Digital Assets – Coming Soon to a State Near You!

denver elder law

Cutout Constellation

 

Colorado may soon be getting some legislation in place concerning digital assets in the probate context! Today’s post will look at the benefits of having a digital assets clause in such estate planning documents as a general durable power of attorney or in a will.

Here’s the link to SB 16-88, which is a bipartisan bill entitled “Concerning the ‘Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act,’” or RUFADAA for short.  The RUFADAA has been introduced in 29 different state legislatures so far.  I have already written several blog posts on this topic of “digital assets,” and my most recent one on the topic mentioned the revision of the uniform act by the Uniform Law Commissioners (ULC) last July.  If you’re looking for a bit of background on digital assets, read this post.

Of course I still don’t know for certain whether the RUFADAA will pass (still working at using my crystal ball successfully . . . ), but it seems like it will.  On Monday (2/22/16), it was introduced in the House and assigned to the Judiciary Committee.  The controversies which plagued its predecessor, the UFADAA, have largely been eliminated with the ULC’s RUFADAA.

So to begin, here’s a few helpful pointers.

  1. Specify and distinguish between assets and access

It’s not enough to simply generally describe online or digital assets in a POA or other estate planning document because there are important nuances and details which third parties, upon whose approval an agent acting for a principal must depend, which must be address.  The difference I’m talking about here is identified in the bill’s distinction set forth in §15-1-1502(9), which states a “designated recipient” means a person chosen by a user using an online too. To administer digital assets of the user,” and §15-1-1502 (10) “digital asset” means an electronic record in which an individual has a right or interest . . . .

Keep in mind that some internet service providers already provide their own online tools by which a user can designate individuals who are authorized to receive the content of a user’s account in the event it is inactive for a period of time determined by the internet service provider (ISP).  On Facebook, for example, this is known as a legacy contact.

In this circumstance described above, the fiduciary for a decedent estate (a/k/a the personal representative in Colorado) or an agent under a POA must contend first with the user/principal’s specific direction (if it exists) and to the extent that no designation was made by the user/principal, then the governing instrument (e.g., a POA) would control.  Finally, if there is neither a specific direction by a user/principal as to who shall have the power to access nor a POA or other governing instrument, then the standard term of service agreement controls.

  1. Recognize and give priority where applicable to “online tools”

This coordination of designations in an ISP’s online tools with, for example a POA, is an important undertaking for RUFADAA purposes.  If the user (be they a principal under a POA or the decedent in an estate administration proceeding) has already designated a person or persons to have access consistent with the ISP’s online tools, this will take precedence over the estate planning documents.  See the RUFADAA at §15-1-1504.  In this context, it would be a good idea for the user to ensure that the selected agent is not only just the agent for POA purposes but is also a designated recipient as identified above.

  1. Things are continually evolving!

Evolving was chosen over changing because it has a more positive gloss, doesn’t it? The change is ongoing.  These will keep estate planning and probate lawyers on our toes to advise client of developments affecting access with the use of online tools and also ensuring that a user’s selected fiduciary (agent, personal representative, etc.) will have access to the assets as intended by the user.

So – a scenario to avoid would be one in which the user designates one person to have access by naming them a designated recipient, but then (perhaps at some later date, unwittingly) names another and different person as (for example) agent under a POA.  This kind of a conflict will cause problems and should be avoided.  No, this online networked world we live in is not getting any simpler to manage!

© Barbara E. Cashman 2016   www.DenverElderLaw.org

More About Proposed Colorado End of Life Options Act

Italian Arch

Italian Arch

 

After my recent post about this bill in the legislature entitled the Colorado End-of-Life Options act, I was contacted by someone who was concerned that I had omitted some very important information about the proposed legislation.  I am posting further on this topic to provide more detail about the legislation and also to express my concern, as an elder law and probate attorney, about the particular implications of those important details – which I missed the first time around.

The bill contains no requirements regarding documentation and reporting of any of the processes described in the bill.

This is a big departure from the 2015 version of the bill – which contained provisions concerning reporting and documentation for the public health record (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) or the patient’s medical record.

Why is this a big deal?

Other states with similar legislation have documentation, reporting and review requirements.  This is for several good reasons, but the two with which I am concerned – protecting a vulnerable population of elders at risk of abuse safe from potential coercion and ensuring their consent to end their lives is one with consent given which is sufficiently sound and documented.  This reporting is to keep track of the many important details surrounding physician assisted death (PAD).  Without reporting requirements, there will be no way to know how the state’s PAD is working or not working.

Elders and vulnerable elders (as defined in Colorado’s mandatory reporting of elder abuse or exploitation law) have not generally been at the forefront of the PAD movement.  However, much of our death-denying and youth-glorifying culture is obsessed with the fear of losing one’s autonomy, losing control over one’s choice – and these fears factor substantially in the PAD debate.  As a civil rights issue, PAD focuses on self-determination and autonomy to allow for an individual’s decision to end one’s life with PAD.

My concern is that a population of elders could be coerced and exploited into ending a life prematurely and without documentation and reporting requirements for PAD, there would be no information to document many important details surrounding  a patient’s death with PAD.  I believe this situation could be used by someone looking to benefit themselves by a terminally ill elder’s PAD.  So what am I talking about . . . really?

In Colorado, we have a “slayer statute,” codified at Colo. Rev. Stat. § 15-11-803.  The statute generally prevents a slayer from profiting from their act of killing another.

Many exploiters of elders use tactics not unlike those of perpetrators of domestic violence.  These can include: isolating an elder from their loved ones or community members so as to make the elder dependent on the abuser; controlling basic life activities like provision of adequate nutrition, sleep deprivation or medication mismanagement; and devaluation of the elder’s dignity and personhood through words and action.

The state of Washington, which has a physician assisted death law as a result of a ballot initiative, also has a “slayer and abuser” statute, which is a rather unique combination.  The Washington slayer statute was amended to extend the slayer statute’s application to prevent financial abusers of vulnerable adults from acquiring property or any benefit from their victim’s estate.  This amendment was done during the pendency of a will/living trust challenge proceeding brought by the adult children of an elder against the elder parent’s surviving spouse, a second wife fifty years the decedent’s junior.  Here is the Washington Supreme Court’s en banc decision in In re: the Estate of James W. Haviland, which concerns this tragic exploitation.

The linking of slayer statutes and elder abuse laws is a relatively recent development.  One aspect of the link is the massive transfer of inherited wealth that has been underway for several years now.  The sad fact is, some folks simply don’t want to wait for the uncertain date when someone dies to inherit from the person.  In my line of work, these folks are referred to as “impatient heirs.”  The vast majority will not resort to violence to accomplish their goals, but it can be difficult to determine this in many circumstances.  Here’s a link to an abstract of a recent article on Expanding Slayer Statutes to Elder Abuse in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.

Why am I combining these two issues – the Slayer Statute as it relates to elder abuse and the lack of documentation and reporting requirements in the 2016 bill? 

I don’t think it is too far of a stretch that, if this “End of Life Options” bill were to become law and not provide for ANY record-keeping, documentation for either the individual’s medical record or for the public health record, that this lack of information and reporting could provide a potential avenue for death-hastening abuse of an at-risk elder, who happens to be terminally ill and whose health status otherwise falls under the purview of this bill.  The process described in the bill, devoid of any reporting requirements, opens up a vulnerable population to be exploited by an abuser such that the cause of death could be determined to have been at the terminally ill person’s own hand . . .

In short, I believe the Colorado bill’s lack of safeguards, which could otherwise serve to prevent coercion and consent, fall dangerously short as it relates to the population of elders.  For more information about other states’ existing laws, take a look at the Colorado Health Institute’s piece from January 2016 on this topic.

Here’s a recent and well-reasoned Denver Post article on this topic that focuses on the bill’s lack of requirements for oversight, documentation or enforcement.

This debate is also happening in other parts of the US where similar bills have been introduced.  Here’s a recent article about the assisted dying debate in Canada, where there is a new federal assisted dying law.  I will close for now, but will likely be writing posts to update this very controversial topic.

© 2016 Barbara Cashman  www.DenverElderLaw.org

 

The Colorado bill on Personal Rights of Protected Persons

Late Summer Blooms

Late Summer Blooms

 

Here’s another article about a bill making its way through the Colorado legislature.  If the title sounds obscure, it’s because it’s designed to address a rather tragic situation which infrequently occurs but has terrible repercussions.  A “protected person” in this context is a person known as a ward in a guardianship proceeding, one who is incapacitated and who has a guardian appointed to make decisions on the protected person’s behalf because they are unable to make decisions and otherwise manage their own affairs.

Here’s a link to the bill, SB 16-026.  The bill is more popularly known as the “Peter Falk” bill because it concerns the late actor’s daughter, Catherine Falk, and her efforts to promote legislation that would make it easier for children of protected persons (like those under a guardianship) to challenge the monopolization or limitation by a guardian upon access to the protected person by the protected person’s family members.  The tragic scenario in the Peter Falk case was that Peter Falk suffered from dementia in his final years and his wife, Catherine Falk’s stepmother, was estranged from Peter Falk’s daughter.  Falk’s wife prevented Falk’s daughter from visiting her father and so she took her battle – an expensive one – to court in California.  Catherine Falk later organized her own effort to ensure that this type of scenario would not happen again, not just in the state where her father resided, but she made it a nationwide effort.  Visit her website here, which shows the ten states whose legislatures are currently considering the legislation.

If you think this kind of scenario would only play out for a celebrity, well . . .  think again! A large proportion of us, particularly us baby boomers, are in second marriages or otherwise part of a blended family – with all of its particular and unique personal dynamics.  According to this study by the Pew Center, remarriage is on the rise for Americans aged 55 and older.

I do estate planning for many blended families.  While many of the shrinking number of “Ward and June Cleaver” families (long marriage, children in common) would not consider this type of scenario to be likely to occur, as the baby boomers and our core complicated familial arrangements get on in years and continue to change, the Peter Falk bill presents an opportunity to curb restrictions which a guardian may place on who may visit and interact with “their ward.”  I have a hunch that more of us in my line of work are likely to encounter this difficult and sad scenario.

As we continue to live longer and grapple with more encroachments on our capacity – in the form of dementia and other physical, cognitive and psychological challenges, we will likely confront these difficult issues more frequently.  The debate about limitations on guardianships – of rights retained by an incapacitated ward, as well as the limitations on the authority of the guardian – are difficult issues with which people and courts must certainly grapple.

I will close with an observation from a favorite poet.

The great secret of death, and perhaps its deepest connection with us is this:

In taking from us a being we have loved and venerated,

death does not wound us without, at the same time, lifting us

toward a more perfect understanding of this being and of ourselves.

—Rainer Maria Rilke, Letter to Countess Margot Sizzo-Noris-Crouty, January 23, 1924

©Barbara Cashman  2015   www.DenverElderLaw.org

Colorado End-of-Life Options – proposed Colorado legislation

Archway at DBG

Archway at DBG

A bill has recently been introduced in the Colorado legislature that would legalize “aid in dying” or physician assisted death.  Last year I wrote a post about a previous version of this bill, then known as the “Death With Dignity” bill.  Just the name change to “end of life options“ and its references to “aid in dying” reflect a change toward a more neutral approach to this highly controversial topic.

A group of us on a bar association committee have examined this proposed legislation, solely for the purpose of looking at how it lines up with existing Colorado law.  Last year’s bill was based on Oregon law and its terminology contained many anomalies and terms from that state which are not consistent with Colorado law.  This new bill contains some changes from its predecessor and I have looked at last year’s bill alongside this year’s bill but the number of changes is not large. Most troubling to some of us is the rather lax standard for witnesses to the request process (set forth in §25-48-104 of the bill) as they are not nearly as stringent as the standards for executing a living will.  Sure, there are also emotionally-charged and value-laden subjective terms in the bill, like “in a peaceful manner,”  “peaceful death” and “peaceful and humane.”  These are some of the troubling aspects of the proposed legislation from my perspective as a Colorado estate and elder law attorney.

Even though I do own a crystal ball, I have yet to get my hands on a decent user’s manual for it. . . ! So, I can’t say what will happen with this latest bill.  It may well end up being chucked out once again by the legislature, only to make its way as a ballot initiative, in the same manner that Washington state got its legislation.

California was the most recent state to pass legislation allowing physician assisted death.  Governor Brown signed the End of Life Option Act into law on October 5, 2015.  You might recall that Brittany Maynard, the young woman who suffered from terminal brain cancer and whose physician assisted death was highly publicized, was a Californian who relocated to Oregon in order to avail herself of that state’s physician assisted death law.

Here’s a link to the Colorado Health Institute’s post about physician assisted death in the wake of Brittany Maynard’s death.  In case you’re wondering about the terminology, the Hospice and Palliative Care folks tend to prefer “physician assisted death” while the Compassion & Choices (successor to the Hemlock Society and proponents of the legislation in many states) folks prefer the term “aid in dying.”

Here is an excellent article on the diverse issues presented in the physician assisted death debate. The article covers the historical and cultural context for the aid in dying movement in this country.  I also found the observation about minority groups not being as keen on physician assisted death as Anglos (sorry, I still use this term from my college days) very telling.  We still must grapple with the historical legacy of our health care system’s treatment of the marginalized.  I have blogged about the Tuskegee experiment and I know from experience (having taken some of these calls at my office) that some newer immigrants to this country are keenly aware of their status as outsiders who might be viewed by the medical establishment as being powerless to object to removing a loved one from life support, for the suspected purpose of harvesting valuable organs.

Okay, so what does any of this have to do with the proposed Colorado legislation?  Well, plenty.  I am not taking a stand here for or against the legislation, but I do have a question that underlies the premise of such legislation.  The major base of support for physician assisted death in this country has been along the west coast, the states of Oregon (implemented their law in 1997) and Washington (approved by ballot measure in 2008) are pretty homogenous (mostly Anglo). I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of the people who state they may wish to avail themselves of physician assisted death are better-than-average educated Anglos.  These are people who are used to being “in charge” of their lives, making choices and seemingly charting their own destinies throughout life.  These are many of the same folks who struggle mightily with quality of life and independence and autonomy issues as we age and became less independent.  This isn’t too far from the death denial and youth glorification I am so fond of writing about.  For many of these folks, the right to die is simply an extension of their self-determination in the medical context.  I  however, do not think it is nearly that simple!  Nor do I think the “illusion of control” that so many of us collectively buy into so readily extends readily to complex end of life scenarios.

I can certainly understand concerns about less medical intervention to prolong life, but this is not what we’re talking about here.  We are talking about extending a person’s health care self-determination right such that medical technology is used to end a life.  I will close with another question – does or should it matter that not many so people will use this legislation to hasten their deaths?

I’m sure I’ll be writing more on this interesting topic, so please stay tuned.

© Barbara E. Cashman 2016   www.DenverElderLaw.org