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."
Jenica Cassidy, a recent graduate of Wake Forest University School of Law, has been serving as a Fellow with the ABA Commission on Law and Aging since August 2014. It appears she's been making very good use of her time, working on a study that examines termination of guardianships and restoration of rights for adults.
BiFocal, the journal of the ABA Commission is publishing a short overview of the study -- a sneak peek -- in its February issue. What I especially appreciate is the clear documentation provided by the author on the methodology, including "(1) statutory review; (2) case law search and analysis; (3) online questionnaires for attorneys and judges; and (4) stakeholder interviews." Jenica and the Commission staff analyzed 104 cases, including 57 cases occurring between 1984 and 2014, where individuals petitioned for restoration of rights. The study highlights the challenges that face any individual seeking to terminate a guardianship, as well as the impact of guardian testimony or opposition to such petitions.
The full report will be published in the Elder Law Journal (University of Illinois), but in the meantime, read the intriguing summary available through BiFocal.
Friday, January 23, 2015
As outlined in the Bar Counsel column of the January issue of the Oregon State Bar Bulletin, on January 1, 2015, lawyers became mandated reporters of suspected elder abuse, including physical abuse, neglect, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, and financial exploitation. Deputy General Counsel Amber Hollister for the Oregon State Bar explains:
"Lawyers across Oregon are talking about elder abuse reporting. On Jan. 1, 2015, legislation took effect making all Oregon lawyers mandatory reporters of elder abuse. HB 2205 (2013). As with any new law, there are still many questions about how the new requirements will apply and impact lawyers' day-to-day practice....
The new reporting requirement was enacted at the recommendation of the Oregon Elder Abuse Prevention Work Group, which was tasked with studying how to better protect older Oregonians. As state Rep. Val Hoyle notes, 'for four years, the work group has focused on protecting some of Oregon's most vulnerable citizens. Integrating lawyers into Oregon's elder abuse safety net as mandatory reporters will provide our state with 19,000 additional advocates.'"
Thursday, January 22, 2015
We have written many posts about underfunded benefit programs at the federal and state levels (see e.g., here), but another looming problem is underfunding of pension programs at the local levels. The potentially affected employees include firefighters and sanitation workers and police officers.
This week WITF-Radio's Smart Talk program explored the issue in Pennsylvania:
"More than 500 Pennsylvania municipalities' pension funds are considered "distressed" because they're funded at less than 90%. Some Pennsylvania cities, boroughs, and townships currently have pension funds at lower than 50%. State law impacts public employees' ability to negotiate their contracts, making this issue of particular concern to lawmakers in Harrisburg.
Last week, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale announced that in total Pennsylvania's municipal pension funds have a $7.7 billion liability. Legislation is expected to be proposed this year that will seek to eliminate some of the liability over the long term."
It seems unlikely that Pennsylvania is the only state with a local-level pension funding problem.
The primary speaker on the program, Pennsylvania Municipal League Executive Director Richard Schuettler, pointed to an interesting aspect of the problem, what he sees as unrealistic decisions by arbitrators in collective bargaining labor disputes over pay and retirement benefits.
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
A new acronym, VSED, is emerging in discussions of end-of-life decision making. It refers to Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking. However, what happens when such a plan is combined with increasing dementia?
As addressed in Paula Span's thoughtful piece for The New York Times' "The New Old Age," it may not be possible to ensure such a plan will be honored, at least not under the existing law of most states. Consider the following example:
"Like many such documents, [Mr. Medalie's Advance Directive] declares that if he is terminally ill, he declines cardiopulmonary resuscitation, a ventilator and a feeding tube. But Mr. Medalie’s directive also specifies something more unusual: If he develops Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, he refuses 'ordinary means of nutrition and hydration.' A retired lawyer with a proclivity for precision, he has listed 10 triggering conditions, including 'I cannot recognize my loved ones' and 'I cannot articulate coherent thoughts and sentences.'
If any three such disabilities persist for several weeks, he wants his health care proxy — his wife, Beth Lowd — to ensure that nobody tries to keep him alive by spoon-feeding or offering him liquids. VSED, short for 'voluntarily stopping eating and drinking,' is not unheard-of as an end-of-life strategy, typically used by older adults who hope to hasten their decline from terminal conditions. But now ethicists, lawyers and older adults themselves have begun a quiet debate about whether people who develop dementia can use VSED to end their lives by including such instructions in an advance directive...."
For more, continue reading "Complexities of Choosing End Game for Dementia." Thanks to Elder Law Attorney Morris Klein for sharing this good article.