Tuesday, March 31, 2015
When I ask real or prospective law students what television programs they watch, I often get two answers: "The Big Bang" or "Suits." I have to admit I love to use Big Bang's "roommate contract" for my contracts class examples. But, Suits is a bit more problematic -- until now.
The key character in Suits is "Mike Ross," a college dropout, and the back story is that he's brilliant, with a superb memory, and stumbled into being a "lawyer" after a life of petty crime that somehow included taking the LSAT exam for others. I would like to think that the appeal of the program is the law, but I am realistic enough to suspect the "charm" is the idea that you can succeed in law without knowing the law, indeed without being a "real" lawyer. A little fantasy, right?
Now we have a report -- and I wish this wasn't true -- from my own state of Pennsylvania, of a 45-year-old woman who allegedly posed for 10 years as an estate planning lawyer, even making partner in a law firm, who may have faked her attendance at a specific law school. In fact, she may have faked everything that should have happened afterward, such as being licensed to practice law.
Thursday, March 26, 2015
Pennsylvania's New Pro Rep Rules Target Financial Accountability for Lawyers, Including Restrictions re Sales of "Investment Products"
New rules supplementing Pennsylvania's Rules for Professional Conduct, adopted by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in late 2014, are intended to require greater accountability by lawyers for handling of client funds, including sums temporarily deposited in IOLTA accounts. The rules became effective on March 1, 2015. As we reported on this blog earlier, including here and here, the changes were an important response to disturbing instances of individual attorneys who stole client funds -- in the aggregate amounting to millions of dollars -- that they had purported to "invest" for the clients.
On March 25, I had the interesting task of serving as a moderator for a meeting hosted by the Elder Law Section of the Pennsylvania Bar Association to explore the implications of the new rules. Panelists included attorneys Stephen K. Todd and David Fitzsimons who have each served on the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board. They were involved in either the drafting or implementation stages for the new rules. Also helping to set the stage were two additional panelists, practicing elder law and estate planning attorneys, Linda Anderson from the east side of Pennsylvania and John Payne from the west side of the state.
The audience included attorneys from a range of practice areas around the state, as well as Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Debra Todd. The dialogue following the panelists' opening remarks was robust, demonstrating support for the increased standards for record-keeping and safe-keeping of property, as well as enhanced powers for the Disciplinary Board to investigate suspected misconduct and demand accountability and disciplinary compliance.
Many of the comments and questions focused on a single new rule, reportedly the first in the nation, that addresses the role of lawyers with respect to "investment products," defined to include annuity contracts, life insurance contracts, commodities, investment funds, trust funds or securities.
The key provisions of new Rule 5.8 provide:
March 26, 2015 in Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Programs/CLEs, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Has Acceptance of Same Sex Marriage Created Opportunities for Recognition of Other "Family Relationships?"
Columbia Law Professors Elizabeth S. Scott and Robert E. Scott have a new article, "From Contract to Status: Collaboration and the Evolution of Novel Family Relationships." They describe the successful movement to achieve marriage rights for LGBT couples as creating potential opportunities for recognition of other legal relationships that do not depend on "traditional" notions of marriage or family, such as "cohabiting couples and their children, voluntary kin groups, multigenerational groups, and polygamists."
In analyzing relationships that may gain greater legal recognition, the authors examine the possible influence of statutory obligations, including Pennsylvania's filial support laws used to impose care obligations on adult children, or more recent statutes granting visitation rights to grandparents:
"Probably the strongest candidate for full family status is the linear family group composed of grandparent(s), parent(s), and child(ren). It is clear that this familiar type of extended family can function satisfactorily to fulfill family functions. Further, the genetic bond among the members, together with well-defined family roles, reinforces already existing norms of commitment and caring. The primary challenge for these extended families may be the creation of networks with other similar families pursue their goals of increasing public support and attaining official family status.More complex multigenerational groups pose a greater challenge because they are less familiar to the public and less likely to be bound by family-commitment norms than are linear family groups. Partly for this reason, regulators may find it more difficult to verify the family functioning of these unconventional multigenerational groups."
The article was published in the Columbia Law Review, March 2015.
Sunday, March 22, 2015
The New York Times ran an editorial on March 14, 2015 regarding efforts in states to pass aid in dying legislation. Offering a Choice to the Terminally Ill reports that DC & 15 states are considering such legislation. The editorial describes two recent cases, reviews the opposition, and considers the safeguards provided in the Oregon statute as an example. It also describes situations where doctors provide patients with lethal dosages of medications despite laws to the contrary, noting that "these unregulated practices put patients and doctors on dangerous terrain." Referencing the case of radio host watching her husband who had stopped eating over a period of days, the editorial board says about that case "[h]er inability to help him die humanely is a situation no spouse should have to face."
Friday, March 20, 2015
Have you seen the number of articles that have been released about ABLE accounts? Here's a chance to learn more: the ABLE National Resource Center has announced a free webinar on ABLE on March 26 from 2-3:30 edt. This is a collaboration between ARC, National Disability Institute, Autism Speaks, National Down Syndrome Society, and the College Plan Savings Network. According to the website, Understanding ABLE will cover the facets of ABLE, implementation updates and time for Q&A. To register, click here.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Can an Attorney for a Nonprofit Disclose Info re Unlawful Diversion of Charitable Assets to Attorney General?
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has agreed to consider an interesting legal ethics issue:
"When counsel for a nonprofit corporation believes that charitable assets are being unlawfully diverted, may counsel disclose this information to the Attorney General's office, as parens patriae for the public to whom the charity and its counsel owe a fiduciary duty?"
The case? Well, that is a bit of a mystery, as the parties' names have been redacted, and the factual basis for the petition has been deleted from the publically available record. The court permits amicus briefs by 3/23/15. If you wade past blank pages 2 through 11 of the Petition for Permission to Appeal, there are a few tantalizing clues about the context on pages 12 through 14.
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
The IRS has released a notice about a proposed regulation for ABLE accounts. Notice 2015-18 notes that some states are already moving forward with setting the framework for ABLE accounts and the notice acknowledges
The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have been advised that several state legislatures currently are in the process of enacting enabling legislation in order to ensure that their citizens may create ABLE accounts during 2015. While the Treasury Department and the IRS currently are working on section 529A guidance, it is anticipated that ABLE programs may be in operation in some states before such guidance can be issued.
Not wanting to delay the states' progress, the notice allows the states to move forward
The Treasury Department and the IRS do not want the lack of guidance to discourage states from enacting their enabling legislation and creating their ABLE programs, which could delay the ability of the families of disabled individuals or others to begin to fund ABLE accounts for those disabled individuals. Therefore, the Treasury Department and the IRS are assuring states that enact legislation creating an ABLE program in accordance with section 529A, and those individuals establishing ABLE accounts in accordance with such legislation, that they will not fail to receive the benefits of section 529A merely because the legislation or the account documents do not fully comport with the guidance when it is issued.
The notice notes that a grace period will be provided to those states where ABLE accounts are being used to make any needed changes to comply with the IRS guidance. The notice goes on to explain how the IRS expects the ABLE guidance will differ from those for 529 plans.
In particular, the Treasury Department and the IRS currently anticipate that, consistent with section 529A(e)(3), the guidance will provide that the owner of an ABLE account is the designated beneficiary of the account. In addition, the Treasury Department and the IRS currently anticipate that the section 529A guidance will provide that, with regard to the ABLE account of a designated beneficiary who is not the person with signature authority over that account, the person with signature authority over the account of the designated beneficiary may neither have nor acquire any beneficial interest in the account and must administer that account for the benefit of the designated beneficiary of that account.
Monday, March 16, 2015
Proposal to Increase Anti-Impoverishment Protections for Community Spouses Introduced in Connecticut
One of the declared purposes of modern federal law setting threshold standards for eligibility for Medicaid for long-term care is "protection of the community spouse" from impoverishment. At least that's a declared objective of amendments to federal law, passed by Congress in 1988. As one of Dickinson Law's Elder Protection Clinic clients once observed, "slower" impoverishment isn't the same as protection. States have choices to make within federal guidelines about minimum and maximum sums, about how much money community spouses can keep when their loved ones apply for Medicaid for long-term care.
In Connecticut, there is new legislation proposed, aimed at increasing the level of protection of community spouses in that state. As described in a recent article from the Hartford Courant:
Allowing the spouse of a person in a nursing home to keep enough money to live on independently is, in many ways, a moral issue. But in a tight budget year in Connecticut, it's a fiscal issue.
A proposal that would increase the minimum assets that a spouse living in the community can keep - from $23,844 to $50,000 – in order for his or her partner to be eligible for Medicaid nursing home care is being backed by elder advocates, who say the increase would help seniors, especially women, remain able to live independently. But the move is being opposed by the Department of Social Services on the grounds it will shift millions in costs to the state-funded Medicaid program.
The proposal would affect couples with combined assets of between $23,844 and $100,000....
It will be interesting to see whether this bill has traction, and whether other states are also willing to step up to the financial plate.
GW Law Professor Naomi Cahn and Amy Zeittlow, affiliate scholar with the Institute of American Values, have collaborated on a new article that is fascinating. In "Making Things Fair: An Empirical Study of How People Approach the Wealth Transmission System," to be published in a forthcoming issue of the Elder Law Journal, they ask fundamental questions about whether traditional laws governing testate and intestate wealth transmission reflect and serve the wishes of most Americans. Professor Cahn previews the article as follows:
Based on an empirical study of intergenerational care for Baby Boomers, the article shows how the inheritance process actually works for many Americans. Two fundamental questions about the wealth transfer system guided our analysis of the data: 1) does the contemporary inheritance process respond to the changing structure of American families; and 2) does it reflect the needs of the non-elite, who have not traditionally been the focus of the system?
Our study shows that the formal laws of the inheritance system are largely irrelevant to how property is transferred at death. While the contemporary trusts and estates canon focuses on the importance of planning for traditional forms of wealth in nuclear families, this study focuses on the transmission of wealth that has high emotional, but low financial, value. We illustrate how the logic of “making things fair” structured how families navigated the distribution process and accessed the law. Consequently, the article recommends that law reform should be guided by the needs of contemporary families, where not only is wealth defined broadly but also family is defined broadly, through ties that are both formal and functional. This means establishing default rules that maximize planning while also protecting familial relationships.
The article is part of a new book by the authors titled "Homeward Bound," with planned publication in 2016, and the authors welcome comments and suggestions.
March 16, 2015 in Books, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Julie Childs, Project Manager for the U.S. Department of Justice's Elder Justice Website shared with us the resources now available to researchers, students and advocates. Some of the highlights:
Here, victims and family members will find information about how to report elder abuse and financial exploitation in all 50 states and territories. Simply enter your zipcode to find local resources to assist you.
Federal, State, and local prosecutors will find three different databases containing sample pleadings and statutes.
Researchers in the elder abuse field may access a database containing bibliographic information for thousands of elder abuse and financial exploitation articles and reviews.
Practitioners -- including professionals of all types who work with elder abuse and its consequences -- will find information about resources available to help them prevent elder abuse and assist those who have already been abused, neglected or exploited.
This website is intended to be a living and dynamic resource. It will be updated often to reflect changes in the law, add new sample documents, and provide news in the rapidly evolving elder justice field.
It will be interesting to watch this site develop.
March 11, 2015 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
In Draper v. Colvin, petitioner sought judicial review of SSA's denial of her application for SSI benefits. Her claim was sympathetic, as "[e]ighteen-year-old Stephany Draper suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident in June 2006."
In an admittedly "hard line" ruling on March 3, the 8th Circuit rejected her argument that her parents' intent to establish a valid third-party-settled special needs trust, using proceeds from a settlement of a personal injury suit on her behalf, should permit her to claim SSI.
The ruling means that over $400,000 will be treated as "available resources," thus requiring spend down before she would be eligible for benefits. The court explained (minus citations):
Admittedly, some evidence in the record supports Draper's claim that her parents intended to act in their individual capacities. Draper's parents identified themselves individually as settlors and trustees, and the trust document explicitly states that it was established “pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1396p(d)(4)(A)," a provision which notes that a third party, such as a parent, must create the special needs trust for the benefit of the disabled person. Nevertheless, as discussed [earlier in the opinion], other facts provide substantial evidence to support the conclusion that Draper's parents acted using the power of attorney when establishing the trust.
The Court continued on to its tough bottom line:
March 10, 2015 in Cognitive Impairment, Estates and Trusts, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Property Management, Social Security, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, March 6, 2015
Pennsylvania Bar Association Program on New Rules of Professional Conduct & Disciplinary Enforcement
On Wednesday, March 25, 2015 (1:30 to 3:30 p.m.), the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA)'s Elder Law Section is hosting a panel session at the annual PBA Section/Committee Day to discuss important changes in the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct and the Disciplinary Enforcement Rules.
Several of the recent changes, including rules mandating greater oversight for trust accounts, timelier handling of complaints, and specific new prohibitions or restrictions on attorney involvement in marketing of "investment products," were a response, at least in part, to serious cases of attorney misconduct resulting in tragic financial losses for individuals. In some instances the clients were older persons who entrusted large retirement assets to the care of a small number of attorneys.
In planning the program, Elder Law Section Chair Jacqui Shafer commented that the program reflects the continuing commitment of the Bar and the Section to take affirmative steps to address and prevent misappropriation of funds from any client, including vulnerable seniors and their families.
Panelists include experienced private practitioners in elder law or estate planning practices and representatives of the Disciplinary Board and PBA's Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibilities Section. Several participants were members of the Pennsylvania's recent Supreme Court Elder Law Task Force.
Here is the link for more details on the program, including the link for required registration (free, including lunch). The deadline for on-line registration is March 20.
March 6, 2015 in Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, March 5, 2015
Neither short nor sweet? Here is a link to the written Transcript of the oral argument before the United States Supreme Court on March 4, 2015 in King v. Burwell.
Yesterday I wrote about the Utah Supreme Court decision rejecting application of Nevada law to determine the nature of an asset protection trust. Would the same result occur if the claimant was an "ordinary" creditor, rather than a spouse and co-settlor?
One way to get in on the discussion would be the ABA's "Jurisdiction Selection Series" on "Domestic Asset Protection Trusts." And as luck would have it, the next in the series of 5 webinar sessions covers Arizona, Maryland, New Hampshire --- and Nevada law. The program is Tuesday, April 14, 2015, and will be followed by a session on June 9, 2015 covering Hawaii, Kentucky, South Dakota and Utah. Here are some of the topics to be addressed:
- What is an inter vivos QTIP trust and how can it help my clients?
- Will domestic self-settled asset protection trusts benefit my clients?
- Do the costs of creating a trust in one state for creditor protection or taxation benefits really outweigh the creation of such a trust in another?
- Is the trust really protected from creditors?
- Can the trust be used to avoid the income tax in the grantor's state of residence?
- Can a same sex couple benefit from the use of these trusts?
- Is using an offshore trust better?
A number of states have laws governing "full blown self-settled asset protection trusts" or permit some form of similar trust. Here is the link to the details about registration, cost and timing for all of the ABA sessions.
Hat Tip to Penn State Law Professor James Puckett for sharing the timely info on this series.
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
In Dahl v. Dahl, the Utah Supreme Court was asked to examine the effect of a choice-of-law clause in a trust that purported to be "irrevocable." The clause provided:
"Governing Law. The validity, construction and effect of the provisions of this Agreement in all respects shall be governed and regulated according to and by the laws of the State of Nevada. The administration of each Trust shall be governed by the laws of the state in which the Trust is being administered."
The first sentence of the provision was significant, because the trust granted husband-settlor continuing rights of control, even as he argued the "irrevocable" label was valid, prohibiting wife from claiming any marital interest in assets used to fund the trust.
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Heidi Rai Stewart, an attorney who concentrates her practice in "estate planning, estate and trust administration, special needs planning, elder law and Orphan's Court matters," has an interesting article in the March-April issue of The Pennsylvania Lawyer.
In "A Hit Between the Eyes - The Danger of Treating Legal Practice as a Commodity," Ms. Stewart takes on the hot topic of nontraditional providers of legal documents or legal advice, including lower-cost sources such as LegalZoom's partnership with Sam's Club or Avvo Advisor, an "on-demand service providing legal advice at fixed rates."
Ms. Stewart makes several points, including:
- "A fill-in-the-blank document program simply cannot address the possible eventualities that a skilled attorney will bring to a client's attention. Although attorneys use forms, a skilled lawyer does not simply fill in blanks."
- "Commoditization of legal services and documents induces the mindset of the cheaper the better."
- "There has long been a perception, reflected oftentimes in negative humor, that attorneys are solely concerned with making money.... That perception must change.... [A]ttorneys must better communicate the value of the breadth of their knowledge and wisdom if they want to remain competitive in the marketplace...."
Ms. Stewart asks "Are companies that provide DIY legal documents engaging in the unauthorized practice of law in Pennsylvania?" She observes that such a claim has not yet been heard in Pennsylvania.
Ms. Stewart outlines several recent cases from other states. She concludes by encouraging lawyers to engage in introspection and to think deeply:
"Do we distinguish ourselves by rising to the occasion with our integrity, skills, knowledge and wisdom? Or do we just continue on the path already trod while the public continues to search for the cheapest way to deal with life's most important issues?"
The issue containing the article is currently available only to members of the Pennsylvania Bar Association. Worth tracking down the full article!
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
There are many interesting sessions, but two sessions will be of particular interest to those of us teaching elder law. On Saturday May 30 from 4:45-6:30 p.m. PDT is a panel session on Supporting Older Adults' Well-Being: A Look Across Countries which will include 5 presenters focusing on three countries, Sweden, China and the U.S. The second session is on Sunday May 31 from 8:15-10:00 a.m. PDT is a panel discussion on Uniform Laws & Older Adults. The general schedule for the conference is available here.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
USA Today reports on home care workers "joining a nationwide movement" to raise wages, with rallies planned for "more than 20 cities in the next two weeks."
As described by journalist Paul Davidson,
"Like the fast food workers, the 2 million personal care and home health aides seek a $15 hourly wage and the right to unionize, which is barred in some states. Their median hourly wage is about $9.60 and annual pay averages just $18,600 because many work part-time, according to the Labor Department and National Employment Law Project. That puts the industry among the lowest paying despite fast-growing demand for home-based caregivers to serve aging Baby Boomers over the next decade.
'Home care providers living in poverty don't have a stable standard of living so they can provide quality care,' says Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, which is spearheading the home care aides' movement and backed the fast-food worker strikes."
According to a representative of "Home Care Association of America, which represented agencies that employ personal-care aides," companies attempt to "balance the ability to keep care affordable with attracting employees."
Thanks to Dickinson Law 3L student Jake Sternberger for pointing me to this news item.
February 24, 2015 in Consumer Information, Discrimination, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, February 13, 2015
WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh, offers an inside look into the alleged role of nursing home lobbyists associated with the Pennsylvania Health Care Association (PHCA) in crafting a notice posted by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, stating that its inspection survey reports "are not intended to be evidence of compliance with any legal standard of care in third-party litigation." (According to WTAE-TV, an original "disclaimer" label on the notice was recently changed by the Department of Health to "explainer.")
Here's a link to coverage, including an article and video, at WTAE-TV: "Emails reveal nursing home lobbyists pressuring state on lawsuits -- Inspection reports not allowed in lawsuits?"
UPDATE: Here is a link to the Pennsylvania Department of Health's nursing care facility locator website, where a detailed "Explanation" of the survey inspection process appears. The notice includes the language quoted by the news report above, and appears the first time you access that website. However, once you press "okay" on the notice, it disappears.
Additional Update: Here is another link to "just" the explanation. As several readers commented, the location of this explanation on the Department of Health website is potentially confusing, as it appears to apply to any Medicaid or Medicare provider that is subject to inspections, but the title on the page as of today's date says "except nursing homes."
Thursday, January 29, 2015
On Monday, we linked to the front-page New York Times article by Nina Bernstein, "To Collect Debts, Nursing Homes Are Seizing Control Over Patients." Suffice it to say, I've been hearing a lot about the topic, from many sources. In hearing from law professors and lawyers with different perspectives, it appears there are at least three important questions framed by the article. Each may take additional investigation to fully address, whether in New York or other states where similar concerns have been raised.
In one of the cases described by the NYT, a court opinion addresses what appears to be the nursing home's narrow "collection" purpose in seeking a guardianship. The article summarizes:
"Last year Justice [Alexander W.] Hunter did appoint a guardian in response to a petition by Hebrew Home for the Aged at Riverdale, but in his scathing 11-page decision, he directed the guardian to investigate and to consider referring the case for criminal prosecution of financial exploitation.
The decision describes a 94-year-old resident with a bank balance of $240,000 who had been unable to go home after rehabilitative treatment because of a fire in her co-op apartment; her only regular visitors were real estate agents who wanted her to sell. After Hebrew Home’s own doctor evaluated her as incapable of making financial decisions, the decision says, the nursing home collected a $50,000 check from her; it sued her when she refused to continue writing checks, then filed for guardianship. 'It would be an understatement to declare that this court is outraged by the behavior exhibited by the interested parties — parties who were supposed to protect the person, but who have all unabashedly demonstrated through their actions in connection with the person that they are only interested in getting paid,' he wrote.
Jennifer Cona, a lawyer for the nursing home, called the decision 'grossly unfair to Hebrew Home,' but said she could not discuss details because the record was sealed."
Two additional cases raise similar issues and are referenced in the New York Times. Both have opinions by Judge Hunter:
Matter of G. S., 17 Misc.3d 303; 841 N.Y.S. 2d 428 (Sup. Ct., New York County 2007), and
Matter of S.K., 13 Misc.3d 1045; 827 N.Y.S.2d 554 (Sup. Ct. Bronx Cty., 2006).
In both cases, Judge Hunter concluded the purpose for which the guardianship petitions were filed by the nursing home as petitioner was "not the legislature’s intended purpose when Article 81 of the Mental Health Law was enacted in 1993.” In each case, the judge assessed fees against the petitioner nursing home. In the 2007 case of G.S., the court observed, "To the extent that the nursing home is seeking to be paid for the care it has rendered to the person, the petitioner must seek a different avenue of redress for that relief as a guardianship application is inappropriate."