Attack of the Zombie Lawyers!

 

ZOMBIE SIGHTINGS IN DOWNTOWN DENVER!

 

In a recent blogpost, I had a link to an adverstisement for an insurance company selling coverage for retirees interested in buying protection against robot attacks. . . .  Who knew I would be writing a post about zombie lawyers a few short weeks later! You may not recognize these zombies because, well, they’re not the Hollywood stylized ones popularized by the movie Zombieland and that whole genre of too-many-B-movies-to-name (with all due respect to George Romero and Shaun of the Dead. . . . ). Yes, they’re missing the makeup and the flashy zombie attire, but don’t be fooled – they’re real!

 

 

 

In case you are doubting the veracity of this post, here’s another picture – this one of bar association employees – who knew they too were zombies?! – gathered for a snack in their lunchroom.

 

Okay, really these zombies are obviously having too much fun to be the menacing, drooling Hollywood types! So what gives with the zombie lawyer theme? Is there any redeeming part of this whole April Fools blogpost you ask? Well . . .  hold on. . . .

I was also thinking of another variation of a “zombie lawyer” – I’m thinking of the DIY online document services  and legal information available over the internet  – both the free and the fee-based kind.  Why – you might wonder – would I consider this a kind of “zombie lawyer?”  Well, many folks who have legal questions or difficulties often have questions about the law, or how it applies to them – and they don’t know where to start.  The internet is an amazing but often overwhelming source of information, and some of the information that is available is legal in nature.  So there is plenty of information out there, but how to filter out the wheat from the chaff?  And what about figuring out how it might apply to your particular situation? If you aren’t sure whether you are asking the right question or think your situation is unique, or that your scenario might be complicated -and  not something that is readily answerable in an “FAQ” type information source – sifting through the information can be overwhelming.  How do you decide which is “good” information that applies to your circumstances?  Well, the “zombie lawyer” or more accurately “zombie legal advice” you can cobble together from a variety of internet sources may be problematic in several ways:

  • it may not be state (Colorado) specific, but based on another state’s law (how do you know?)
  • it may be designed to apply to a one-size-fits-all category and you’re not sure what your size is. . . .
  • you might zero in on a known problem and not consider its relationship to other issues
  • you might end up “fixing” one problem only to create a difficulty in another area
  • how will you know if you’re asking the right question or getting a sound answer?
  • can you accurately consider the cost of the “downside” for doing nothing, or addressing the situation by handling it yourself?

When you contact a lawyer, you get the benefit of talking with an actual human, not a zombie that looks like a source of legal information or advice! A lawyer is not someone who is just trained in the law in terms of finding information, we go to law school to learn to look at things and analyze issues and situations in terms of legal analysis.  Sometimes the most important task in finding an answer for a client is in identifying the right question.   Here I would also offer an insight from  a favorite book of mine – Daniel Pink’s “A Whole New Mind,”  and in terms of work in my field of estate and elder law, it takes me and my colleagues from being otherwise pigeonholed by some as mere document preparers to a job more along the lines of being a symphony conductor:  We provide the forum to ask the right questions, to hear the concerns of the client and to coordinate the legal issues, analysis and practical application to a synthesis or symphony. . . .   In my opinion, this is the best part of being a lawyer. And that is no April Fool’s joke!

 

©Barbara Cashman     www.DenverElderLaw.org

 

Two-Minute Flyover: Health Care Planning in an Age of Longevity

Two Minute Flyover Video: Health Care Planning in an Age of Longevity from Barb Cashman on Vimeo.

Two Minute Flyover: Health Care Planning in an Age of Longevity

I decided on the topic for this vlog post after a post on a listserv I belong to inquiring about advance health care planning documents.  And there was also a recent comment in one of my LinkedIn  groups asking about why so few people engage in advance planning regarding health care matter.   The topic is a bit of a reprise to this post about end of life decision making but I wanted to cover the basic distinction between a medical durable power of attorney and an advance directive.  In this vlog post, I refer to a couple good resources for assisting people in making health care choices that are consistent with their values.  Here are some links to those documents:

University of New Mexico Values History document available in pdf format here

This American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging’s page includes a pdf of the Consumer’s Toolkit for Health Care Advance Planning

The American Bar Association’s Legal Guide for the Seriously Ill (put together with the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization) can be downloaded here

Human Rights and the Elderly

 

December is universal human rights month! Why December?  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948.  After the end of the Second World War, the international community came together and vowed that such atrocities would not be allowed to happen again.  That’s right, there is such a thing as universal human rights under international law.  That’s the reason I went to law school – to study the international protection of human rights.  The UDHR formed the basis of important political and legal developments internationally and in many regions and individual countries, and spawning two International Covenants – on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Now that I’ve been practicing elder law for many years, referring to the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys’ Aspirational Standards (coincidentally, many internationally recognized human rights are “aspirational” in nature – meaning they are emerging or not fully recognized as rights as such in the legal system), I am seeing more of the broader connections between elder law and human rights.  So, based on that theme, I started looking around a bit more after I saw a reference in the latest query on the rights of elder people in international law.  Thomas Hammarberg, former Council of Europe human rights commissioner recently spoke in Gothenberg, Sweden   about the pressing situation faced by many elders in the European Community.  The number of elders worldwide is burgeoning and coupled with the Great Recession, many are faced with dire circumstances that are a breeding ground for exploitation and degradation.  The “rights of the elderly” is a concept that is both broad and particular at the same time, as it reflects the fact that the challenges and needs facing elders are quite diverse, reflecting a broad range of legal, social, financial, medical, emotional and social implications.

The UDHR, at article 25, para. 1 states

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

The rights of the elderly often tend to be a right “to” something (such as security, health care, participation, dignity and nondiscrimination) as opposed to the United States’ historically preferred position to support freedoms “from” on the basis of governmental intrustions.  Of course, elders have well-recognized civil rights in this country to be free from exploitation, abuse, neglect and inhuman treatment.  How will the rights of elders evolve and develop?

Here’s a link to an interesting law review article entitled “International Human Rights and the Elderly,” published in the Marquette’s Elder Advisor and available here.     I also found an interesting abstract of a paper by a member of the law faculty at Montreal’s McGill University titled “The Human Rights of the Elderly: An Emerging Challenge.”     The most interesting aspect of this abstract is the connection made between “ageist” attitudes and discrimination in youth-glorifying and death-denying societies.  I find this connection especially apparent in our culture, which is obsessed with the “doing” aspects of life, and when we are no longer able to “do” as we previously did, we are diminished, worn down, used up and not entitled to the same level of respect as we previously enjoyed.  I think this attitude is not uncommon.  As long as our notions of dignity and respect are linked exclusively to “doing,” the ethics of how we treat people as rights bearing “beings” will be difficult to make coherent.   Included in this conundrum are the rights of the disabled along with those of many elders, whose capacities may be diminishing and are part of a large group of vulnerable persons in need of protection.  I found helpful an overview by the Human Rights Education Association about “The Rights of the Aged,” available here

I couldn’t write this post about the implications of youth-glorification and death-denial in our culture and legal systems without mentioning how our separation from our older, sicker and frailer selves also serves to distance us from the last part of our existence, our life journey  – dying.  Can the dying person and their dear ones reclaim grace and dignity in the process of dying?  Why yes, and thanks to The Soul of Bioethics newsletter I receive from The Healthcare Chaplaincy,    I learned about The Sacred Dying Foundation.    This follows on some familiar themes I have previously blogged about – how our treatment of death and dying informs our values about life. That’s all for now.

December 4 is Colorado Gives Day – Will You Give?

I like the idea of a day focused on giving to charities, especially in the midst of a holiday time of rampant spending on gifts!  Colorado Gives Day is Tuesday, December 4, 2012 – in case you haven’t already been notified by nonprofits you support . . .  I like the website for Colorado Gives Day, you can enter a zip code and find local nonprofits to support.  Plus, there is no administration cost – 100% of your gift goes to the nonprofit, thanks to the underwriting of its sponsors.

Some of the nonprofits focused on aging issues that are listed on the Colorado Gives Day website include:

Innovage Foundation (formerly the Total Community Options Foundation) are the folks whose programs include the Johnson Adult Day Program, InnovAge Greater Colorado PACE (formerly known as Total Longterm Care), InnovAge Homecare (formerly known as Seniors Inc.), and InnovAge Greater New Mexico PACE (formerly known as Total Community Care);

The Senior Assistance Center is a northwest Denver nonprofit that provides emergency financial services, a food bank, friendly visitors, and ArtReach, just to name a few of their programs;  and

The Guardianship Alliance of Colorado, a relatively new organization that provides information  and guidance about guardianship of adults in Colorado.  Their education programs include classes for people to learn more about becoming a volunteer guardian, along with a training class about serving as a guardian for an incapacitated adult.

I know some of the people who work for these nonprofits, and they are individuals dedicated to improving the lives of seniors.  These nonprofits are filling gaps in our community.  As the number of seniors continues to rise, the ranks of those living on fixed incomes expands, and the social challenges of integrating seniors into the community – or keeping seniors engaged in communities remains.  These nonprofits are helping seniors and their loved ones in the Denver metro are face those formidable challenges.  Please consider supporting these nonprofits, or another nonprofit of your choice this Colorado Gives Day!

 

 

©Barbara Cashman     www.DenverElderLaw.org

 

October 21-27 is Pro Bono Week!

Maybe you’ve heard about attorneys and pro bono work. . . .   The full length version of the term is pro bono publico – which means for the public good; for the welfare of the whole.   Pro bono isn’t just an American phenomenon – check out the Wikipedia entry about it here .     I once worked with a marketing person who threw something into a package and called it “pro bono.”  But pro bono does not mean free (the Latin word for free is gratis . . . )  and I would rather go with the approach of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder:

We are bound by a responsibility to use our unique skills and training – not just to advance cases, but to serve a cause; and to help our nation fulfill its founding promise of equal justice under law…The obligation of pro bono service must become a part of the DNA of both the legal profession and of every lawyer.”

He made this statement last year at the National Pro Bono Summit on October 24, 2011. So why do many lawyers perform pro bono work?  There are several good reasons including:  (1) the highest poverty rate among Americans since 1993 (persons qualifying for no fee or reduced fee civil legal services); (2) ensuring access for the poor helps keep the judiciary independent; and (3) respect for the rule of law.

In Colorado, Chief Justice Michael Bender declared October as Colorado’s first annual legal professionalism month.   You can read more about that here.      What do professionalism and pro bono have to do with each other? Lots!  One of Chief Justice Bender’s four goals identified in his proclamation is to encourage the entire bar to “recognize the broad legal needs of our community and improv[e] public attitudes toward the profession through a renewed dedication to pro bono service.”  The month culminates in an “Assembly of Lawyers” at the Boettcher Concert Hall, where the Colorado Supreme Court, sitting in special session, will administer the oath of admission to the newest bar admittees – pretty cool.  Read more about it here.

I do the bulk of my pro bono service through Metro Volunteer Lawyers,    an organization serving low income clients in the Denver metro area that sponsors clinics, provides information to the public and finds pro bono  attorneys to represent indigent persons in need of a variety of legal services.  I have done pro bono work for MVL clients in my usual practice areas of estate planning and probate but have also represented folks in family law court for MVL.  MVL is presenting a CLE this week in honor of pro bono week – check it out here.  Volunteering with MVL is easy and very gratifying.  Click here for more info.

One last word about helping others through pro bono service.  Many people don’t realize that our human brains are wired to help each other out and to feel good about it.  Acts of loving kindness to assist others can benefit us in many important ways: improve physical well-being; raise self-confidence and self-esteem; encourage friendships that help your immune system; and it may help you live longer.    In fact, we might be able to volunteer our way to a healthier brain – fMRIs (functional magnetic resonance imaging) show that the neurology of unselfish acts, such as making a donation, lit up the mesolimbic pathway (the limbic system is often referred to as the reptile or primitive part of our brains) that facilitates the brain’s experience of joy.  I must add – as an elder law attorney – that this can be a beneficial thing for older “at risk” or isolated adults.  Volunteering by elders helps them in many ways, one of which benefits cognitive function as a consequence of our lifelong neuroplasticity.  Here are links for a couple very interesting studies which should be encouraging news for elders wondering about whether there are benefits to volunteering.  Volunteer service is a great way to engage in your existing community and also to find a new one!  If you are skeptical and want more proof, read this amazing little book “The Hidden Gifts of Helping,” by Stephen G. Post (Jossey-Bass:2011).  If you are wondering about pro bono services tailored for legal problems of elders in Denver county, check out Elder Justice a great public resource.  I was happy to interview their executive director, Sharon Mohr, in honor of pro bono week.  You can see the vlog (video blog) post here.

 

How Does the Service Many Elder Law Attorneys Provide Differ From the More “Traditional” Attorney-Client Relationship?

I’m pleased to be presenting again at the Fourth Annual Elder Law Retreat in Vail, Colorado next week.  It’s put on by our Colorado Bar Association Continuing Legal Education, Inc. and is co-sponsored by the Elder Law Section of the CBA and the Colorado Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. My breakout sessions cover the intersection of ethics and practice management for attorneys practicing in the elder law field.

I thought an overview of some of the different ways that elder law attorneys are hired by and work with clients, and how the relationships can be more complicated than the more “traditional” areas of practice would make an interesting blog post.  So here goes. . . .

I’ve said this in a few other places already, but we’ve never had this many 80 and 90 year-olds on the face of the planet before!  Many of us baby boomers hope that our life spans will extend beyond those of our parents, so what’s the big deal?   That’s where the relatively new field of elder law comes in . . . .

What is Elder Law?

Elder law is a practice area that started out as an outgrowth of the more traditional trusts and estates field, but is essentially a general practice area that is concerned with the needs and legal challenges of older people (elders) .  With medical advances and relative affluence, people are living longer, and periods of incapacity are more common, along with a greater incidence of cognitive and physical disability.  Other factors that impact the growth of elder law are the outsourcing of some of the care that families have traditionally provided elders, which has resulted in no small part from the number of women in the workforce, along with family members living apart from each other geographically.  Some important distinctions are relevant here – elder law attorneys may sometimes:

    • meet with clients at home or in health care facilities
    • meet with clients who are brought in by family member to the lawyer’s office
    • work with other allied elder care professionals like geriatric care managers
    • work within a “communitarian” or family-based approach to benefit all family members

These are just a few examples of how the “traditional” single client attorney client relationship, that is “typically” geared at some type of litigation to fix a problem differs widely from an approach where an elder client is looking for counseling  and preparation of documents that will facilitate their continued support with family member involvement.

The majority of elder law attorneys – except those practicing in contested probate matters – tend to look for ways to avoid litigation and may adopt an approach that is not the traditionally “adversarial” approach but take one that is decidedly “facilitative” in outlook.  What I mean here is an attorney who can think outside the box and negotiate agreements that aren’t exclusively protection oriented but are results oriented.  In a litigation obsessed world, many lawyers are focused exclusively on their concerns as lawyers – avoiding bad results for their clients.  This is often to the detriment of what the client wants – a creative solution that provides results.

How Does the Delivery of Elder Law Legal Services Differ from a More “Traditional” Approach?

Due to the age of many clients, elder law attorneys must be aware of and sensitive to a number of issues which do not affect a more traditional law practice.  Some of these include:

    • sensitivity to cognitive and physical limitations that may be associated with aging (mobility, hearing, etc)
    • familiarity with medications  and how these may impact the attorney/client relationship
    • awareness of impact of family dynamics and how these impact legal and financial planning
    • sensitivity to relationships needed to maintain well-being and autonomy

 

How Elder Law Attorneys Can Work with Clients

Many of us who practice elder law work with our clients in ways that are beneficial to our clients but that sometimes appear to fall outside the norm of a “standard” attorney-client relationship.  These can include a need for the attorney to:

    • conduct a separate meeting with an elder brought in by a family member
    • consider whether joint representation (two people) or multiple representation is appropriate
    • determine who is “the client” so as to identify the person to whom the attorney owes her duties
    • assess whether a potential client has the capacity to enter into an agreement with an attorney for her services
    • work productively within difficult or strained relationships among family members
    • be able to work with other people who are involved in the elder’s care

For me, elder and estate law and mediation practice is satisfying work because of the human relationship and “helping” aspects.  Sometimes people think this sensitivity might be inconsistent with the legal analytical skills required to come up with a sound strategy and to draft effective documents to execute the strategy, but I assure you that there are many of us who are attracted to this field because of this unique skill set required.  And yes, many of us happen to be women, so we can relate to many of the caregiver issues in ways that are consistent with our own experience.

Elder law is an interesting and intellectually challenging area of practice and it is important that the client feel comfortable working with an attorney and discussing many personal matters.  In my opinion, estate and elder law attorneys tend to be more responsive and respectful of people’s vulnerabilities – whether these are due to skepticism about what services an attorney is proposing to provide, a client’s difficulty with understanding what “the law” is relevant to a particular question, or a client’s state of fragile or frail health.  I have to say that I enjoy working with other estate and elder law attorneys  in the Colorado Bar Association’s Trusts & Estates and Elder Law Sections– they typically know how to play nicely together in “the sandbox.”

 ©Barbara Cashman, LLC   www.DenverElderLaw.org 

Denver’s Senior Law Day is Coming Soon!

The 2012 Senior Law Day will be held in Denver on Saturday, July 28, 2012 from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Denver Merchandise Mart.  This annual event is put on by the Colorado Bar Association (CBA) and is co-sponsored by the Elder Law and Trusts & Estates Sections of the CBA, along with CBA Continuing Legal Education.

You can register for the Denver Senior Law day here.

This annual educational seminar presents a number of diverse programs relevant for seniors in Colorado.   Attendees will get important and useful information on many issues facing our growing senior citizen population. If you are a senior, an adult child with a senior parent, or a caregiver, this is one day you cannot afford to miss!

Workshop topics include:

•             Aging in Place – Maintaining Your Independence at Home

•             Adult Protection and Elder Abuse

•             Assisted Living and Nursing Home Issues

•             Avoiding Court and the Legal System:  Mediation and Conflict Resolution

•             Consumer and Investment Fraud Prevention

•             Dealing with Trusts & Trustees

•             DNR Orders, Advance Directives, and End of Life Issues

•             Estate Planning: Wills, Trusts & Your Property

•             Disposition of Final Remains

•             Hanging Up the Car Keys for Good

•             Hospice, Palliative Care, and Other End of Life Issues

•             Illness and Death of a Significant Other

•             Lifelong Learning and the Aging Brain

•             Planning For Your Pets

•             Powers of Attorney , Guardianship & Conservatorship

•             Long-Term Care Insurance

•             Medicaid

•             Medicare 101

•             Trust Planning for Individuals with Disabilities on Public Benefits

•             Reverse Mortgages

•             Social Security

•             Taking Care of Your Pets and Pets Taking Care of You

•             The Basics: Memory Loss, Dementia and Alzheimer’s

•             VA Benefits

•             What to Do When Someone Dies

•             The Village Movement and Your Community: Neighbors Helping Neighbors to Age in Place

 

Like many of my estate and elder law attorney colleagues, I am proud to be a legal sponsor of this worthwhile event.  If you can’t attend the Denver Senior Law Day, there are other opportunities:

In Boulder County (Longmont) on Saturday, August 11- register here

In Larimer County (Fort Collins) on Saturday, August 11- register here

If you can’t make it to a Senior Law Day but are interested in looking at the 2012 Senior Law Handbook, chock full of 33 Chapters (many on new topics including . . . Facebook!) click here

Don’t forget that the CBA website at www.cobar.org has lots of helpful information for the public. Check it out!

 

Will I Have to Pay for my Elderly Parent’s Nursing Home Care?

Filial Responsibility:  Requiring adult children to pay for parent’s care

This is a guest post by my friend and elder law colleague, Ayo Labode.

Filial –  filial |ˈfilēəl; ˈfilyəl| Adjective, of or due from a son or daughter : a display of filial affection. 

“Filial responsibility” in this context refers to legislation in thirty states that establish a duty for adult (nonindigent) children to care for their elderly parents.  These statutes derive from the England’s Elizabethan Poor Relief Act of 1601.  Under the poor laws relatives were the primary source of support for family members although limited public assistance was available for those unable to support themselves or their relatives.  Modern filial responsibility laws are based on the reciprocal contract theory:  one has a moral responsibility to support one’s parents because the parents reared and provided for him or her as a child.  Proponents argue that these laws foster family harmony and promote the Biblical  Commandment of honoring one’s mother and father.  However, consistent with the reciprocity theory, if a parent failed to support the child as a minor, the adult child is not responsible for the parent’s health care bills.

In May 2012, a Pennsylvania Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court’s decision holding John Pittas liable for his mother’s $93,000 nursing home bill under Pennsylvania’s Filial Responsibility’ Law.  Health Care & Retirement Corporation of America v. Pittas (Pa. Super. Ct., No. 536 EDA 2011, May 7, 2012).

Here’s an overview of the facts of the case:  Mr. Pittas’ mother sustained injuries after a car accident.  After completing her rehabilitation she was transferred to Liberty Nursing and Rehabilitation Center where she lived for five months before relocating permanently to Greece.  She left behind an unpaid bill of $93,000.  Although she had applied for Medicaid, the application was pending at the time of the appeal.  The nursing home sued Mr. Pittas for the unpaid balance under Pennsylvania’s Filial Responsibility Law.  You can read a Forbes article about the case here.

Pennsylvania is one of 30 states with statutes that hold an adult child liable for the medical bills of the parents. The Pennsylvania statute provides a few exceptions to the filial responsibility:  (1) the adult child does not have sufficient financial ability to support the parent or (2) adult child was abandoned for a period of ten years while a minor by the parent in question.  23 Pa.C.S.A. § 4603.

Colorado is one of 20 states that does not have a filial responsibility statute.  In 1987 the Colorado Supreme Court held that “a child has neither a common law nor a statutorily imposed duty to support his or her parents.”  In re the Marriage of Serdinsky, 740 P.2d 521 (Colo. 1987).

Proponents of enactment and enforcement of filial responsibility laws view these laws as a way to address the increasing demand for Medicaid to pay for long –term care.  According to MetLife’s annual survey of long-term care costs, in 2011 the average daily rate for nursing homes in Colorado is $207/day for a semi-private room.  That is almost $76,000/year.  As a point of reference, in 2010 the average social security recipient received $1,176/month or $14,000/year.   The Pittas case is not an anomaly.  In 2008, a Pennsylvania court held a man responsible for his mother $8,000 nursing home bill even though he was out of work and deeply indebt.  To complicate matters, the mother had the ability to pay the nursing home through her pensions and social security payment, but simply refused to do so.   Because the mother’s sources of income cannot be garnished, the nursing home sought and received a judgment against the son.

Some family law practitioners compare the current state of filial responsibility laws to that of child support statutes that targeted fathers who failed to pay child support – the so-called “deadbeat dad.”  In an oft-cited 2002 article in the ABA Family Law Quarterly, a family law practitioner suggests that the federal government should create incentives for states to create filial responsibility laws and mechanisms for effective enforcement across state lines. This argument has led supporters of filial responsibility laws to compare adult children to deadbeat parents who fail to provide child support.

This comparison, and the idea of “deadbeat children” is a misleading and erroneous simplification of the issues at stake. There are several major distinctions between “deadbeat children” and “deadbeat parents.” First, adults make the decision to have children and therefore have a responsibility to provide for their well-being.  However a child was not consulted regarding the selection of his parents or to determine if they will be spendthrifts or penny-pinchers.  Second, the sheer cost of long-term care can easily overwhelm most families, and filial responsibility laws may render adult children destitute. Third, the type of care adults need as we age can be physically and mentally demanding.  For example, it is not uncommon for an adult with advance dementia to become physically aggressive, incontinent and wander away from the home.  Retirement-aged adults may not have the ability to provide the necessary care and oversight. Finally, over a long lifetime, relationships can become messy.  We would all like to think of loving parent-child relationships built on mutual responsibility and respect.  However, we know that many families drift apart for a myriad of reasons: differences in lifestyles, choice in religion, alcohol and drug abuse or worse. These laws would make children responsible for parents even when the bonds of trust and care have been broken.

As we live longer, lawmakers will continue to explore ways to pay for the increasing care needs.  Filial Responsibility laws are seen by some as a possible “solution” to pay for the care we need as we age. Yet many people are unaware that they could be held responsible not only for their debts, but for those of their parents.

Ayo Labode is the principal of The Law Office of Ayo Labode, LLC, in Denver.  Her practice is concentrated in the area of elder law, estate planning, wills, probate, guardianships and conservatorships.  Prior to starting her own law firm, Ayo worked for almost five years as an ombudsman, an advocate of for nursing home residents.  She was responsible for investigating complaints from nursing home residents and their families about nursing home care and violations of resident rights.  Ayo has also written chapters for the Colorado Handbook of Elder Law about assisted living residence and nursing home admissions contracts and the Senior Law Handbook about selecting an appropriate nursing home or assisted living residence.   You can reach Ayo at www.LabodeLaw.com

On Grief and Food: Why Feeding Your Hunger Heals Your Heart

This is a guest post by Michele Morris, a local food aficionado and food blogger I know.

I recently attended the funeral of a dear friend – she was young, only 60, taken much too early by a rare form of cancer. I was asked to speak at the service on behalf of a small group of women who traveled together each year, and although I held myself together for that short tribute to her, I nearly collapsed from grief watching her parents pass her casket on the way out of the service.

After pulling myself together in the bathroom with some others (I felt I needed to be the strong one – although I had lost a friend, my good friend had lost her beloved sister, and her parents had lost a child), I went to join the others in the church for a reception. In the south, the “church ladies” pull together food for funerals, and as you might guess, this was a veritable smorgasbord of comfort foods: fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, mashed potatoes with heavy cream and butter, ribs, and dessert – well don’t even get me started about the pastries!

For a moment I thought I was going to be sick staring at the long tables of steaming food lined up, but then I found myself in line along with every other grieving person at the funeral. In fact, I lined up not once, but definitely went back for seconds and possibly even thirds. What is it about grief that inspires us to cook for each other and how is it that when we feel most crushed that we find a way to eat?

At its very core, cooking for someone is a way to nurture them. As babies, unable to feed ourselves, we are fed by our mothers. As children growing up we are fed by friends and family. And as adults, we feed ourselves along with our own friends and families. If someone has a surgery, we make them food. If a new baby arrives, we bring the family a casserole. When we celebrate our kids’ sporting events, we assign roles for snacks. Feeding someone is a way of meeting one of the most basic of human needs. For the person in grief who is being fed, it offers comfort. When you hurt and someone takes care of you, you feel loved, you feel protected, and you feel cared for.

When life is normal, most of us are able to provide this care for ourselves – we can feed ourselves and our families without the help of those around us. But during a time of grief, it’s a huge relief – and a gift also – to have someone else take on this role for us. It allows us the opportunity to just grieve, knowing we’ll be cared for.

As for the foods that are prepared, is it any surprise that comfort foods often top the list? That’s because they are exactly that: comfort foods. They comfort because they are familiar and they often remind us of our childhoods. But that’s not their only trait. Many times they are foods that actually help the brain release endorphins. You aren’t just weak in willpower when you sit down and can’t stop snacking on a bag of potato chips. Carbohydrates (which include sugar), fat and a compound found in chocolate all stimulate the release of endorphins, which trigger a pleasure response. While you may not feel downright joyous at a funeral when you eat those mashed potatoes loaded with butter, you probably do feel just a little bit better.

So for all of you “church ladies” and other friends who have brought food to families in crisis or cooked for the mourners at a funeral, thanks for taking care of people when they most needed it. Your caring – and your cooking – absolutely does make a difference.

Michele Morris is the owner of Cooking with Michele, providing private cooking classes, food and wine dinners, and small event catering. She is the author of both a food blog and a travel blog (cookingwithmichele.com) and has written for numerous regional publications. Her first cookbook will be released in the spring of 2013 and on any given day she can usually be found cooking for someone.  You can email her at michele@cookingwithmichele.com  and find her blog with lots more great recipes at her website. www.cookingwithmichele.com

Did all those comfort food references leave you with a hankering for those potatoes pictured above? Check out Michele’s recipe below:

Buttermilk Smashed Potatoes with Garlic Chives  

Serves 4

 1 to 1 1/4 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes

1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk (or cream or half and half)

4 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons minced garlic (or regular) chives

Salt and pepper, to taste

 Clean the potatoes under cold water then cut into 1 inch cubes. Add to a pot of cold water and bring to a boil. Cook until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Carefully drain. Return cooked potatoes to the pot and add buttermilk and butter and use a potato masher to smash them together, combining the buttermilk and butter as you do so. Stir in the chives and season with salt and pepper to taste.

 Note:  I like to keep the skin on the potatoes because it’s filled with vitamins and adds fiber to your food which is good for you, but if you don’t like it, you can peel your potatoes first.

Post about Joan Therese Seivert and Connections Unlimited, LLC

This is the first of a series that will showcase some of my colleagues, their businesses, expertise, etc. because  the DenverElderLaw.org blog isn’t just about Barb!  Today I’m writing about Joan Therese Seivert – her website is www.joantherese.com, her company’s name is Connections Unlimited, LLC and she regularly tweets  and posts Facebook updates as well as youtube videos about what she does for Denver area families.  Joan Therese runs Connections Unlimited, LLC, from her home office in Edgewater, but she typically visits with people in their homes.  Joan Therese has had her company for twenty-three years and before starting Connections Unlimited, she worked in special needs advocacy and a variety of different settings in aging and retirement communities, which she describes as excellent preparation for her Connections Unlimited work.  When she started Connections Unlimited , she needed a flexible work schedule because she had young children.  Her kids are now grown, but she still enjoys the flexibility of running her own business and doing work she knows she is meant to do.

Helping families sift through the options available for an aging parent, whether that involves independent or assisted living, and asking the questions that are sometimes the most difficult for family members to ask are all part of what Joan Therese does.  She asks lots of questions to find out what people are concerned about, and she listens carefully to their answers.  She is a consummate networker, and prides herself on being familiar with a variety of people and resource providers, so that she can offer different people different options.  Nearly all of the work she does with Connections Unlimited is about helping families with elders work together to maintain quality of life and strengthening community.

What Joan Therese finds most gratifying about her job  is being of service to others, especially helping them make the space to ask the hard questions and assisting them through the process of making their own choices about how they want to proceed.

Joan Therese hasn’t written a blog post before, but she does regular updates on Facebook  (her fan page has over 100 likes!) and lots of tweets.

I asked Joan Therese about some of the biggest challenges she faces in her line of work.  She answered that is thinking about the huge number of boomers aging, keeping people living independently by fostering their connections to the community, and locating available resources for the large number of older women of fixed (low) incomes.  She typically asks herself, along with her clients, to think about conceptions of aging and consider whether someone is “settling into old age” or whether they are becoming an elder – an engaged member of the community.

I love chatting with Joan Therese and hearing about her work, which she infuses with much joy, meaning and purpose.  Be sure to watch one of Joan Therese’s(latest) videos here!