texas and Washington, certification combines with a state entity to receive and evaluate complaints about professional guardians, combined with a disciplinary process. Such disciplinary boards are usually treated as a supplemental option, rather than as a substitution for court reviews, where parties seek review of a guardian's performance.
Having the power to affect the career of a guardian, disciplinary boards for professional guardians have generated questions about procedural fairness. In a recent decision by the Washington Supreme Court, the court was called upon to review the procedural fairness of anctions imposed by the Washington's Certified Professional Guardian Board. At the heart of the challenge was the defendant's allegations of bias against her by an influential member of the Board, someone with whom she had previously served on the Board, and further asserting that the hearing officer had a financial interest in the outcome of the disciplinary proceedings, because of desire to continue his paid role for the Board.
The allegations against the defendant, who had more than 10 years of experience as a certified guardian and who maintained an active caseload of more than 60 guardianships, focused on her role as guardian for an elderly woman and for a disabled younger adult. She was alleged to have failed to assist in timely purchase of new glasses for the elderly woman with dementia, and to consult regarding movement of the younger adult to a hospice facility. The defendant contended that all actions taken by her were appropriate and consistent with the discretion accorded her under a "substitute judgment" standard.
In its July 3, 2014 decision in The Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings against Lori A. Petersen, the Washington Supreme Court, sitting en banc, rejected the defendant's arguments about a "personal vendetta" against her, upheld the findings and conclusions regarding defendant's alleged violation of state guardianship standards in serving the two wards, and rejected the defendant's arguments about procedural unfairness.
Nonetheless, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that "[b]ecause this is a case of first impression and the Board aspires to consistency with disciplinary sanctions, we remand to the Board to consider whether the sanctions sought against [the defendant], including the monetary fees, are consistent with those imposed in other cases." The Court questioned the imposition of a one year suspension from practice and more than $30,000 in costs and fees, stating its belief that the "circumstances of this case and the severity of the sanctions and fees in light of the charges brought by Petersen warrant an explicit proportionality inquiry."
In 2010, a Seattle Times news article raised questions about the oversight role of the Washington board, reporting that in "five years, the board has taken action against seven guardians or guardian companies. One lost certification. The others negotiated deals in which they promised not to break the rules. Some agreed to additional monitoring."
In the Petersen case, the Washington Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (through Rajiv Nagaich, Esq.) submitted an amicus brief, challenging the procedural fairness of proceedings against professional guardians in Washington.
For additional thoughts about oversight of guardians, see "A Call for Standards: An Overview of the Current Status and Need for Guardian Standards of Conduct and Codes of Ethics," by University of Washington Law Professor Karen Boxx and Texas attorney and former executive director for the National Guardianship Association, Terry W. Hammond.
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
If one looks at the Uniform Law Commission website, it appears that slow but steady progress is being made by states in adopting recommended legislation governing Powers of Attorney (POAs). The ULC recommendation reflected more than four years of research and drafting, culminating in a detailed proposal for POAs issued in 2006. According to the website, 16 states have enacted the uniform law, with an additional four states, Connecticut, Mississippi, Washington, and my own home state, Pennsylvania, considering adoption in 2014. The ULC's recommendations were a deliberate attempt to "preserve the durable power of attorney as a low-cost, flexible, and private form of surrogate decision making while deterring use of the power of attorney as a tool of financial abuse of incapacitated individuals."
On July 3 last week, Pennsylvania's Governor Corbett signed legislation, now designated as Act 95 of 2014, making significant changes to the existing law governing POAs in Pennsylvania. However, the passage of this law also demonstrates how so-called "uniform" laws may be less than uniform from state-to-state in terms of their actual requirements, and I tend to wonder whether other states have also enacted some variation on the ULC's recommendation.
Pennsylvania Act 95 of 2014 (available as HB 1429 here) took more than 3 years of drafting, redrafting, hearings, negotiations, and compromises to accomplish. The spur for adoption was a court decision invalidating transactions executed in reliance on a "void" power of attorney, one purportedly "signed" with an X by a woman while hospitalized. The majority decision put the financial impact on the party accepting the POA, without regard to whether it was using good faith in relying on a document that may appear valid on its face. After that decision, many Pennsylvania retirement plan administrators, banks or other financial institutions were reluctant to honor POAs, fearing they could become the guarantor of misused authority. See Vine v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania State Employees Retirement Board, 9 A.3d 1150 (Pa. 2010).
PA Act 95 of 2014 addresses the "Vine" question by clarifying a grant of immunity for any person who in "good faith accepts a power of attorney without actual knowledge" of voidness or other invalidity. But Act 95 also mandates certain execution protocols, including:
- for most but not all POAs, requiring the principal's signature, mark or third-party signature to occur in front of two adult witnesses;
- requiring the principal to acknowledge his or her signature before a notary public or other individual authorized by law to take acknowledgments;
- continuing the requirement that principals must sign "notice" forms, but now with enhanced warnings about the significance of POAs, including the recommendation that "before signing this document, you should seek the advice of an attorney at law to make sure you understand it;"
- continuing the requirement that agents must sign an acknowledgement of certain responsibilities, now including an obligation to "act in accordance with the principal's reasonable expectations."
Each of these execution requirements, although certainly permitted by ULC's proposal (and perhaps also entirely consistent with the ULC's concern about the potential for financial abuse), is greater than what is required by the Uniform Law on Powers of Attorney.
At the same time, the Uniform Power of Attorney Act includes potential remedies for abuses of POAs not addressed by old or new law in Pennsylvania, including Section 116 that would grant spouses, parents, descendants and presumptive heirs the right to seek judicial review of an agent's conduct. One open question in Pennsylvania is whether wider standing to challenge suspected abuse is necessary.
One takeaway message from the history of more than 8 years of consideration by states of the Uniform Law on POAs, and more than 3 years of consideration in Pennsylvania about how or whether to adopt some or all of UCL's specific approach, is that achieving uniformity of state civil laws is not an easy task. That makes me even more appreciative of the effort and comparative "ease" of adoption of early efforts at uniformity, such as the uniform commercial code and the recognition that interstate sales transactions would benefit from consistency.
Portions of Pennsylvania Act 95 of 2014, including the grant of immunity for good faith reliance on POAs by third-parties, are immediately effective, while other portions of the law take effect on January 1, 2015. The Pennsylvania Elder Law Institute on July 24-25 in Philadelphia will have several sessions addressing the effect of the new law.
ElderLawGuy Jeff Marshall also has a great overview of the new Pennsylvania law on his blog. Hat tip also goes to Pennsylvania attorney Bob Gerhard for keeping Pennsylvania practitioners up-to-date on the bill numbers and enactment details.
July 8, 2014 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Programs/CLEs, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Last week's news of a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy proceeding in the Texas-based senior living company Sears Methodist Retirement Systems, Inc. (SMRS) has once again generated questions about "entrance fees" paid by residents at the outset of their move to a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC). CCRCs typically involve a tiered system of payments, often including a substantial (very substantial) upfront fee, plus monthly "service" fees. The upfront fee will carry a label, such as "admission fee" or "entrance fee" or even entrance "deposit," depending on whether and how state regulations require or permit certain labels to be used.
As a suggestion of the significance of the dollars, a resident's key upfront fee at a CCRC operated by SMRS reportedly ranged from $115,000 to $208,000. And it can be much higher with other companies. So, let's move away from the SMRS case for this "blog" outline of potential issues with upfront resident fees.
Even without talking about bankruptcy court, for residents of CCRCs there can be a basic level of confusion about upfront fees. In some instances, the CCRC marketing materials will indicate the upfront fee is "refundable," in whole or in part, in the event the resident moves out of the community or passes away. Thus, residents may assume the fees are somehow placed in a protected account or escrow account. In fact, even if the upfront fee is not "refundable," when there is a promise of "life time care," residents may assume upfront fees are somehow set aside to pay for such care. How the facility is marketed may increase the opportunity for resident confusion. Residents are looking for reassurances about the costs of future care and how upfront fees could impact their bottom line. That is often why they are looking at CCRCs to begin with. "Refundable fees" or "life care plans" can be important marketing tools for CCRCs. But discussions in the sales office of a CCRC may not mirror the "contract" terms.
One of the most important aspects of CCRCs is the "contract" between the CCRC and the resident. First, smaller "pre move-in" deposits may be paid to "hold" a unit, and this deposit may be expressly subject to an "escrow" obligation. But, larger upfront fees -- paid as part of the residency right -- are typically not escrowed. It is important not to confuse the "escrow" treatment of these fees. Of course, the "hold" fee is not usually the problem. It is the larger upfront fees --such as the $100k+ fees at SMRS -- that can become the focus of questions, especially if a bankruptcy proceeding is initiated.
The resident's contract requires very careful reading, and it will usually explain whether and how a CCRC company will make any refund of large upfront admission fees. In my experience of reading CCRC contracts, CCRCs rarely "guarantee" or "secure" (as opposed to promise) a refund, nor do they promise to escrow such upfront fees for the entire time the payer resides at the CCRC. In some states there is a "reserve" requirement (by contract or state law) for large upfront fees whereby the CCRC has a phased right to release or use the fees for its operation costs. Thus, the contract terms are the starting place for what will happen with upfront fees.
Why doesn't state regulation mandate escrow of large upfront fees? States have been reluctant to give-in to pressure from some resident groups seeking greater mandatory "protection" of their upfront fees. There's often a "free enterprise, let the market control" element to one side of regulatory debates. On the other side, there is the question of whether life savings of the older adult are proper targets for free enterprise theories. Professor Michael Floyd, for example, has asked, "Should Government Regulate the Financial Management of Continuing Care Retirement Communities?"
My research has helped me realize how upfront fees are a key financial "pool" for the CCRC, especially in the early years of operation where the developer is looking to pay off construction costs and loans. CCRCs want -- and often need -- to use those funds for current operations. and debt service. Thus, they don't want to have those fees encumbered by guarantees to residents. They take the position they cannot "afford" to have that pool of money sitting idle in a bank account, earning minimal interest. This is not to say the large entrance fees will be "misspent," but rather, the CCRC owners may wish to preserve flexibility about how and when to spend the upfront fees.
The treatment of "upfront fees" paid by residents of CCRCs also implicates questions about application of accounting and actuarial rules and principles. That important topic is worthy of a whole "law review article" -- and frankly it is a topic I've been working on for months.
In additional to looking for actuarial soundness, analysts who examine CCRCs as a matter of academic interest or practical concern have looked at whether CCRC companies and lenders may have a "fiduciary duty" to older adults/residents, a duty that is independent of any contract law obligations. Analysts further question whether a particular CCRC's marketing or financial practices violate consumer protection or elder protection laws.
There can also be confusion about what happens during a Chapter 11 process. First, during the Chapter 11 Bankruptcy process, a facility may be able to honor pre-bankruptcy petition "refund" requests or requests for refund of fees for a resident who does not move into the facility. Second, to permit continued operation as part of the reorganization plan, a facility will typically be permitted by the Court to accept new residents during the Chapter 11 proceeding and those specific new residents will have their upfront fees placed into a special escrow account, an account that cannot be used to pay the pre-petition debts of the company.
But what about the upfront fees already paid pre-petition by residents who also moved in before the bankruptcy petition? Usually those upfront fees are not escrowed during the bankruptcy process. Indeed, other "secured" creditors could object to refunds of "unsecured" fees. The Bankruptcy Court will usually issue an order -- as it did in SRMS's bankruptcy court case in Texas last week -- specifying how current residents' upfront fees will be treated now and in the future. A bit complicated, right? (And if I'm missing something please feel free to comment. I'm always interested in additional viewpoints on CCRCs. Again, the specific contract and any state laws or regulations governing for handling of fees will be important.)
Of course, this history is one reason some of us have been suggesting for years that prospective residents should have an experienced lawyer or financial consultant help them understand their contracts and evaluate risks before signing and again in the event of any bankruptcy court proceeding. "Get thee to a competent advisor." See also University of New Mexico Law Professor Nathalie Martin's articles on life-care planning risks and bankruptcy law.
As I mentioned briefly in writing last week about the SMRS Chapter 11 proceeding, CCRC operators have learned -- especially after the post-2008 financial crisis -- that the ability of a CCRC to have a viable "second chance" at success in attracting future residents will often depend on the treatment of existing residents. Thus, one key question in any insolvency will be whether the company either (a) finds a new "owner" during the Chapter 11 process or (2) is able to reorganize the other debts, thereby making it possible for the CCRC company to "honor" the resident refund obligations after emerging from the Chapter 11 process.
During the last five years we have seen one "big" default on residents' upfront. refundable entrance fees during the bankruptcy of Covenant at South Hills, a CCRC near Pittsburgh. A new, strong operator eventually did take over the CCRC, and operations continued. However, the new operator did not "assume" an obligation to refund approximately $26 million in upfront fees paid pre-petition by residents to the old owner. In contrast, Chapter 11 proceedings for some other CCRCs have had "gentler" results for residents, with new partners or new financial terms emerging from the proceedings, thereby making refunds possible as new residents take over the departed residents' units.
For more on how CCRC companies view "use" of upfront fees, here's a link to a short and clear discussion prepared by DLA Piper law firm, which, by the way, is the law firm representing the Debtor SMRS in the Texas Chapter 11 proceeding.
June 18, 2014 in Consumer Information, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Retirement, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)