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)
Monday, September 15, 2014
One of our great readers, attorney Paul Meints from Bloomington, Illinois, has shared ideas about how to make Powers of Attorney (POAs) more responsive to practical concerns, including the possibility that when tough times eventually occur, the principal may fail to realize or recognize his or her own waning abilities, including the ability to drive safely. Here is language Paul has tailored to address these potential concerns:
Inability to Function as Principal; Inability to Operate a Motor Vehicle in a Safe and Proper Manner:
My successor Agent or My Attorney may execute and deliver an Affidavit that I am unwilling or unable to serve or to continue to serve, and such affidavit shall be conclusive evidence insofar as third parties are concerned of the facts set forth therein, and in such event any person acting in reliance upon such affidavit shall incur no liability to my estate because of such reliance. The decision as to determining my inability (1) to properly, prudently, and fully function as Principal and/or (2) to operate a motor vehicle shall be made by a Committee consisting of three of the persons [or such person’s designee] named on page one together with one other person selected by my attorney or the family committee. I authorize all health care providers who may have provided, or be providing me with any type of health care (physical and mental), to disclose all direct or Protected Health Information (HIPAA/PHI) to each member of the family committee. If, in the Committee's sole and absolute judgment, I am so incapacitated by reason of illness, age, or other cause that I am incapable of expending funds for my own use and benefit or am not giving prompt attention to my financial affairs, then my successor agent is authorized to act on my behalf. If, in the Committee's sole and absolute judgment, I am so incapacitated by reason of illness, age, or other cause that I am incapable of operating a motor vehicle in a safe, proper, and prudent manner, then my successor agent, My Attorney, or both are authorized to release and terminate my driving privileges.
I like the fact that this language realizes that not all agents will feel comfortable making decisions on sensitive matters by acting alone, and that the POA actually provides guidance for how to make an ulitimate decision about the principal's inability to handle finances or drive. In essence, this POA would appear to permit the agent to override the principal's resistence. Thanks for sharing this language, Paul. Reactions from other readers? Would your state recognize the vailidity of such language?
Monday, September 8, 2014
We all know how prevalent financial scams are, and that they are becoming more and more sophisticated. One of my colleagues, and dear friend, forwarded an email to me purportedly from his financial institution-and the email had the correct last 4 #s of his credit card! He promptly contacted the financial institution because it looked so authentic, only to find out it was a scam. The institution insisted there was no data breach. He promptly closed that account. I'm sure you have had similar experiences, or know someone who has (every semester I ask my students whether any of them have been victims of identity theft. Unfortunately, there is always at least one).
Governing ran a story a couple of weeks ago about state efforts to combat financial scams that target elders. The article, States Fight Financial Scams Aimed at Seniors, quotes Mary Twomey of the National Center on Elder Abuse, that the advancement in fighting scams is happening at the state level. For example, the article indicates that in 2014 "lawmakers in at least 28 states and the District of Columbia introduced legislation addressing the issue. Some measures focus on enhancing criminal penalties. Others target caregivers who exploit elderly charges. Some require financial institutions to report suspected exploitation."
We all know the dearth of statistics makes it a challenge to really understand the magnitude of the problem. The article quotes some studies with statistics, including a recent one from the Journal of General Internal Medicine "that found that one in 20 older adults in New York state reported that they had been financially exploited, usually by a family member, but sometimes by a friend or home-care aide."
The article also reviews some of the innovations in certain states, such as Colorado which requires training of law enforcement to recognize exploitation and abuse, with each department required to have a minimum of 1 trained officer by 01/01/2015; and North Carolina, which allows "courts ... to freeze the assets of a defendant charged with financial exploitation of a senior or disabled adult, if the victim has lost more than $5,000."
Friday, August 29, 2014
From Kaiser Health News (in partnership with NPR and Capitol Public Radio):
"A bill passed by the California legislature this week is putting Gov. Jerry Brown in a delicate position: Sign the measure and support consumer demands for a change in the state’s policy on recovering assets from Medicaid enrollees or keep the current system that generates about $30 million used to provide Medicaid benefits to more residents.
The governor typically does not comment on bills until he receives the actual text from the legislature. His Department Of Finance, however, opposes the bill, pointing out that the recovered assets help the state provide services to others. The bill that just passed the legislature this week, would prohibit the state from trying to recoup some of the money spent on older Medicaid enrollees for ordinary health coverage by recovering assets after they die.
Federal law requires states to recoup money spent on institutional care, such as nursing homes, by Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for low-income people. But it also allows states to recover costs from people after they die if they received basic medical services through Medicaid at the age of 55 or older.
In California, advocates of the bill say the current law is complicating enrollment in Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program, with some people refusing to sign up, and others terminating enrollment for fear of not being able to pass on their estate.The state has enrolled 2.2 million people into Medi-Cal under the Affordable Care Act."
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.
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.
Friday, August 15, 2014
"According to [Joshua Slocum, executive director for the nonprofit Funeral Consumers Alliance], most states regulate the funeral business with boards that are packed with established funeral directors. As a result, regulations tend to suppress legitimate complaints and smother new competitors. That's one of the complaints behind Heffner v. Murphy... that may end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. Plaintiff Ernest Heffner, a licensed funeral director from York [Pennsylvania] claimed that the Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Law imposes 'arbitrary, burdensome and unreasonable' restrictions on funeral businesses, including who may own funeral homes and requirement for on-site embalming rooms."
According to the ABA Journal, "the libertarian-leaning Institute for Justice has stepped in and petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for certiorari. IJ senior attorney Jeff Rowes says the case raises legal issues central to a core mission for the institute: stopping unreasonable regulations on small businesses." The petition for certiorai was filed July 15, 2014.
For more, read "Regulated to Death: Consumer Activitists Seek Certiorari for Challenge to 'Protectionist' Funeral Laws," by Lorelei Laird.
Thursday, August 14, 2014
University of Memphis Law Professor Andrew Jay McClurg's article, "Preying on the Graying: A Statutory Presumption to Prosecute Elder Financial Exploitation," appears in May 2014 issue of the Hastings Law Journal. Professor McClurg proposes that states adopt "state criminal statutes that create a permissive presumption of exploitation with regard to certain financial transfers from elders." In correspondence, Professor McClurg points to the fact that on the surface it may appear that older persons -- victims -- are "voluntarily" parting with assets, when "in fact [the transactions] occur because of undue influence, psychological manipulation and misrepresentation."
Professor McClurg stresses the need for a statutory presumption to give prosecutors an effective tool to hold offenders accountable. His proposal has already had direct impact, in the form of Florida legislation, Fla. Stat. 825.103(2) signed into law June 20, 2014 and effective on October 1, 2014. Key language from the provision includes:
"Any inter vivos transfer of money or property valued in excess of $10,000 at the time of the transfer, whether in a single transfer or multiple transactions, by a person age 65 or older to a nonrelative whom the transferor knew for fewer than 2 years before the first transfer and for which the transferor did not receive the reasonably equivalent financial value in goods or services creates a permissive presumption that the transfer was the result of exploitation."
The Florida provision applies "regardless of whether the transfer or transfers are denoted by the parties as a gift or loan, except that it does not apply to a valid loan evidenced in writing that includes definite repayment dates...." Further, the new Florida provision does not apply to "persons who are in the business of making loans" or "bona fide charitable donations to nonprofit organizations that qualify for tax exempt status."
In cases tried to a jury under the Florida statute, the law provides that jurors "shall be instructed that they may, but are not required to, draw an inference of exploitation upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of the facts listed in this subsection." The law's presumption "imposes no burden of proof on the defendant."
UPDATE: Professor McClurg wrote again to explain that he worked directly with the Florida Elder Exploitation Task Force and with Florida Representative Kathleen Passidomo to secure passage of the new law. Professor McClurg's presumption proposal was introduced as part of H.B. 409, which passed unanimously through the two houses of the state legislature. According to Professor McClurg, the statute is the only one of its type in the nation. Thanks for the clarification, Andrew!
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Arin Fife, from the family law firm of Boyle and Feinberg in Chicago, offers "Don't Let Divorce Derail Your Retirement Plans: Understanding Your Options Before, During and After Your Marriage" in the Summer issue of the ABA's magazine Family Advocate. She reviews retirement basics, including differences between defined benefit and defined contribution plans, how accounts are valued, how accounts may be divided and addresses what do do with contributions during the divorce proceedings. She reminds that a low-income spouse may be advised to delay a divorce if approaching the ten-year anniversary of the marriage date, thereby maximizing Social Security options based on the stronger earner's SSA record. She warns that some "states consider this an offset against accumulation during marriage. Ask your lawyer for clarification in your state."
Lots of good tips here, including the reminder that if retirement accounts will be divided using a "Qualified Domestic Relations Order" or QDRO, it is important to give the plan administrator an opportunity to review and "pre-approve" the plan, thereby avoiding arguments or surprises after the property division or divorce is complete.
Thursday, July 31, 2014
As readers of this Blog may recall, back in April 2008 NBC's Dateline program aired a segment called "Tricks of the Trade" that incorporated use of hidden cameras to record portions of seminars that allegedly showed insurance salesmen trained to market certain types of deferred payment annuities. The NBC program alleged that the sales techniques specifically and improperly targeted or misled older consumers.
Tyrone M. Clark and his company, Brokers' Choice of America (BCA), brought suit against NBC and certain employees in federal court in Colorado, claiming the Dateline program violated state law, including allegations of defamation. Clark and BCA also alleged constitutional violations. The federal district court dismissed the complaint in 2011.
On July 9, 2014 the Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the alleged 4th Amendment violations, but remanded for further proceedings on the allegations of defamation. At the heart of Clark's claim was the argument that a full, unedited viewing of his seminar for insurance salesmen would reveal that students were properly counseled that such "annuities were not for everyone" and that salespeople must give "full disclosure of various advantages and disadvantages of the annuity products." In other words, Clark claimed Dateline's excerpts were misleading, and therefore defamatory.
The Tenth Circuit's ruling on defamation stressed that it was reviewing the district court's ruling on NBC's motion to dismiss and thus must view the facts alleged in the complaint "as true and in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party," i.e., Clark and BCA. The 10th Circuit concluded, "Whether these allegations will survive summary judgment remains to be seen. The factual basis of the complaint ... is sufficient to state a plausible claim."
Further, the Tenth Circuit upheld the request by Clark and BCA to discovery of the full, unedited tapes surreptitiously recorded by NBC, production that NBC has resisted:
"BCA would be greatly prejudiced in its ability to prove the defamation claim without access to the unedited film. Dateline's First Amendment interests do not involve the disclosure of confidential information or confidential sources. The fact-finder is entitled to the best evidence available, particularly in a case like this, which asks whether the media's zeal to report and perhaps sensationalize should be tempered by its responsibility not to defame. For all of those reasons, BCA's factual allegations are sufficient to warrant discovery of the unedited film. The Colorado statue [on newsperson's privilege] is a shield, not a sword."
For additional details, see the 10th Circuit's ruling on Broker's Choice of America, Inc. v. NBC Universal, Inc. and commentary from the Colorado Bar Association's Legal Connection news.
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
What do you think about promotion of filial support laws -- laws potentially obligating adult children to care for and maintain or financially assist an indigent parent -- as grounds to encourage states to promote the purchase of "long-term care" insurance? In essence, that is what three authors associated with the "American College of Financial Services" advocate in a recent article for volume 20 of Widener Law Review. Here's the SSRN abstract from "Leveraging Filial Support Laws Under State Partnership Programs for Long-Term Care Insurance."
"As thousands of the United States’ baby-boomers retire each day, people live longer, families disperse, and the population ages. Financing long-term care needs has become an increasingly important focal point in both civilian and government budget discussions. In order to reduce reliance on government provided long-term care funding programs such as Medicaid, states can leverage the often unenforced filial responsibility laws and State Long-Term Care Partnership Programs. Through the enforcement of existing filial responsibility laws, states can provide the proverbial “stick” to incentivize people to purchase long-term care insurance by increasing their personal liability for their family members’ long-term care expenditures. Furthermore, by offering liability protections from filial responsibility laws under the state’s long-term care insurance partnership program, states will be able to offer a “carrot” to encourage participation in the long-term care insurance market. Ultimately, by leveraging these two existing legal structures, states can incentivize the purchase of long-term care insurance and reduce reliance on government provided long-term care financing programs."
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)
On June 18, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved House Bill 1429 (Printer's No. 3708), thus sending the long-debated bill's new provisions on Powers of Attorney to the Governor for signing. If, as anticipated, the bill is signed by the Governor, the new rules would be effective for POAs created on or after January 1, 2015.
Pennsylvania pracitioners? That means the Elder Law Institute offered by the Pennsylvania Bar Institute on July 25-26 in Philadelphia will have new relevance to your practice to prepare for the changes. The opening session of the Institute is the always valuable "Year in Review" by elder law and estate planning specialists Marielle Hazen and Rob Clofine.
A detailed summary of the history and key provisions in H.B. 1429 is provided by Pennsylvania Attorney Neil Hendersthot on his blog.
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
The Spring 2014 issue of the ABA magazine "Experience" has a very interesting article on "Senior Drivers," written from the perspective of a traffic judge. It is the final article in a issue devoted to the theme of "Courts and the Elderly." (I reported on elder abuse articles yesterday.) Here's how Cook County, Illinois Judge Freddrenna M. Lyle opens:
"As the prosecutor and defense argued aggravation and mitigation in the trial I was conducting, I flashed back to the signs I had missed. I remembered the little dings and scratches on my dad’s car that he never wanted to discuss. At first, it was “that other driver” in the parking lot causing the damage. He then feigned ignorance as to how and when that dent appeared in the rear quarter panel. I realized I could no longer ignore the signs and began to research how to initiate 'the conversation.' Looking at the daughter accompanying her elderly dad to my courtroom that day, I knew that she, too, was about to have this talk. In fact, after I entered the sentence in her dad’s case, she asked me to have 'the conversation' because she frankly did not know what to say."
I suspect that having a copy of this article available as a family "conversation" tool -- perhaps to show your concern as a loving family member is part of a larger public concern -- might be useful.
Many thanks to Frances Del Duca, Esq., in Carlisle Pennsyvlania for sharing a hard copy of the recent issue of Experience magazine, published by the American Bar Association. It's a jam-packed issue for those concerned with elder justice, bringing to bear multiple perspectives. I just wish the articles were fully available to the public on the ABA website!