Category: Elder Care

Elder Care

Lady Justice

Conservatorships are a last, but important 0ption

,  Conservatorships

When an elderly person suffers from memory loss or becomes too ill or weak to handle their own affairs, a conservatorship is a very important option.

In the U.S., many elderly people are being abused by predators who prey on their weakened disposition. Typically they are after money. It can be relatives, “friends,” or “well-meaning” neighbors.

How do you spot these culprits. It starts with checking in on our elderly on a regular basis to see how they are doing. How do they look? Are they in clean clothes? Is their mail piling up? Are there any people you haven’t ever seen before showing up and appear to be taking over. Who answers the door or the phone when you call?

If you suspect something is wrong, you can call Adult Protective Services to have them come out and check on them.

But foul play isn’t the only reason a conservatorship may be needed. It is a way to keep someone physically and financially safe. This requires an order by the court so it is not a simple process, but it is very common.

As an elder law attorney in the South Bay with offices throughout Los Angeles County, I have handled many conservatorships for adult children of elderly parents and their relatives. For more information or if you have any questions, you can call my office at (310) 292-2952 or you can visit my website.

How To Prevent Elder Abuse

New Federal Law Puts Focus on Preventing Elder Abuse

A new federal law is designed to address the growing problem of elder abuse. The law supports efforts to better understand, prevent, and combat both financial and physical elder abuse.

The prevalence of elder abuse is hard to calculate because it is underreported, but according to the National Council on Aging, approximately 1 in 10 Americans age 60 or older have experienced some form of elder abuse. In 2011, a MetLife study estimated that older Americans are losing $2.9 billion annually to elder financial abuse.

The bipartisan Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act of 2017 authorizes the Department of Justice (DOJ) to take steps to combat elder abuse. Under the new law, the federal government must do the following:

  • Create an elder justice coordinator position in federal judicial districts, at the DOJ, and at the Federal Trade Commission
  • Implement comprehensive training on elder abuse for Federal Bureau of Investigation agents
  • Operate a resource group to assist prosecutors in pursuing elder abuse cases

The law requires the DOJ to collect data on elder abuse and investigations as well as provide training and support to states to fight elder abuse. The law specifically targets email fraud by expanding the definition of telemarketing fraud to include email fraud. Prohibited actions include email solicitations for investment for financial profit, participation in a business opportunity, or commitment to a loan.

The law also addresses flaws in the guardianship system that have led to elder abuse. The law enables the government to provide demonstration grants to states’ highest courts to assess adult guardianship and conservatorship proceedings and implement changes.

“Exploiting and defrauding seniors is cowardly, and these crimes should be addressed as the reprehensible acts they are,” said Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a co-sponsor of the legislation, adding that the legislation “sends a clear signal from Congress that combating elder abuse and exploitation should be top priority for law enforcement.”

For more information about the law, click here and here.

Elder Law Attorney in Los Angeles

New Yorker Article Highlights Abuses in the Guardianship System

Serious problems with the public guardianship system in the United States can lead to elder abuse, according to an in-depth article in The New Yorker titled “How the Elderly Lose their Rights.” Court-appointed guardians can take control of an elderly person’s finances and life and become wealthy while doing so. One expert interviewed describes the guardianship system as “a morass, a total mess.”

If an adult becomes incapable of making responsible decisions due to a mental disability, the court will appoint a substitute decision maker, often called a “guardian,” but in some states called a “conservator” or other term. Guardianship is a legal relationship between a competent adult (the “guardian”) and a person who because of incapacity is no longer able to take care of his or her own affairs (the “ward”). A public guardian is appointed by the court to serve wards when no family member or private guardian is available.

The New Yorker article, written by staff writer Rachel Aviv, focuses on a Nevada couple who came under the control of public guardian April Parks. As guardian for hundreds of wards, Ms. Parks, took over their lives, sold their belongings, and charged their estates hundreds of dollars an hour while doing so. Over her 12 years as a public guardian, Ms. Parks built relationships with hospitals and medical providers to refer patients to her and found doctors who were willing to declare patients incompetent. Families often found out too late that their loved one was under guardianship and beyond their legal control.

Ms. Parks was just one part of a system that fails to protect vulnerable elderly individuals the way it is meant to, Aviv suggests. The couple in the article lost their home and freedom and were moved around to various assisted living facilities and medicated. After the couple’s daughter notified the media, Ms. Parks was finally removed from the case. She was eventually investigated and indicted for perjury and theft related to her business dealings. Unfortunately, according to the article, other public guardians who are abusing the system are still working.

There are a growing number of stories of seniors who become confused and overwhelmed after losing control of their lives to a guardian they don’t know. In response to such abuses, some states have begun making reforms. In March 2016, Florida’s governor signed a law creating an Office of Public and Professional Guardians that is required to create standard practices and rules for public guardians. Nevada has also enacted a number of reforms, including requiring that individuals subject to guardianship be represented by an attorney, that are set to go into effect in 2018. And in a rare display of bipartisanship, Congress recently passed and sent to the President a bill that empowers federal officials to investigate and prosecute unscrupulous guardians and conservators appointed by state courts.

While there isn’t a foolproof way to prevent someone from preying on you or a loved one, there may be steps you can take to reduce the chances. A power of attorney allows a person you appoint (and trust) to act in place of you for financial purposes when and if you ever become incapacitated. Having a power of attorney in place may lessen the need for a guardian.

To find out what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones, consult with your attorney.

To read the New Yorker article, click here.

How States Are Dealing With Older Drivers

If you have been reading my newsletters, you know that I come in contact with many adult children who are concerned about the safety of their elderly parents driving on the roads we all share.

It is a sensitive topic and the dangers are real. Unfortunately, the solutions are not easy to facilitate.

I saw this recent AP Press article and decided to share it with you.

Jerry Wiseman notices it’s harder to turn and check his car’s blind spots at age 69 than it was at 50. So the Illinois man and his wife took a refresher driving course, hunting tips to stay safe behind the wheel for many more years – a good idea considering their state has arguably the nation’s toughest older-driver laws.

More older drivers are on the road than ever before, and an Associated Press review found they face a hodgepodge of state licensing rules that reflect scientific uncertainty and public angst over a growing question: How can we tell if it’s time to give up the keys?

Thirty states plus the District of Columbia have some sort of older-age requirement for driver’s licenses, ranging from more vision testing to making seniors renew their licenses more frequently than younger people.

At what age? That’s literally all over the map. Maryland starts eye exams at 40. Shorter license renewals kick in anywhere from age 59 in Georgia to 85 in Texas.

The issue attracted new attention when a 100-year-old driver backed over a group of schoolchildren in Los Angeles late last month.

That’s a rarity, but with an imminent surge in senior drivers, the federal government is proposing that all states take steps to address what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calls “the real and growing problem of older driver safety.”

Here’s the conundrum: “Birthdays don’t kill. Health conditions do,” said Joseph Coughlin, head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab, which develops technologies to help older people stay active.

Healthy older drivers aren’t necessarily less safe than younger ones, Coughlin points out. But many older people have health issues that can impair driving, from arthritis to dementia, from slower reflexes to the use of multiple medications.

There’s no easy screening tool that licensing authorities can use to spot people with subtle health risks. So some states use birthdays as a proxy for more scrutiny instead.

Senior driving is a more complicated issue than headline-grabbing tragedies might suggest. Older drivers don’t crash as often as younger ones. But they also drive less.

About 60 percent of seniors voluntarily cut back, avoiding nighttime driving or interstates or bad weather, said David Eby of the University of Michigan’s Center for Advancing Safe Transportation throughout the Lifespan.

Measure by miles driven, however, and the crash rate of older drivers begins to climb in the 70s, with a sharper jump at age 80, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Only teens and 20-somethings do worse.

That rising risk reflects the challenge for families as they try to help older loved ones stay safe but still get around for as long as possible, which itself is important for health.

The good news: Fatal crashes involving seniors have dropped over the past decade, perhaps because cars and roads are safer or they’re staying a bit healthier, said the Insurance Institute’s Anne McCartt.

Yet the oldest drivers, those 85 and up, still have the highest rate of deadly crashes per mile, even more than teens.

And more often than not, they’re the victims, largely because they’re too frail to survive their injuries.

And seniors are about to transform the nation’s roadways. Today, nearly 34 million drivers are 65 or older.

By 2030, federal estimates show there will be about 57 million – making up about a quarter of all licensed drivers. The baby boomers in particular are expected to hang onto their licenses longer, and drive more miles, than previous generations.

Specialists say more seniors need to be planning ahead like Jerry Wiseman and his wife Sandy.

“Absolutely we want to be as good drivers as we can possibly be for as long as we can,” said Wiseman, of Schaumburg, Ill.

At an AARP course, Wiseman learned exercises to improve his flexibility for checking those blind spots. He takes extra care with left-hand turns, which become riskier as the ability to judge speed and distance wanes with age. He knows to watch for other changes.

“We’ll be ready when it’s time for one of us to stop,” he said.

Where you live determines what extra requirements, if any, older adults must meet to keep their driver’s license.

Among the most strict rules: Illinois requires a road test to check driving skills with every license renewal starting at age 75 – and starting at age 81, those renewals are required every two years instead of every four. At 87, Illinois drivers must renew annually.

In Washington, D.C., starting at age 70, drivers must bring a doctor’s certification that they’re still OK to drive every time they renew their license.
New Mexico requires annual renewals at 75.

Geographic variability makes little sense, said Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy and research.
“Either I’m safe to drive or I’m not. Where I live shouldn’t matter,” he said.

Yet when Iowa drivers turn 70, they must renew their license every two years instead of every five. Neighboring Missouri lets the 70-year-olds renew every three years instead of every six.

Some states introduce age requirements after high-profile accidents. Massachusetts now requires drivers to start renewing licenses in person at age 75, with proof of an eye exam.

The change came after an 88-year-old driver struck and killed a 4-year-old crossing a suburban Boston street in 2009.

This summer, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed a national guideline for older driver safety that, if finalized, would push states to become more consistent.

Among the recommendations: Every state needs a program to improve older driver safety; doctors should be protected from lawsuits if they report a possibly unsafe driver; and driver’s licenses should be renewed in person after a certain age, tailored to each state’s crash data.

Still, many states say their main focus should be on inexperienced teen drivers and problems such as texting behind the wheel.

“Teens are risk takers. Our older drivers are risk avoiders,” said Alabama state Rep. Jim McClendon. Alabama drivers renew licenses every four years, with no older age requirements.
New Hampshire last year stopped requiring road tests when 75-year-olds renewed their licenses.

The law was repealed after an 86-year-old legislator called it discriminatory.
It’s not the only state worrying about age discrimination.

“You don’t want to go around and say, ‘This person is 85. We’ve got to take them off the road.’ That wouldn’t be fair,” said Assemblyman David Gantt of New York, where licenses last for eight years.

On the other side is the family of a Baltimore college student who died last year after being run over by an 83-yearold driver who turned into his bike lane.

Maryland next month begins issuing licenses that last longer – eight years instead of five – despite an emotional appeal from the mother of Nathan Krasnopoler that that’s too long for the oldest drivers.

“You should be looking at your drivers to be sure they’re able to safely drive. There’s plenty of research that as we age, things do change and we may not be aware of those changes,” said Susan Cohen, who now is urging Maryland officials to study adding some form of competency screening, in addition to the required eye exams, to license renewal.

Elder Abuse… is in the house

This is a story of an elderly woman. She is a retired teacher. She kind of lives alone if it were not for the unemployed 60 year old man, an acquaintance from church and a woman acquaintance from church, also in her sixties, who moved in.

Her thirty something unemployed grandson took it upon himself to move in too under the auspices of being her caregiver. He charged her $500 a week.  I think that covers the interlopers.

Now when the non-rent paying acquaintance/interloper from church wanted to oust the grandson, also a non- paying interloper because they feared he was financially abusing this nice old lady, they called in the big guns AKA Susan B. Geffen. If it were not for the woman herself pleading for my help on the phone I would have simply suggested for them to call the police.

I left my family at our weekly farmer’s market visit and rushed to her aid. When I arrived the elderly woman was shaking and so frightened that I had one of the interlopers call the police. Her grandson was on the way and I had no idea what I was walking into. It seemed as if everyone was interested in being protective of all, but her.These interlopers were stakeholders.

If they had their way I would have been their pawn; the one that collaborated and conspired to isolate this vulnerable old woman. Instead, she hired me to protect her. She now has a fiduciary handling her financial affairs and a geriatric care manager, me, coordinating her care.

I know you are wondering, “doesn’t she have any family?”

She had four daughters, three of whom are no longer alive. Her other daughter, the grandson/interloper’s mother, packed up and moved to Texas two years ago, leaving her mother, my client an 86 year old woman to fend for herself. Before she left for Texas, she had been living with my client in my client’s home, rent-free, with her son the interloper. My client had previously told the grandson interloper that she did not want him living there.

As soon as this daughter caught wind of the fact that the jig was up and that the fox, her interloper, unemployed, homeless, new to the care giving profession son was no longer guarding the henhouse, she flew to California to “care” for her mother. She then proceeded to try and round up a lynch mob to accuse me of undue influence because a person, other than one of her family members, is handling her mother’s finances and healthcare.

When she arrived at my client’s home, my client immediately asked her to leave and gave her a check for her airfare on the spot.  To confirm that her mother was not being unduly influenced, the daughter had her best friend come over to speak with my client who reiterated her desire for her daughter to return to from whence she came.

Could someone please call my client’s daughter and ask her if SHE knows what medications her mother is taking and when her next doctor visit is and whether she can manage her bills or whether there is a strange man living with her mother? If you did, she would not be able to answer any of these questions. She would just want to know if the will had been changed.

That has been the predominant question either directly or in a roundabout fashion from every family member who has crawled out of the woodwork to harass me.

Not one person is interested to learn that their mother/grandmother was precariously close to a critical hospital stay before I arrived. Now she is getting up and off the couch without assistance. She is smiling and laughing once again. Her medications are being managed, she has professional home caregivers in her home and most, if not all of the riffraff are gone.

My client has given me the authority to record her and show a video of her for educational purposes. I hope to add that video link to my next newsletter so look for it. I want everyone to see what it is like for an older adult to be scared and feel vulnerable and then witness the transformation that can occur by feeling hopeful with the aid and presence of good professionals.

Elder Abuse Statistics

-Seventy percent of the nation’s net worth is owned by those aged 50 or older. This makes seniors a rich target.

-Forty percent of all reported elder abuse cases involve financial exploitation.

-Estimates indicate that only 1 in 25 cases of elder financial abuse is reported.

-There may be as many as 5 million elders victimized by financial exploitation each year.

Sources: National Fraud Information Center, National White

Collar Crime Center, U.S. Department of Justice/Bureau of

Justice Statistics, and the National Center on Elder Abuse, Senate Special Committee on Aging.