Monday, October 5, 2020
The GAO has released a new report, RETIREMENT SECURITY: Older Women Report Facing a Financially Uncertain Future. Here are the highlights:
In all 14 focus groups GAO held with older women, women described some level of anxiety about financial security in retirement. Many expressed concerns about the future of Social Security and Medicare benefits, and the costs of health care and housing. Women in the groups also cited a range of experiences that hindered their retirement security, such as divorce or leaving the workforce before they planned to (see fig.). Women in all 14 focus groups said their lack of personal finance education negatively affected their ability to plan for retirement. Many shared ideas about personal finance education including the view that it should be incorporated into school curriculum starting in kindergarten and continuing through college, and should be available through all phases of life.
Individual women's financial security is also linked to their household where resources may be shared among household members. According to the 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances, among households with older women, about 23 percent of those with white respondents and 40 percent of those with African American respondents fell short of a measure of retirement confidence, indicating their income was not sufficient to maintain their standard of living. The likelihood of a household reporting high retirement confidence rose in certain cases. For example among households of similar wealth, those with greater liquidity in their portfolio and those with defined benefit plan income were more likely to report high retirement confidence.
The full report is available here.
Tuesday, June 2, 2020
With everything else we had going on, this one slipped past me. The SSA Trustees released their annual report in April. Here's the summary from the press release (note-this doesn't include COVID-19 impact analysis)
The Social Security Board of Trustees today released its annual report on the long-term financial status of the Social Security Trust Funds. The combined asset reserves of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance (OASI and DI) Trust Funds are projected to become depleted in 2035, the same as projected last year, with 79 percent of benefits payable at that time.
The OASI Trust Fund is projected to become depleted in 2034, the same as last year’s estimate, with 76 percent of benefits payable at that time. The DI Trust Fund is estimated to become depleted in 2065, extended 13 years from last year’s estimate of 2052, with 92 percent of benefits still payable.
In the 2020 Annual Report to Congress, the Trustees announced:
- The asset reserves of the combined OASI and DI Trust Funds increased by $2.5 billion in 2019 to a total of $2.897 trillion.
- The total annual cost of the program is projected to exceed total annual income, for the first time since 1982, in 2021 and remain higher throughout the 75-year projection period. As a result, asset reserves are expected to decline during 2021. Social Security’s cost has exceeded its non-interest income since 2010.
- The year when the combined trust fund reserves are projected to become depleted, if Congress does not act before then, is 2035 – the same as last year’s projection. At that time, there would be sufficient income coming in to pay 79 percent of scheduled benefits.
“The projections in this year’s report do not reflect the potential effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Social Security program. Given the uncertainty associated with these impacts, the Trustees believe it is not possible to adjust estimates accurately at this time,” said Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security. “The duration and severity of the pandemic will affect the estimates presented in this year’s report and the financial status of the program, particularly in the short term.”
Other highlights of the Trustees Report include:
Total income, including interest, to the combined OASI and DI Trust Funds amounted to $1.062 trillion in 2019. ($944.5 billion from net payroll tax contributions, $36.5 billion from taxation of benefits, and $81 billion in interest)
Total expenditures from the combined OASI and DI Trust Funds amounted to $1.059 trillion in 2019.
Social Security paid benefits of $1.048 trillion in calendar year 2019. There were about 64 million beneficiaries at the end of the calendar year.
The projected actuarial deficit over the 75-year long-range period is 3.21 percent of taxable payroll – higher than the 2.78 percent projected in last year’s report.
During 2019, an estimated 178 million people had earnings covered by Social Security and paid payroll taxes.
The cost of $6.4 billion to administer the Social Security program in 2019 was a very low 0.6 percent of total expenditures.
The combined Trust Fund asset reserves earned interest at an effective annual rate of 2.8 percent in 2019.
The full trustees' report is available here.
Thursday, May 14, 2020
New research described in the Bulletin on Retirement and Disability published by the National Bureau of Economic Research provides new support for thinking about ways to help maximize use of benefits to pay for core living expenses. Researchers Lint Barrage (UC Santa Barbara), Ian Chin (Michigan), Eric Chin (Dartmouth),and Justine Hastings (Brown) examine how timing of receipt of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits affects a household's ability and success in paying for utilities, such as electric bills. They observe:
Our results suggest that, for low income households, timing of income from government benefits and the timing of bills due may have long-run consequences. If bills are not received when income is received, households are more likely to miss payments, which may compound into disconnections which may further impact family financial and health outcomes.
These results add to a growing literature suggesting that government benefits programs and/or private industry innovate in ways to help low income households balance budgets throughout the month and avoid potential poverty traps. In the case of electricity bills, moving bill receipt to coincide with SNAP benefits receipt could improve repayment rates. This could help low income families avoid poverty traps, but also lower electricity rates for all rate payers in regulated markets, since collection and electricity service disruption are costly and must be covered by regulated electricity rates. Further research is needed to implement and measure the impact of changes in timing of bill receipt through, for example, a randomized controlled trial, and to expand the outcome measures of impact to include measures of financial well being such as credit scores.
For more, read How Bill Timing Affects Low-Income and Aged Households, NBER RDRC Working Paper 19-09) and the Bulletin summary.
Our thanks to George Washington Law Professor Naomi Cahn for this reference. I suspect that the timing of core household bills and public receipt of pandemic-driven federal stimulus payments would make for another interesting study.
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Last week I got an email notification of a recent blog post from SSA. Advance Designation: Choose a Representative Payee for Social Security to Consider Before You May Need One
Here's the info
The future can be uncertain. However, Social Security’s Advance Designation program can help put you in control of your benefits if a time comes when you need a representative payee to help manage your money.
Advance Designation enables you to identify up to three people, in priority order, whom you would like to serve as your potential representative payee.
The following people may choose an Advance Designation:
- Adults applying for benefits who do not have a representative payee.
- Adult beneficiaries/recipients who do not have a representative payee.
- Emancipated minors applying for benefits who do not have a representative payee.
- Emancipated minor beneficiaries/recipients who do not have a representative payee.
The blog post continues to explain more about how to do this and when it is used. The accompanying FAQ about the Advance Designation is available here.
Monday, April 6, 2020
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has made many changes to its policies and procedures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These changes impact all areas of the agency – the local offices, each state’s Disability Determination Service, and the hearing offices. This webinar will provide an overview of these changes, and offer suggestions for how advocates can interact with SSA during this unusual time.
Registration info is available here,
The second webinar, on April 14, 2020 covers Medicare and COVID-19. Scheduled for 2 p.m. edt, this webinar will cover "The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and new legislation have changed many of the rules in Medicare to respond to COVID-19. This webinar will focus on the changes to Medicare that most impact low-income older adults."
To register for this webinar, click here.
Tuesday, March 10, 2020
ACTEC (American College of Trusts & Estate Counsel) is devoting a volume of its Journal to Elder Law! Here's the info about the call for papers.
The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel announces a Call For Papers on the following topic:
With an aging generation of Boomers and increasing estate tax exemptions, the practice and study of trusts and estates may be driven less by tax planning and more by a host of other issues confronting an older population. Those issues may be broadly grouped under the term "Elder Law."
A special issue of the ACTEC Law Journal will be devoted to a discussion of the intersection of Trusts and Estates and Elder Law and will be comprised of brief articles (2,000 word maximum). The conception of Elder Law is broad and intended to encompass all matters of legal concern that a trusts and estates lawyer might address for an aging client – or a client who is concerned about aging. Suggested topics include retirement planning, financial planning and wealth management, guardianship, disability and medical care, end-of-life planning, incapacity, powers of attorney, health care proxies, nursing homes and long-term care planning, special needs trusts, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, elder abuse (physical or financial), age discrimination, family succession planning, grandparent visitation rights, and classic core trusts and estates topics like wills, trusts, intestacy, probate administration, and nonprobate transfers.
Procedure for proposals: Authors wishing to contribute to this special volume should send a brief proposal to Professor Alyssa A. DiRusso, Editor, ACTEC Law Journal, at email@example.com. Please include “ACTEC Elder Law” in the subject line of your e-mail.
Proposals are due by April 1, 2020. Early submissions are encouraged as proposals will be reviewed on a rolling basis. Given the brevity of each article, articles that delve into one or two topics in detail will normally be preferred over more general articles. We encourage submissions by authors from a variety of backgrounds, including those actively involved in fiduciary administration or the practice of law.
Final articles will be due by August 1, 2020 and will be published in the ACTEC Law Journal, Volume 46 Issue 1.
March 10, 2020 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Other, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, February 14, 2020
For those of us who have ever been victims of a fraud that involves your Social Security benefits, we know it's a serious pain (speaking from personal experience). Protecting all of your personal info is so important. To help beneficiaries, SSA has released a new PSA for beneficiaries. Social Security Launches New Campaign to Fight Scammers explains:
Recently, we launched a new Public Service Announcement campaign as our latest step to caution you about the ongoing nationwide telephone impersonation scheme. The videos feature a message from our Commissioner, Andrew Saul. Along with our Office of the Inspector General, we continue to receive reports about fraudulent phone calls and emails from people falsely claiming they’re government employees. The scammers play on emotions like fear to convince people to provide personal information or money in cash, wire transfers, or gift cards. Fraudsters are also emailing fake documents in attempts to get people to comply with their demands.
“I want every American to know that if a suspicious caller states there is a problem with their Social Security number or account, they should hang up and never give the caller money or personal information. People should then go online to report the scam call to Social Security,” said Commissioner Saul.
The PSA is available here. Watch it!
Sunday, November 10, 2019
Everyone agrees that we need a stronger national commitment to "retirement security" in America. But what, exactly does that mean? This topic will be a central focus for discussion during a Public Forum hosted at Penn State's Dickinson Law on Tuesday, November 12, 2019. The keynote speaker is former Maryland Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who is currently the Director of Retirement Security at the Economic Policy Institute, as well as serving as a research professor at Georgetown University.
Along those very lines, last week I read a news article about the latest stalemate at the federal level on specific legislation that could promote better retirement savings. The measure in question is H.R. 1994, the "Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement" Act -- and of course that name was chosen to reinforce the goal of SECURE futures. The bill passed the House with strong, bipartisan backing in May 2019, but is now mired in the Senate. Excerpts from The Hill describe the roadblocks to passage:
GOP senators on Thursday attempted to bring a House-passed retirement savings bill to the Senate floor with votes on a limited number of amendments, but the effort was rejected by Democrats.
The Republican effort and Democrats' rejection highlighted how, despite widespread bipartisan support and backing from industry groups, it is still unclear when the retirement bill will be enacted.
The House in May in a nearly unanimous vote approved the bill, known as the SECURE Act. The bill includes a host of provisions aimed at making it easier for businesses to offer retirement plans and for people to save for retirement. It also reverses a provision in the 2017 Republican tax-cut law that inadvertently raised taxes on military survivor benefits paid to children....
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) objected to the Republican request, saying that Senate Democrats want the chamber to pass the House-passed bill as-is, without any amendments.
“We have a few Republican senators who want to sidetrack it with last-minute amendments, including proposals that are not in the interest of working families and will kill any chance this bill has of becoming law,” she said.
Murray asked Toomey to modify his request in order to allow the bill to pass as-is, but Toomey said he wouldn’t modify his request.
For another perspective, see "What is the SECURE Act? How Could It Affect Your Future?"
Monday, October 7, 2019
The GAO recently released a new report, Social Security Benefits: SSA Needs to Improve Oversight of Organizations that Manage Money for Vulnerable Beneficiaries. Here are the highlights:
What GAO Found
The Social Security Administration (SSA) approves organizational payees—such as nursing homes or non-profits that manage the Social Security benefits of individuals unable to do so on their own—by assessing a range of suitability factors, such as whether the organizations have adequate staff to manage benefits for multiple individuals. However, GAO found that SSA's policy does not specify how to assess more complex suitability factors, such as whether an organization demonstrates sound financial management. Without clearer guidance, unqualified or ill-prepared organizational payees could be approved to manage benefits. Also, SSA does not currently require background checks for key employees of an organizational payee. In contrast, SSA requires background checks for individual payees—such as a relative or friend of the beneficiary. A comprehensive evaluation could help SSA determine whether and how to expand their use of background checks to organizational payees.
To ensure organizational payees are managing funds appropriately, SSA uses several monitoring tools, including resource-intensive onsite reviews. Certain organizational payees, such as those that charge fees for their services or have 50 or more beneficiaries (high-volume), receive onsite reviews every 3 to 4-years. In contrast, payees that serve fewer than 50 beneficiaries (low-volume)—the vast majority—are selected for review based on their estimated likelihood of misusing beneficiary funds, and a relatively low percent of them receive onsite reviews (see figure). SSA uses a predictive statistical model to identify higher risk low-volume payees, but the model's effectiveness cannot be fully assessed by GAO or others due to missing documentation on how it was designed. SSA officials said they will update the model in the future, but do not have a time frame for doing so. Establishing such a time frame and documenting design decisions are key steps toward assessing the model's effectiveness.
. . .
What GAO Recommends
GAO is making nine recommendations in this report, including that SSA: clarify how to assess complex suitability factors; assess requiring background checks for organizational payees; establish a timeframe for reviewing the predictive model and document design decisions resulting from that review; and establish timeframes for, and conduct revisions of the accounting form. SSA agreed with all nine recommendations and provided technical comments that GAO incorporated as appropriate.
The full report is available here.
Wednesday, September 11, 2019
There are two upcoming webinars that I wanted to alert you about so you can register. The National Center on Elder Abuse is hosting a webinar on September 18, 2019 from 3-4 edt, on Recognizing and Addressing Abuse in Long-Term Care Facilities. According to the email announcement
People living in long-term care (LTC) facilities can be vulnerable to abuse and neglect. Recognizing and addressing abuse and neglect in LTC facilities as well as knowing their rights is crucial for both residents and their family members.
This webinar presented by the Paralysis Resource Center will help to understand the rights of residents of LTC facilities, identify the signs of abuse and neglect, and learn how to report concerns and complaints to the appropriate agencies. Attendees will learn about the important role of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program in addressing complaints and how to contact the program. The webinar will also seek to empower people with paralysis and their family members by providing information on choosing a long-term care facility and tips for advocating for quality care.
The webinar will be presented by Amity Overall-Laib, Director of the National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center (NORC). Amity served as a local long-term care ombudsman in Texas for six years advocating for residents in 65 nursing homes and 130 assisted living facilities in a 12-county region. During her tenure in Texas, she led the formation of the Gulf Coast Culture Change Coalition, resulting in two free conferences for long-term care consumers, providers, advocates and regulators promoting culture change practices and has presented at local, state, and national conferences. She also had the pleasure of representing fellow local ombudsmen on the Board of Directors for NALLTCO (National Association of Local Long-Term Care Ombudsmen). Amity was previously a consultant to NORC then served as Manager for Program and Policy.
To register, click here.
Next, the National Center on Law & Elder Rights is hosting a webinar on Issues at the Intersection of Social Security and Medicare on October 8 at 2 eastern time. According to the email announcement,
Social Security benefits and Medicare benefits are closely intertwined, and most people who receive one also receive the other. The close connection means that a problem with one benefit will sometimes cause problems with the other benefit. It can be difficult to figure out which agency is responsible and where to go for relief. This webcast will focus on why cross-program issues occur and what advocates can do to resolve them.
Presenters will share:
- Agencies and key players: Who is in charge of what?
- Situations when Medicare and Social Security benefits are linked and when they are not.
- Issues that arise and strategies for resolving them, including state buy-in issues for Medicare Part B premiums, and challenges keeping Medicare active during an appeal of the termination of Social Security disability benefits.
To register, click here.
September 11, 2019 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, Social Security, Webinars | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, August 7, 2019
The New York Times recently ran an article, 7 of Your Most Burning Questions on Social Security (With Answers).
The questions include the future of Social Security, spousal and survivors benefits, the length of benefits, delayed retirement vs. "break even" claiming, the lowered amount of benefits for those who temporarily leave the work force for caregiving, taxing benefits, and self-employment.
These are all really good questions (I hope they do another article, cause we all know there are more than 7 burning questions.) The answers are clear and to the point. I plan to have my students read the article before we cover the topic this fall semester (which will be starting before we know it!) You should read it, too!
Thursday, April 25, 2019
I hope you know by now that the SSA and Medicare Trustees have released their annual reports. The news is about what you would expect, if you follow the news on their annual reports. One might say that the SSA Trustees gave us good news this year. Social Security Combined Trust Funds Gain One Year Says Board of Trustees. Disability Fund Shows Strong Improvement—Twenty Years projects that the fund will "run out of money" after 2034, meaning we have gained a year. "Running out of money" means that starting in 2035, SSA will pay 80% of benefits, rather than 100%. For years, I've explained to students about the SSA Trust Fund and the Trustees Report. This year it dawned on me, when talking about the folks affected by the short fall, I'm part of those who will be affected. I'm no longer teaching something abstract. I know people, including myself and my colleagues, who will be in that group absent action by Congress. The SSA Trustees report is available here. With Medicare, the trustees really didn't have good news for us. Medicare Trustees Report shows Hospital Insurance Trust Fund will deplete in 7 years tells us "that the HI Trust Fund will be able to pay full benefits until 2026, the same as last year’s report." The Medicare Trustees report is available here.
Thursday, March 28, 2019
The GAO has issued a new report, Retirement Security: Most Households Approaching Retirement Have Low Savings, an Update. The report, an update from the 2015 report, is 4 pages long and available here as a pdf. The update incorporates "estimates on the percentage of households aged 55 and over with selected financial resources." Here are the fast facts from this update
The 2015 report on retirement security included estimates on the percentage of households aged 55 and over without retirement savings or a defined benefit plan (traditional employment-based pension plans that offer benefits based on factors like salary and years of service)... We updated these estimates using data from the most recent Survey of Consumer Finances, which was released in September 2017... We found that the percent of households headed by someone aged 55 and over that had no retirement savings decreased from about 52 percent in 2013 to about 48 percent in 2016.
Thursday, January 3, 2019
As elderlaw profs, it's likely that we cover Medicare in our courses every semester. Whether you teach the subject or your are a beneficiary, how well do you know Medicare coverage basics? Kiplinger offers a short quiz on Medicare that allows you to test your Medicare IQ. The quiz, Does Medicare Cover That? is easy to complete and each question includes an explanation accompanying the answer. And once you have finished this quiz, take the next one, True or False: Test Yourself on Social Security Claiming Strategies.
Check them out!
Friday, December 28, 2018
There have been many reports regarding the Social Security scam and according to the FTC the scam is growing like kudzu (i.e. rapidly). According to the FTC, the "scam is now growing exponentially. To compare: in 2017, we heard from 3,200 people about SSA imposter scams, and those people reported losing nearly $210,000. So far THIS year: more than 35,000 people have reported the scam, and they tell us they’ve lost $10 million."
This week the FTC released a recording of the scam, This is what a Social Security scam sounds like so you will know how to better spot it. The recording is 39 seconds-well worth your time for a quick listen. The FTC offers this advice
Here's what to know:
Your Social Security number is not about to be suspended. You don’t have to verify your number to anyone who calls out of the blue. And your bank accounts are not about to be seized.
SSA will never call to threaten your benefits or tell you to wire money, send cash, or put money on gift cards. Anyone who tells you to do those things is a scammer. Every time.
The real SSA number is 1-800-772-1213, but scammers are putting that number in the caller ID. If you’re worried about what the caller says, hang up and call 1-800-772-1213 to speak to the real SSA. Even if the wait time is long, confirm with the real SSA before responding to one of these calls.
Never give any part of your Social Security number to anyone who contacts you. Or your bank account or credit card number.
Friday, November 16, 2018
We all know that caregiving can be a 24/7/365 job. And many caregivers are working full time and caregiving part-time, while others leave their jobs to caregive. In those situations, it is no less important for caregivers to save for their own retirement, no matter how hard that may seem to be. US News ran a story, Caregivers Should Save for Retirement which focuses on caregiving for someone with special needs. The article highlights the issues
ADVANCES IN MEDICINE and technology are allowing Americans – including those with special needs and disabilities – to enjoy longer, fuller lives. Still, as a caregiver, the emotional, physical and financial toll can be draining and could potentially prevent you from being able to plan for your own future. Research shows 30 percent of caregivers are not saving and investing for their own retirement because of the time and cost required for caring for those with special needs.
The article suggests the following for the caregiver: check out the available programs and benefits, continue savings and don't forget to invest, consider the implications of your financial situation on the individual with special needs who is applying for means-tested assistance, be aware of the impact of well-meaning relatives making a testamentary gift for the individual, and housing options and their various levels of care to name a few. The article also discusses special needs trusts and ends with this:
The key takeaway is that planning for your financial future, while at the same time ensuring continuity of care for a loved one, can be extremely complex, but you don't have to do this alone. Leveraging professional resources and revisiting your plan periodically can help keep you on track as your needs, and the needs of your family, continue to evolve.
Thursday, October 25, 2018
The Washington Post recently ran an article about changes to the system of selecting Veterans law judges (or ALJs) within the Board of Veterans Appeals and whether that is affecting their impartiality. The story, I’ve never seen these positions politicized’: White House rejection of veterans judges raises concerns of partisanship is primarily about the rejection of candidates for positions within the Board of Veterans Appeals. This excerpt from the article gives you the background
The Board of Veterans’ Appeals has long filled a nonpartisan role in the federal government, run by dozens of judges charged with sorting through a thicket of regulations to determine whether an injured veteran is entitled to lifetime benefits.
But this summer, the White House rejected half of the candidates selected by the board chairwoman to serve as administrative judges, who make rulings on the disability claims. The rejections came after the White House required them to disclose their party affiliation and other details of their political leanings, according to documents viewed by The Washington Post.
Such questions had not been asked of judge candidates in the past, according to former judges and board staff.
As part of the process, the candidates were asked to provide links to their social media profiles and disclose whether they had ever given a speech to Congress, spoken at a political convention, appeared on talk radio, or published an opinion piece in a conservative forum such as Breitbart News or a liberal one such as Mother Jones, according to one candidate, who requested anonymity because the person is not authorized to speak to the media.The rejected applicants are three Democrats and an independent. Of the four accepted by the White House and sworn in last week, three are Republicans, and one has no party affiliation but has voted in GOP primaries, according to documents and interviews.
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
Social Security has released the 2019 numbers. Social Security Announces 2.8 Percent Benefit Increase for 2019 notes a 2.8% COLA and an increase in the SSA taxable maximum amount to $132,900. The indivdiual's amount for SSI for 2019 will increase to $771 per month. The detailed fact sheet is available here.
Friday, September 28, 2018
The Aging, Law and Society Collaborative Research Network (CRN) invites scholars to participate in a multi-event workshop as part of the Law and Society Association Annual Meeting scheduled for Washington D.C. from May 30 through June 2, 2019.
For this workshop, proposals for presentations should be submitted by October 22, 2018.
This year’s workshop will feature themed panels, roundtable discussions, and rapid fire presentations in which participants can share new ideas and research projects.
The CRN encourages paper proposals on a broad range of issues related to law and aging. For this event, organizers especially encourage proposals on the following topics:
- The concept of dignity as it relates to aging
- Interdisciplinary research on aging
- Old age policy, and historical perspectives on old age policy
- Sexual Intimacy in old age and the challenge of “consent” requirements
- Compulsion in care provision
- Disability perspectives on aging, and aging perspectives on disability
- Feminist perspectives on aging
- Approaches to elder law education
In addition to paper proposals, CRN also welcomes:
- Volunteers to serve as panel discussants and as commentators on works-in-progress.
- Ideas and proposals for themed panels, round-tables, or a session around a new book.
If you would like to present a paper as part of a the CRN’s programming, send a 100-250 word abstract, with your name, full contact information, and a paper title to Professor Nina Kohn at Syracuse Law, who, appropriately enough also now holds the title of "Associate Dean of Online Education!"
September 28, 2018 in Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, International, Programs/CLEs, Property Management, Retirement, Science, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics, Web/Tech, Webinars | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, September 27, 2018
First the bad -- or at least frustrating -- news. On Thursday, September 27, we received word that Senate Bill 884, the long-awaited legislation providing key reforms of guardianship laws in Pennsylvania, was now "dead" in the water and will not move forward this year. Apparently one legislator raised strong objections to proposed amendments to SB 884, amendments influenced by recent high-profile reports of abuse by a so-called professional guardian who had been appointed by courts in multiple cases in eastern Pennsylvania.
The objections reportedly focused on one portion of the bill that would have required both law guardians (typically family members) and professional guardians to undergo a criminal background check before being appointed to serve. The amendment did not condition appointment on the absence of a criminal record, except where proposed "professional guardians" had been convicted of specific crimes. For other crimes or for lay guardians, the record information was deemed important to permit all interested parties and the court to make informed decisions about who best to appoint.
What is next? Pennsylvanians will look to new leadership in the 2019-20 session in the hope for a new bill that resolves differences and that can make it through both houses. In the meantime, the courts are already moving forward with procedural reforms, adopted in 2018 at the direction of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
And that leads us to a more positive note about guardianship reform in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Common Pleas Judge Lois Murphy testified this week during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting about the Pennsylvania Courts' new Guardianship Tracking System (GTS). It is now operational in 19 counties (out of 67 total counties) in Pennsylvania, including coming online in the major urban counties for Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Judge Murphy reported that GTS is "already paying dividends," and she gave the example of a case in which the reporting system triggered a red flag for an estate worth more than $1 million, much higher than originally predicted, making appointment of different guardian more appropriate.
Judge Murphy predicts that as the tracking system becomes operational statewide, it should generate valuable answers, such as how many persons are subject to guardianships at any point in time, how much in assets are under management, what percentages of the pointed guardians are family members (as opposed to professionals), and what percentages of those served are over or under age 60. The hope is that GTS will also permit coordination of information about appointed guardians in state courts with information in the federal system on those appointed as Social Security representative payees, thus, again, providing more comprehensive information about trustworthiness of such fiduciaries.
You can see Judge Murphy's testimony, and hear her reasons for criminal background checks and appointment of counsel to represent alleged incapacitated persons, along with the views of retiring Senator Greenleaf and Senator Art Haywood, in the recording of the September 24 hearing recording below.
Judge Murphy testifies from approximately the 35 minute mark to the 43 minute mark, and again from 1 hour 33, to one hour 44.
Bottom line for the week -- and perhaps the session? You can certainly grow old just waiting for guardianship reform in Pennsylvania.
September 27, 2018 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Property Management, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0)