More about Preventing Elder Abuse With Prosocial Behaviors

Who You Callin’ Stubborn?

 

This is a follow-up post about WEAAD.  Elder abuse is a phenomenon that affects not just the victim of abuse, but threatens the fabric of our community.  Besides mandatory reporting, prosecuting perpetrators and enforcing existing laws prohibiting elder abuse and exploitation, there are prosocial behaviors which can serve as powerful and effective preventive interventions to guard against the isolation and vulnerability which often lead to elder abuse.

What Are Some Examples of Prosocial Behaviors?

The term was coined as an antonym of the more prevalent term “anti-social” behavior.  It comes in many different theoretical forms, but they all recognize that we humans are social beings and depend upon one another, notwithstanding many of our “atomistic” beliefs about who we are and how we interact with each other.  In this respect, prosocial behavior is tied to our very survival, but a functional approach is what I’m concerned about here because I’m looking at ways to foster elders remaining visible members of our community.  The basic behviors might include: demonstrating concern for others, sharing time and resources, caring for others and active empathy.

Isolation as a Precursor to Elder Abuse, Inclusion as the Antidote

It may not occur to many of us that someone’s ability to live independently in the home – a/k/a aging in place, can have disadvantages and drawbacks.  From my experience, I see plenty – but don’t get me wrong, I am definitely not against aging in place!  I am concerned that sometimes it gets glamorized in unhelpful ways.  I have seen some elders dig in their heels at the suggestion by loved ones that they bring in some help to perform household chores or share in meal preparation.  In its worst expression, it becomes a vow by the elder that they will only be removed from their home “on a gurney.”

How Our Focus on a Rights-Based Approach to Elderhood Often Overlooks the Prosocial Activities of Inclusion and Participation

Most elder abuse occurs in the home.  Many elders face abuse and abusive situations in skilled nursing facilities or other facilities and these tend to be the attention grabbers.  I think of this fact when I read the ruling on appeal issued by the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals last May, which upheld a jury verdict of $1.21 million in damages against an operator of an Oklahoma City, Oklahoma nursing home for abuse of one of its residents by nursing home employees. Keep in mind that nursing home administrators have many resources to assist them in training and supervising staff, one of these tools is known as TPAAN and here’s more information about it.

Our Collective Fear of Dementia Often Means We Shun People Affected by Dementia

When we’re talking about elders aging in place, we have to consider folks with dementia.  People with dementia have trouble thinking and sometimes their loved ones in particular (most of whom have no special training in communicating with people with dementia) or other community members have a difficult time not correcting those errors in thinking, cognition or memory impairment.  But what if we looked at those “errors” not as errors but simply as a different way of being in the world?  How could we get through to see and listen to someone in that different world the person with dementia inhabits?  Remember, there is still much opportunity for communication, which can and does still happen.  The more challenging question is how we can facilitate it.  I think of music and its use in Alive Inside and I recently learned from a Canadian friend of the Butterfly Model, a new version of person-centered care that recognizes that

for people experiencing dementia, feelings matter most, that emotional intelligence is the core competency and that “people living with a dementia can thrive well in a nurturing environment where those living and working together know how to “be” person centered together”

We Can Still Be in Relation With A Person Whom We Struggle to Understand

This person-centered care is a relational way of engaging with a person affected by dementia. It also reminds me of Naomi Feil’s validation therapy, which is also relational.  So, this leads me to the inevitable question, can people engage in this type of relational work without specific training and/or outside the context of institutionalized care?  I will write more about this soon….

©2018 Barbara E. Cashman, www.DenverElderLaw.org

Observing World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, June 15, 2018

A Wee Highland coo…

WEEAD is Friday! If you want to show support in social media for this day, try this Thunderclap link to add your voice.  I write this post after a move to a new office, which is comfortable and spacious, where I am nestled amidst tenants who are friendly and engaging.  It has happens to be just a few blocks from where I attended junior high school.

Community has many definitions depending on the various contexts of our interactions with each other and where we are interacting with each other.  A big part of community is seeing the other person and being seen by another. Being seen is something we take for granted.  Last week, a man hid himself under the front of a public bus, which then dragged the man’s body nearly half a mile until coming to a stop.  This took place on the street where my office is located, right in front of my office window.  But I didn’t see it happen.  The bus driver obviously didn’t see the man, which ended in the man’s tragic death.  It seems that our ability to see one another is becoming increasingly more difficult.

WEEAD – Prevention of Elder Abuse Begins with Seeing Elders as a Contributing Part of Our Community

In our world, seeing is a precursor to engaging with the other.  Engagement can lead to effective participation.  Take a look at this link to The Road to Elder Justice Virtual Art Gallery with many beautiful expressions of what elders contribute.  On this WEEAD, events are scheduled in nearly every state to raise awareness.  Check out this event organized by the Boulder County Area Agency on Aging.  Here’s a link to a Facebook Live broadcast today at 5:00 p.m. MDT about how the Office of the Inspector General at the Social Security Administration detects and prevents suspected elder financial exploitation  and how people can protect themselves and others from mistreatment.

A question follows: what do we see about elder abuse and how do we see it?

One helpful resource has identified the beliefs about elder abuse as “the swamp:” which includes limiting beliefs (often mistaken for conventional wisdom…) such as:

modern life is the problem – we simply don’t care enough about older people so caregivers are pushed to the limit and older people are devalued;

there are not enough resources for any solutions – there is not enough money for prosecution and surveillance of perpetrators, or raising awareness and education about elder abuse to help recognize it or for providing support for caregivers and as a result, nothing can really be done;

the individuals affected are really the problem – perhaps these elders had it coming as payback, many older people are difficult to deal with or have personal weaknesses, the perpetrators are greedy, lazy, opportunistic, or bad people who cannot be deterred, and we’re either all responsible for it or no one is;

elder abuse is vaguely defined and hard to recognize for many people – elder abuse as such is not acceptable, but many forms of neglect don’t qualify as abuse, including sexual abuse of elder women.

This ”swamp” thinking described above is hardly “thinking”, as these represent only relatively common types of limiting beliefs like: universalizing a problem to inflate its significance and make “solving” it impossible; personalizing elder abuse to make it only about certain types of individuals who are affected; catastrophizing it so that the only “response” can be hand-wringing; and making unrealistic or false distinctions about what is acceptable behavior and what is not so as to make identification of the real problem impossible.

We Must Refuse to Accept That Elderhood is Only About Loss and Marginalization

Like the “swamp thinking” above, many of us have unexamined beliefs about what it means to be “old.”  These beliefs can reflect scarcity beliefs and thinking about the world each of us lives in.  Those beliefs can dictate what we see in elders and how their role in society is marginalized. In this respect, the marginalization of elders as a kind of “lesser than” or “has been” segment of our culture and economy becomes a kind of collective self-fulfilling prophecy.  Sociologist Robert K. Merton coined that phrase in 1948 with these terms:

The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the original false conception come true. This specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning.

Looking at the relationship between our diminished expectations of what is possible in elderhood and what we expect to see, based on our expectations, generally leads to …  These expectations become the self-fulfilling prophecy, for ourselves and for others.  But, this challenge becomes an opportunity to change our perspective and change our minds.

There are good resources available that help us to reframe the story of elder abuse from one based on inevitable decline, vulnerability and victimhood to a story from a different perspective, reframed to tell of empowering ourselves and elders to engage with and participate in pro-social activities designed to strengthens the ties which already exist – instead of disowning them because of some of the difficulties we have come to experience.

I will write more about pro-social behaviors we can nurture and support to prevent elder abuse – as individuals and collectively.

© 2018 Barbara Cashman  www.DenverElderLaw.org

May is National Elder Law Month!

Italian Door

Did you know that the first recognition of this month was in 1963, when President Kennedy declared it to be Senior Citizens Month to honor those 65 and older?

I am observing it in my way by continuing to post about topics relevant to elders and the rest of us who aspire to become “senior citizens” …  Today’s post is another in my series on guardianship reform.

I recently read a new publication by Thomas Lee Wright, The Family Guide to Preventing Elder Abuse (2017: Skyhorse Publications). Wright also produced Edith and Eddie,” the 2018 documentary short Oscar nominee, which you can watch here.  I watched this poignant short film about a newly married nonagenarian couple.  There were many things in the short that were left out of the film which concerned Edith’s dementia.  The film could have gone into detail about the legal wranglings relating to Edith’s guardianship, but it didn’t.  To my mind, the beauty of the story was its simplicity: their love for each other.  I don’t want to give a spoiler alert concerning the sad ending, suffice it to say it had to do with Edith’s guardian’s decision-making authority.

Back to the book.  Many aspects of Wright’s book I found to be informative and helpful, but one of the shortcomings I sometimes find about books of this nature which originate from an author’s personal experience, is that its scope tends to be narrow and somewhat reactive to the situation with which the author unfortunately was made familiar.  I did like that many of the chapters are written by others with expertise in the field about which they write and provide different perspectives.

Are the Probate Attorneys and the Guardians of Incapacitated Elder Adults Part of the Solution or Part of the Problem?

As an attorney representing clients involved in protective proceedings or related matters, I work in an imperfect system.  Sometimes I struggle to explain to clients why things work the way they do.   Sometimes they ask me why it is so hard, why it has to be so difficult to take care of a parent.  My answer is always the same: if it were easy to do the right thing, we would live in a vastly different world. There is no black/white or right/wrong in our legal system, even fewer in probate matters as there are many perspectives and viewpoints of someone’s “best interests” in probate court.  A colleague once referred to it as “like a divorce except with five people involved.”  It is in this sense a branch of domestic relations court.

Why is this observation important? Each of us – attorney, client, as well as the other involved in proceedings (and there can be a rather large cast of characters) always need to keep in perspective that we have our own perception of what is happening and why, our own beliefs about what is in another’s best interest, and our probate court system tries to account for these things while respecting due process rights of the elder involved who is not able to make or communicate important decisions relating to the court proceedings.

But I digress, so back to the book… of interest to me were chapters 7 “Working with Professionals” (doctors and lawyers) and chapter 8 “Abusive Guardianships.”  Chapter seven addresses how to work with doctors and lawyers.  Many of my clients with whom I work have not previously hired an attorney.  There are many things to consider in hiring a lawyer in the elder law context, but I think the most important considerations are working with someone you feel you can trust, he uses clear and effective communication skills and answers your questions and provides guidance.

As for chapter eight, I found the co-authors’ very brief “history” of guardianship law to be not helpful and its broad statement concerning the standard of proof in guardianship proceedings is misleading and could easily have been corrected with fact checking.  In Colorado, the standard of proof for establishing a conservatorship is a preponderance of the evidence, while for a guardianship the standard is clear and convincing evidence.  There is no “one size fits all” preponderance of the evidence burden of proof in civil proceedings.

I also found their use of the term “predatory attorneys and guardians” to be vague and misleading.  I was not sure whether the term was used to refer to professional guardians and there were few details to flesh out the use of these terms.  As an attorney in Colorado, I can say that in a Petition for Guardianship or Conservatorship, I must alert the court as to the existence of a medical or general (financial) power of attorney and will typically explain in the Petition why the agent is unable to perform their duties as anticipated.  The advance planning in the form of POAs is not just summarily chucked out the window!

Advance planning does not work 100% of the time.  Complications can arise when an agent is no longer willing to perform because the job is too difficult.  In my practice this typically takes place because of family dynamics and as a result of sibling relationships becoming more fractured and hostile due to an elder parent’s cognitive decline or incapacity.  Sadly, some children readily take advantage of the situation, sometimes out of a sense of entitlement, that the parent “owes” them, or because they have nurtured a lifelong grudge against the sibling who is selected as the parent’s agent.  Sometimes it’s one child with a “misery loves company” modus operandi, these folks are very troubling to their unwitting parent and the adult child the parent has named to assist the parent as agent.

By the time an adult enters the probate court proceedings as a “respondent” named in a Petition for Guardianship or Conservatorship, the elder parent may be in the final stages of advanced dementia and barely rooted in time and place. Court appointed counsel, known as “Respondent’s counsel” may or may not be able to adequately represent the Respondent’s legal interests due to communication difficulties and a court may find it necessary to appoint a Guardian ad Litem to represent the Respondent’s best interests.

No Respondent Goes Willingly to the Hearing on a Petition for Guardianship!

I have yet to hear an elder respondent state, “why yes, your honor, I have really been slipping cognitively and need the court to appoint someone to take care of everything and make decisions for me.”  The cognitive impairment of an elder is often barely noticeable because it tends to happen over time, often gradually.  Some elders refuse to go to a doctor because they suspect they will get a dreaded diagnosis they don’t want.  I sometimes refer to Alzheimer’s as a contagious disease because it often happens that the denial that something is terribly wrong is shared with a spouse, adult child and sometimes others close to the elder with cognitive impairment that puts them at risk to financial predators.  Couple this with the fact that there is no medication to slow the decline or reverse the losses and the result often means waiting until a catastrophe has taken place.  Maybe mom gave away $30,000 of her $60,000 life savings to one of her kids or to a neighbor or to purchase lottery tickets.

There is neither a simple nor an easy solution to this challenge to our legal system.  It will only become bigger and more complicated as the numbers of old and cognitively impaired baby boomers rise and their often fractured family relationships contribute to the dysfunction.

In the next post on this topic I will look at standards for appointing a guardian or conservator as well as the oversight by the court system of these proceedings, which can cover a long span of years.

© 2018 Barbara Cashman  www.DenverElderLaw.org

A Brief Look at the Thinking Behind Guardianship Reform

Help with wings

Those of us who practice in the field of conservatorships and guardianships (this is Colorado terminology; their precise titles vary from state to state) are now struggling to make sense of the many proposed changes put forward by critics.  I am primarily concerned with the proposed legislation from the Uniform Law Commissioners known as the Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship and Other Protective Arrangements Act (UGCOPAA).  This proposed legislation has been hailed as a modern update to guardianship and conservatorship law.  Where Colorado (in contrast to many other states) has long established uniform guardianship and conservatorship legislations, along with periodic updates, the new uniform legislation is basically “Guardianship 2.0” in that it represents a major and systematic update and overhaul.  The American Bar Association has a good overview of the proposed uniform legislation here.

The Challenges of Reforming Different Systems Among the States

Nationwide, there are many groups and individuals behind efforts to reform guardianship (as the term will be used collectively to refer to both types of legal proceedings).  The different groups have different criticisms and there is no shortage of horror stories about how these “protective proceedings” have gone wrong for many people.  While many people would like to have more uniformity and oversight imposed on the state systems of probate courts, the federal government is neither equipped nor inclined to act as overseer here.  The lack of resources for the much-hailed Elder Justice Act is an example of this unfunded mandate.

There Are At Least Two Different Populations of Vulnerable Persons

Guardianship reform efforts are aimed to assist those identified as the most vulnerable segments of our population: the disabled community (with organizations like The Arc and legal protections like the ADA), along with elder adults with declining cognitive capacity.  This latter population will continue to grow.  The numbers of elders with severe cognitive impairment grows with the numbers of elders, and the Alzheimer’s Association has dubbed my generation of baby boomers “generation Alzheimer’s.”    To my mind, there are two very different “camps” of persons in this proposed legislation.  Suffice it to say that the two segments are generally included as a group together because of the overlapping needs for respect for their rights to dignity and self-determination.

My central concern with the proposed legislation is the point where the two groups interests and needs for protection diverge.  Keep in mind they are very different populations.  I’m using a broad brush here, but we’re talking about needs and protections of a developmentally disabled adult who may be relatively high functioning in some aspects of living and need substantial assistance in others.  They may be able to live independently with assistance.  Contrast this with the large numbers of elder adults who, as a direct result of our unprecedented longevity, have amassed resources, established relationships and lived their own lives prior to succumbing to dementia.  When does one lose the ability to manage one’s own affairs?  That simple question has no simple or easy answer!

Among those who call for guardianship reform in the context of elders, there are a couple groups, those associated with celebrity children of fathers who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease.  These daughters were not allowed sufficient visitation with their fathers due to restraints placed on such visits by their stepmothers, specifically Kasem Cares and the Catherine Falk Organization, who have zeroed in on a right to association as part of guardianship reform.

The Guardianship Reform Movement Is a Diverse Group with Many Diverse Interests Represented

Suffice it to say that some of the diverse interests conflict with each other.  Many of the calls for guardianship reform are in response to the inherent failings of a particular state’s system of oversight.  Nevada’s system in Clark County was the subject of Rachel Aviv’s New Yorker article “The Takeover,” and it documented in horrifying detail how elders were systematically stripped of their civil rights as well as their property, with hardly a nod in the court system to any due process rights.

That reform is needed is not the issue, but the where, how, why and what of that reform should be examined closely, instead of trying to overlay a “fix” for a problem which may not exist or by creating new problems by reforming a system in its entirely when there were parts of it that were working fairly well.  If you take a poll of attorneys in this field, you would be hard pressed to find people who don’t have concerns about how our system works and most of us could list an array of its shortcomings.  Does this mean the system is broken? I don’t think so. Does it need improvement? Yes.  Our legal system is a functioning part of our government that must respond to the diverse array of interests, pressures and fiscal priorities and realities.

What I find disturbing about all of this is the clamor to “fix” a broken “system” – as if all we needed to do was pass some new legislation that would magically transform the adult protective proceedings system into a streamlined, dignity-honoring and civil rights protecting regime. In our obsession to fix a problem and then move on to the next thing, we overlook the opportunity for thoughtful change and typically neglect the big picture of looking at the entire system – both the working and the failing parts, with an eye to improving particular outcomes.  This takes longer obviously, but avoids the throwing the baby out with the bathwater approach.

Next time, I will look more deeply into the criticisms levelled at attorneys and fiduciaries working in the field of conservatorships and guardianships.

© 2018 Barbara Cashman  www.DenverElderLaw.org

The Dead Girl Who Continues to Live

Death Upside Down

Four years ago I wrote a post entitled “When Death Is Not Death: Stumbling Over the Parameters of “Brain Dead” about brain death and other medical-intellectual curiosities.  Turns out that one of the young women whose “brain dead” status I described is still. . . not dead, er… rather alive.  Alive for some people, seems to mean “brain dead” for others!  I read with interest Rachel Aviv’s Feb. 5, 2018 New Yorker article  about Jahi McMath, the teenager who suffered complications from a December 9, 2013 tonsillectomy at an Oakland, California hospital.  Some of the story is about our “health care system” and its values – about whose life matters, what condition of life passes for death.  The biggest challenge I see for all of us and this predicament we find ourselves in with health care in this country – is the dogma of the medical-industrial complex and its insistence on getting everyone “in line” about what passes for death and training us to simply not question the information we are given by the professionals reading the diagnostic screens.

Acting “As If” Death Had a Clear Legal and Medical Definition

To the extent we privilege the measurement of brain activity as a measure of our consciousness, as an indicator of the proof of our existence, we deny the underlying philosophical problem of defining or delimiting life and death (and consciousness).  Our present obsession with the measurable quantification of our biological activities is a major component of our current health care system.  We love the pictures of our insides and their operations in “real time.”  As long as we continue to collectively pretend that one’s existence can be verified by a particular type of brain scan, we will remain in denial.

But that denial is often a safe place, based on the “safety in numbers” type of thinking and as a result of the unquestioned power that doctors have and wield over us with their technocratic medical delivery system.

The Audacity to Think – or Rather Believe – That Our Technology Alone Can Be Used as a Means of Extending Someone’s Life by Prolonging Rudimentary Bodily Functions.

I talk to many people who confuse life support with extending one’s life and also with prolonging the dying process.

How do we tell the difference?  Why, ask the doctors!

Can I be kept alive indefinitely against my will? I haven’t heard that question yet, but I suspect there are versions of it being asked.  I am not comfortable handing over my authority to a health care provider who refuses to consider (let alone struggle with) the bigger questions about life – and death.

At a fundamental level, Jahi McMath’s story is about her family members who simply refused to believe what they were being told by the doctors.

One of the neurologists who examined Jahi McMath was the recently retired chief of neurology at Olive View – UCLA Medical Center.  Dr. D. Alan Shewmon was no stranger to cases where patients – many of them children or youths, survived for months or years after being declared brain dead by the medical establishment.  You can read his 1997 article “Recovering from Brain Death: A Neurologist’s Apologia”   here.

No answers in this post, only questions.  How far does the death taboo extend to our thinking or believing (which are often indistinguishable) about what passes for life?  In our brain-obsessed culture that is fascinated with measurements and arriving at the quantifiable, where does the subjective and mysterious show up – or is it simply banished and its existence denied?

© 2018 Barbara Cashman  www.DenverElderLaw.org

What Might Guardianship Reform Look Like?

Sienese Sculpture

 

What would a change in our guardianship law in Colorado mean?  Well, that depends! In my previous post about guardianship reform I looked at it in general as well as its application to Colorado.  In today’s post I’m asking some additional basic questions, which are aimed at making some fine-tuning adjustments where our present law doesn’t appear to suffer any major shortcomings.

How Can We Appropriately and Affordably Assess a Person’s Capacity?

Last month I attended a meeting of the UGCOPAA subcommittee of two Colorado Bar Association sections.   We are tasked with looking over the proposed uniform law’s provisions and we discussed some of the UGCOPPA’s provisions concerning the role of evaluations – like neuropsychological evaluations to assess a person’s functional capacities to perform different cognitive tasks of a person’s capacity.

How can we ensure that a capacity assessment is “good enough” for purposes of a court’s determination regarding whether a person is incapacitated or whether a person could benefit from assistance for particular tasks or function – something short of an unlimited guardianship and what will later be discussed as a kind of “other protective arrangement?

What Are the Implications for Going Beyond a “Physician’s Letter” that Are Currently Used to Support a Petition for Guardianship?

In Colorado, our law presently disfavors the imposition of plenary or unlimited guardianships over limited guardianships.  But – and this is a big caveat – the difficulty, particularly in addressing the circumstances of an elder with worsening dementia, is that it may sound like a good idea to have a limited guardianship but such arrangement may not be workable on a practical level because it might require the court to revisit the person’s needs as they increase and require more support from others which would not be contemplated in a limited guardianship.

Will the cost for getting a “good enough” evaluation make the proceedings too expensive?

The challenge here is how to make the laws accessible but still affordable for states with tight judicial resources. Easier said than done! I don’t think it would be a good idea to have a law which is an “unfunded mandate” in this context!

In case you’re wondering what is going on in the rest of the country regarding “guardianship reform,” there are some recently updated resources from the American Bar Association’s Commission on Aging.

Remember that the “guarding the guardians” theme is nothing new for guardianship legislation.  Over the years, studies have been performed to assess the effectiveness of monitoring and oversight by courts, as well as training and accountability for court appointed fiduciaries (including guardians).  There have been a number of national guardianship conferences (including those known as “Wingspan”) in which specific recommendations have been identified, which have included those concerning monitoring  by courts.

The National Center for State Courts also has a Center for Elders and the Courts webpage, which contains useful resources including an elder abuse toolkit and an elder abuse curriculum.  What we’re really talking about here in guardianship reform is about preventing elder abuse.  But it is complicated because the definitions concerning what constitutes elder abuse are inconsistent among states and federal law.  I do not want to diminish the importance of looking at reforms for state guardianship laws, but in my experience, the detection and reporting of elder abuse is a far more challenging and pervasive problem.  Ensuring that the civil rights of elders are protected requires us to look at the big picture in this regard, so that is what we are doing.  More on this topic next time….

© 2018 Barbara Cashman  www.DenverElderLaw.org

Does Guardianship Law Need Reform in Colorado?

guardianship reform

At the Threshold

This may seem like a pretty basic and simple question, maybe too simple for some – but it lies at the heart of a debate currently raging in many parts of our country.  A couple axioms come to mind here – first: “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater;” and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  I don’t want to appear trite here, but we do first need to identify and distinguish the baby from the bathwater so to speak, as well as identify the system (which is imperfect as all systems are) and/or its parts which may be working as anticipated or which are in fact broken.

So what is it that people mean by “guardianship reform?”

Well, it depends on who you ask! I like this definition of law reform:

Law reform is the process of analyzing current laws and advocating and carrying out changes in a legal system, usually with the aim of enhancing justice or efficiency. By promoting and executing changes in a legal system, individuals and groups can implement changes in a given society. Law reform can be achieved through litigation, legislation, or regulatory change, and often requires the collaboration of a variety of groups in different practice settings. Law reform may also be defensive – stopping changes in existing law through litigation or legislative advocacy.

Here is an explanation on the need for guardianship reform as explained by the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), of which I am a longtime member:

Guardianship is an ancient legal device dating back to early Greece and the Roman Empire.  It protects at-risk individuals and provides for their needs.  At the same time, because it removes fundamental rights, it should be considered a last resort when no appropriate less restrictive alternatives are available. With the aging of the population and rising numbers of persons with mental disabilities, adult guardianship has received increased scrutiny in the last 25 years.  The history of guardianship reform shows a marked advance in law but uneven implementation in practice. Guardianship reform laws have focused on five related areas:

  • Stronger procedural due process protections in the appointment process;

  • Changes in duties and powers of guardians, and provisions for limited guardianship orders;

  • Guardian accountability and court monitoring; and

  • Public and agency guardianship.

With the “silver tsunami” of aging baby boomers, there can be no doubt that more attention and resources are needed to address this challenge for each state and the federal government (which has its own system for its programs) of crafting a workable and cost-effective legal framework which honors human dignity, protects fundamental rights of elder disabled or incapacitated persons, provides accountability of court-appointed fiduciaries (guardians and conservators) and honors other important values.

Is Guardianship Usually Considered a “Last Resort?”

As an attorney practicing in this field and appearing regularly in probate courts, I can say that under our statutory framework (the Colorado Uniform Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Act or “CUGPPA”), as evidenced by the Colorado State Judicial Department’s proscribed form for a Petition for Guardianship, as consistent with applicable case law, and as a result of certain judicial officers questions posed to counsel and interested parties to a protective proceeding – the imposition of a guardianship is a last resort.

When I counsel clients for estate planning and we discuss the importance of durable powers of attorney, I stress the importance of choosing the right person to serve as agent.  I also state that in nearly all cases, the powers of attorney will work as intended if the need for them arises – but I also caution clients that while a guardianship or conservatorship may be the “nuclear option” in many scenarios, it is sometimes the only effective means to protect a vulnerable adult from the influence of or exploitation by another.  Sometimes I have had to explain in court documents or to an inquiring judicial officer why the power of attorney is not working as intended.  These types of situations can be quite complicated and usually involve some family dysfunction that is expressed as one person’s (often an adult child of an elder) need to try to control a situation or the actions of or access to an elder parent.

Notwithstanding these considerations, once a determination is made that an elder adult is incapacitated and in need of protection, there is supposed to be a range of alternatives which a court can order, ranging from a limited guardianship to an unlimited or “plenary” guardianship.

But a limited guardianship is generally considered unworkable because of the myriad challenges to and difficulties of monitoring a limited guardian’s exercise of authority.

As for the unlimited or plenary guardianship, I would say that this has become the “default” type of guardianship imposed.  This is where my concern about civil rights for elders resonates and why I am looking closely at the new legislation put forward by the Uniform Law Commission (the Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship, and other Protective Arrangements Act or “UGCOPAA”)  for adoption by the states.  The National Center on Elder Abuse has a helpful document which summarizes the goals of the new model legislation.  The American Bar Association urges support of the UGCOPAA for its provisions regarding “supported decision making” as a less restrictive alternative to imposition of a guardianship.

What Do Abuses Have to Do With the Need for Systemic Reform?

My question here is again a basic one.  There can be no doubt that the incidences of overreaching or financial abuse by court-appointed guardians must be remedied, particularly where a state court’s system allowed for such abuse to take place because of the lack of systemic protections of elders’ civil rights including due process.  One of the most infamous examples of this was described in The New Yorker article “The Takeover,” written by Rachel Aviv, a chilling true story which recounts in detail what happened to an elderly couple (and several other elders) in Las Vegas, Nevada and how their daughter was powerless to protect her parents.

I have had a couple clients ask me whether that Las Vegas-style abuse could happen here in Colorado.  I believe it could not happen here, but I remain concerned about the protection of elders’ civil rights.  Remember that the guardianship proceeding is essentially an extinguishment of an elder’s civil rights!

But there is a separate consequence at issue here – once a guardian or conservator is appointed by a court, there remains the issue of court oversight of the appointed fiduciary and this is another place where things can get difficult.  Here’s a link to a recent NY Times article which contains some alarming statistics about the amount of money that has gone missing in reported cases of guardians stealing from their wards.  In each judicial district, Colorado maintains a probate monitor whose job it is to ensure that guardians and conservators (particularly the latter as they manage finances for a protected person or ward) provide the necessary information for filing the required reports.  The Colorado state judicial branch monitors probate cases in other ways as well.

In my next post in this series, I will examine some of the abuses which have been uncovered and publicized and put forward as compelling reasons for guardianship reform.  I wish everyone a happy new year!

© 2017 Barbara Cashman  www.DenverElderLaw.org

Is Guardianship Reform Coming to Colorado?

One Stone of an Ancient Ring

I’m beginning a series of posts about guardianship reform and its relationship to elder abuse.

What is known as “guardianship reform” is a very hot topic these days.

On the local level, I noticed that a candidate for a Littleton City Council seat made a critical reference to the powers of the Adult Protective Services system to investigate the welfare of a local resident (who apparently has dementia) living in her own home.  In the national press, guardianship reform has received lots of attention.  For Colorado, we have had versions of the Uniform Law Commission’s Uniform Guardianship and Protective Proceedings in our probate code for quite some time.  You can review the User’s Manuals for Guardians and for Conservators in Colorado here.

The Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship and Other Protective Arrangements Act

But there is a newer 2017 version of a uniform law which the Uniform Law Commissioners have prepared for adoption by the states.  It is known as the Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship, and Other Protective Arrangements Act, or UGCOPAA.  You can read more about it here.  A sub-committee of the Trusts & Estates and Elder Law Sections of the Colorado Bar Association is presently reviewing its provisions to examine how its provisions would impact existing Colorado law (our code and case law pertaining to its provisions).  More about that later!

This post is the introduction to the series and so I ask the basic question:

What does guardianship reform have to do with elder abuse prevention?

Apparently, plenty!  Particularly if you happen to be the child of a celebrity whose stepmother acted as your father’s guardian and limited or prevented you from visiting your parent during the end of his life and while he was suffering from dementia. The connection came to me the other day in the form of a Google alert.  It cited to a recent article about Casey Kasem’s daughter Kerri, who had a dispute with Kasem’s wife about his care while suffering from Lewy body dementia as well as the disposition of his last remains.  Glen Campbell’s children also had difficulties with their stepmother and their effort resulted in a Tennessee law that will “protect elderly.”  This LA Times article is about Kerri Kasem teaming up with Catherine Falk to advocate for more restrictions on a guardian’s authority which would allow more family members and others the right to visit a person under a guardianship.

In coming posts, I will explore topics including:

  • The importance of making your fiduciary/care wishes known If you are part of a dysfunctional family;
  • Who and what are fiduciaries in the elder law and probate context and why have they become so controversial?
  • What are unlimited guardianships, limited guardianships and “other protective arrangements;”

As well as other topics that arise in this context.  So please stay tuned!

© 2017 Barbara Cashman  www.DenverElderLaw.org

 

Giving Tuesday – Consider Giving Some Time to an Isolated Elder

Make the Connection!

Today is Colorado Gives Day!

Otherwise known as Giving Tuesday, the day designed to spotlight opportunities for people to give to charitable causes.  The day seems to have come into existence when two organizations, the 92nd Street Y in New York City and the United Nations Foundation came together in October 2012, with the intention to set aside a day that was all about celebrating the generosity of giving, a great American tradition.   According to USA Today, Giving Tuesday raised $180 million in online donations.  That is nothing to sneeze at!

Donating Locally is Easy!

Here in Colorado, we’ve got our own website with over 2,000 nonprofits listed to receive donor’s contributions.  You can visit the website and find a good place for your donation to support if you’re at a loss about which type of charity you’d like to benefit.

Instead of highlighting the worthy nonprofits which serve low-income elders, I’m looking at Colorado Gives Day with a different goal in mind – to raise awareness about reaching out to socially isolated elders in our communities.  I’m not just talking about making contact with folks who reside in senior housing residences, assisted living or skilled nursing facilities, but also to those elders who are “gaining in place” in their own homes and face considerable social isolation based on a number of factors.

What About Donating Your Time?

One way to ease an isolated elder’s isolation and also solidify our own connections with community members we might never have otherwise met – is to volunteer our time – even if for a few short minutes or hours.

You can easily volunteer your time locally through a nonprofit like Metro Volunteers, who will match your skills with a nonprofit looking for someone with your skills.  Whether it is a board of directors position you seek, a mentoring opportunity with a youth, or serving food to people at a shelter – Metro Volunteers can assist.

But the focus of today’s post is about giving time to an elder who is isolated.

There are numerous article and research into the effects of loneliness on the elderly population.  One recent study concluded that loneliness is a significant public health concern among elders.  In addition to easing a potential source of suffering, the identification and targeting of interventions for lonely elders may significantly decrease physician visits and health care costs.

Decreasing an Elder’s Sense of Isolation Helps Prevent Elder Abuse

I’m reposting a link from an elder abuse prevention listserve I am part of, originally posted this morning by the Social Media Manager of the NYC Elder Abuse Center at Weill Cornell Medical College.  The holidays are difficult times for many of us.  She writes “During the holiday season, family gatherings are more commonplace. Older adults feel social isolation more acutely, yet crave the connection. This holiday season NYCEAC is asking our social media followers to commit to have a conversation with an older adult in their life during the month of December. We know everyone benefits from a connection, and improves the health of the community at large, too.” We’re calling our campaign Countering Isolation, or #CounteringIsolation.

Remember that this type of giving of our time to another who doesn’t have the physical, psychological, financial or emotional wherewithal to engage in the broader community is a good thing with many positive benefits for us,  Happy Giving Tuesday!

© Barbara E. Cashman 2017   www.DenverElderLaw.org

Elder Veterans and Elder Abuse

prevent abuse of elder veteran

ROTC picture of my Dad, who became an officer of the U.S. Army Air Corps

In observance of this Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2017, I wanted to share a blog post on this topic as well as some valuable resources.

“Boots on the Ground” to Prevent Exploitation of Elder Veterans

I want to begin with a shout-out for: Boots on the Ground – Fighting Financial Abuse of Elder Veterans by Tamari Hedani, Associate Director of the Elder Abuse Prevention Program at the Institute on Aging.

Fraudsters and Scammers Often Specialize in Particular Target Communities

Financial predators often “specialize” in identifying their victims by targeting specific populations and communities.  We know this is true for elder veterans.   I recently read an article about the “ghost scam” in New York City, where elder Chinese immigrants have been victimized by well-organized groups of scammers looking to take advantage of a common language and cultural ties for the purpose of stealing money from the immigrants.

Some People Who Claim to Be Offering Assistance to Elder Veterans Are Looking to Take Advantage of Them

There is an unfortunate variety of elder financial exploitation among the community of elder veterans.  Keep in mind that it is against the law to charge veterans or their families to fill out paperwork for the purposes of applying for benefits, and veterans and their friends and family members need to be reminded of this.  There are firms who do attempt to charge money for these services, and they should be reported, along with any kind of suspected fraud.

Fraud against veterans can involve variations on an old scam and involve bad advice concerning eligibility and result in financial windfalls for the seller of annuities or insurance.  The AARP warns in a recent post of four types of scams: the “cash for benefits” scheme; the “update your military file” scam; charity scams involving money for sick  or disabled veterans; and the “Veterans Choice Program” scam.  but worse yet are the pension poaching scams and other financial abuse of elder veterans.  Here is helpful information  from the Center on Elder Abuse about what a retired veteran needs to know before assets are transferred in order to qualify for benefits.

Whether Elder Veterans Are Aging in Place at Home or Living in Communal Settings, Important Resources Are Available to Assist in Detecting and Reporting Suspected Abuse or Exploitation

On the topic of benefits, the Veterans Health Administration (part of the Department of Veterans Affairs) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services developed the Veteran Directed Home and Community Based Services program to provide wider choices concerning long-term care services and living at home as long as possible.

Elder veterans and their loved ones have resources available to assist them in detecting and reporting elder exploitation and abuse.  This flyer from the US Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative contains phone numbers for immediate assistance and other helpful contact information for veterans.

© 2017 Barbara Cashman  www.DenverElderLaw.org