Q: When Do I Need a Guardianship?

A:

The standard under which a person is deemed to require a guardian differs from state to state. And even within some states the standards are different, depending on whether a complete guardianship or only a conservatorship over finances is being sought. Generally a person is judged to be in need of guardianship when he or she shows a lack of capacity to make responsible decisions.

A person cannot be declared incompetent simply because he or she makes irresponsible or foolish decisions, but only if the person is shown to lack the capacity to make sound decisions. For example, a man may not be declared incompetent because he spends money in ways that seem odd to someone else. In addition, a developmental disability or mental illness is not, by itself, enough to have a person declared incompetent.

Guardianship and Conservatorship

Every adult is assumed to be capable of making his or her own decisions unless a court determines otherwise. If an adult becomes incapable of making responsible decisions due to a mental disability, the court will appoint a substitute decision maker, often called a “guardian,” but in some states called a “conservator” or other term. Guardianship is a legal relationship between a competent adult (the “guardian”) and a person who because of incapacity is no longer able to take care of his or her own affairs (the “ward”).

The guardian can be authorized to make legal, financial, and health care decisions for the ward. Depending on the terms of the guardianship and state practices, the guardian may or may not have to seek court approval for various decisions. In many states, a person appointed only to handle finances is called a “conservator.”

Some incapacitated individuals can make responsible decisions in some areas of their lives but not others. In such cases, the court may give the guardian decision making power over only those areas in which the incapacitated person is unable to make responsible decisions (a so-called “limited guardianship”). In other words, the guardian may exercise only those rights that have been removed from the ward and delegated to the guardian.

Incapacity

The standard under which a person is deemed to require a guardian differs from state to state. In some states the standards are different, depending on whether a complete guardianship or a conservatorship over finances only is being sought. Generally a person is judged to be in need of guardianship when he or she shows a lack of capacity to make responsible decisions. A person cannot be declared incompetent simply because he or she makes irresponsible or foolish decisions, but only if the person is shown to lack the capacity to make sound decisions. For example, a person may not be declared incompetent simply because he spends money in ways that seem odd to someone else. Also, a developmental disability or mental illness is not, by itself, enough to declare a person incompetent.

Process

In most states, anyone interested in the proposed ward’s well-being can request a guardianship. An attorney is usually retained to file a petition for a hearing in the probate court in the proposed ward’s county of residence. Protections for the proposed ward vary greatly from state to state, with some simply requiring that notice of the proceeding be provided and others requiring the proposed ward’s presence at the hearing. The proposed ward is usually entitled to legal representation at the hearing, and the court will appoint an attorney if the allegedly incapacitated person cannot afford a lawyer.

At the hearing, the court attempts to determine if the proposed ward is incapacitated and, if so, to what extent the individual requires assistance. If the court determines that the proposed ward is indeed incapacitated, the court then decides if the person seeking the role of guardian will be a responsible guardian.

A guardian can be any competent adult — the ward’s spouse, another family member, a friend, a neighbor, or a professional guardian (an unrelated person who has received special training). A competent individual may nominate a proposed guardian through a durable power of attorney in case she ever needs a guardian.

The guardian need not be a person at all — it can be a non-profit agency or a public or private corporation. If a person is found to be incapacitated and a suitable guardian cannot be found, courts in many states can appoint a public guardian, a publicly financed agency that serves this purpose. In naming someone to serve as a guardian, courts give first consideration to those who play a significant role in the ward’s life — people who are both aware of and sensitive to the ward’s needs and preferences. If two individuals wish to share guardianship duties, courts can name co-guardians.

Reporting Requirements

Courts often give guardians broad authority to manage the ward’s affairs. In addition to lacking the power to decide how money is spent or managed, where to live and what medical care he or she should receive, wards also may not have the right to vote, marry or divorce, or carry a driver’s license. Guardians are expected to act in the best interests of the ward, but given the guardian’s often broad authority, there is the potential for abuse. For this reason, courts hold guardians accountable for their actions to ensure that they don’t take advantage of or neglect the ward.

The guardian of the property inventories the ward’s property, invests the ward’s funds so that they can be used for the ward’s support, and files regular, detailed reports with the court. A guardian of the property also must obtain court approval for certain financial transactions. Guardians must file an annual account of how they have handled the ward’s finances. In some states guardians must also give an annual report on the ward’s status. Guardians must offer proof that they made adequate residential arrangements for the ward, that they provided sufficient health care and treatment services, and that they made available educational and training programs, as needed. Guardians who cannot prove that they have adequately cared for the ward may be removed and replaced by another guardian.

Alternatives to Guardianship

Because guardianship involves a profound loss of freedom and dignity, state laws require that guardianship be imposed only when less restrictive alternatives have been tried and proven to be ineffective. Less restrictive alternatives that should be considered before pursuing guardianship include:

Power of Attorney. A power of attorney is the grant of legal rights and powers by a person (the principal) to another (the agent or attorney-in-fact). The attorney-in-fact, in effect, stands in the shoes of the principal and acts for him or her on financial, business or other matters. In most cases, even when the power of attorney is immediately effective, the principal does not intend for it to be used unless and until he or she becomes incapacitated.

Representative or Protective Payee. This is a person appointed to manage Social Security, Veterans’ Administration, Railroad Retirement, welfare or other state or federal benefits or entitlement program payments on behalf of an individual.

Conservatorship. In some states this proceeding can be voluntary, where the person needing assistance with finances petitions the probate court to appoint a specific person (the conservator) to manage his or her financial affairs. The court must determine that the conservatee is unable to manage his or her own financial affairs, but nevertheless has the capacity to make the decision to have a conservator appointed to handle his or her affairs.

Revocable trust. A revocable or “living” trust can be set up to hold an older person’s assets, with a relative, friend or financial institution serving as trustee. Alternatively, the older person can be a co-trustee of the trust with another individual who will take over the duties of trustee should the older person become incapacitated.

For more information visit http://www.RaphanLaw.com or contact me at 212-268-8200 for a free initial consultation.

Regards,

Brian

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ELDER ABUSE: FINANCIAL EXPLOITATION FOR $797,000

Another case handled by Brian A. Raphan, P.C. was on the Cover Page of the New York Law Journal last week.

I was appointed as Special Referee by the Supreme Court of the State of New York to perform a forensic review of Nassau County attorney Martha Brosius’ handling of a senior citizen’s financial affairs. Brian uncovered many undocumented and improper financial transactions and filed his detailed analysis to the Court.  As a result of my report, criminal actions were commenced against attorney Brosius, which ultimately led to a guilty plea. Brosius now faces 6-12 years behind bars.  Of course, she will lose her license to practice law.  Another win for the good guys!

The article is provided below.

*As appeared Front Page of the New York Law Journal 6/25/15,

By Andrew Denney, The New York Law Journal

ATTORNEY ADMITS TO TAKING $797,000 FROM CLIENTS

A Long Island elder law attorney has admitted to embezzling more than $797,000 from her clients over a four-year period, the Queens District Attorney’s Office announced on Tuesday.

elder abuse, district attorney

Martha Brosius, 52, of Brosius & Associates of Great Neck, appeared Tuesday before Acting Supreme Court Justice Helene Gugerty and pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree grand larceny and one count of scheme to defraud, according to a news release from Queens District Attorney Richard Brown’s Office.

“The defendant has admitted to breaching her fiduciary duty and unjustly enriching herself at the expense of her client,” Brown said in the release. Brosius was indicted for the offenses in 2013. Her clients included a 77-year-old man who had been deemed mentally incapable and for whom Brosius served as legal guardian, as well as two brothers who retained Brosius to sell their deceased father’s estate and establish a special-needs trust for their disabled sister, who was the sole heir to the father’s estate.

Brosius is scheduled to appear before Gugerty on Aug. 12 for sentencing. Gugerty has indicated that her prison sentence would range between four and 12 years. Brosius is a graduate of the St. John’s University School of Law and was admitted to the bar in 2003. According to the Office of Court Administration website, she has not been publicly disciplined. Her guilty plea will subject her to mandatory disbarment.

Assistant District Attorneys James Liander and Yvonne Francis appeared for the Queens District Attorney’s Office.

• • •

“Improper use of an adult’s funds, property, or resources by another individual is elder abuse. This includes, but is not limited to, fraud, embezzlement, forgery, falsifying records, coerced property transfers, or denial of access to assets.”  

TO REPORT FINANCIAL EXPLOITATION OF ELDERS IN NY STATE Click Here. Or Call 844-697-3505

FOR THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S PRESS RELEASE Click Here.

Medicaid Recipient Cannot Bring Claim to Require State to Deduct Guardianship Fees

NEW YORK: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit holds that a Medicaid recipient who is under guardianship cannot bring a § 1983 claim to require the state to deduct guardianship fees from her available income. Backer v. Shah (U.S. Ct. App., 2nd Cir., No. 14-1367-cv, June 3, 2015).
Brian Raphan, P.C.
New York resident Mindy Backer lived in a nursing home and received Medicaid benefits. Under state law, she had to contribute all of her monthly income, except for a $50 personal needs allowance, to the nursing home. The court appointed Ms. Backer’s sister as her guardian. The guardianship order stated that Ms. Backer’s income would be considered unavailable for the purposes of calculating her monthly available income. However, in a separate proceeding, the state determined that Ms. Backer could not deduct guardianship fees from her available income.

Ms. Backer sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the state violated 42 U.S.C. § 1396a(a)(19), which requires the state to ensure eligibility is determined in the best interest of the recipient, and 42 U.S.C. § 1396a(q)(1)(A), which requires the state to deduct a personal needs allowance. The district court dismissed the claim for lack of standing because Ms. Backer’s injury was solely attributable to her own action in paying her guardian instead of the nursing home, and Ms. Backer appealed.

The U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, affirms, holding that while Ms. Backer had standing to bring the claim, she did not allege a violation of a federal right that could be enforced through § 1983. The court rules that the provision requiring the state to ensure eligibility is determined in the best interest of the recipient could not be enforced through § 1983 because it does not provide a “workable standard for judicial decision making.” In addition, according to the court, the personal needs allowance section does not require the state to allow the deduction of guardianship fees.

For the full text of this decision, go to: http://cases.justia.com/federal/appellate-courts/ca2/14-1367/14-1367-2015-06-03.pdf?ts=1433341806

Article link

To see the Top 8 Medicaid Planning Mistakes click here.

SOL Prevents Family From Enforcing Promissory Note Against Mother’s Estate

Reversing a lower court, a Kansas appeals court rules that a Medicaid recipient’s family cannot enforce a promissory note against her estate in the name of equity because the statute of limitations for enforcing the note has passed. In re Estate of Area (Kan. Ct. App., No. 110,768, May 29, 2015).

Embed from Getty Images

Five of Blanche Area’s children lent her money to build a house. Ms. Area signed a promissory note, agreeing to repay the loan, which was due in full on July 1, 2005. Ms. Area never made any payments on the loan. In November 2010, she moved into assisted living and received services paid for by Medicaid benefits.

Ms. Area died intestate, and the state successfully petitioned to administer her estate in order to recoup the Medicaid benefits. Ms. Area’s children petitioned the estate for repayment of the promissory note. The estate denied the claim because the five-year statute of limitations had passed, and the children appealed. The trial court ruled that the note was valid under the principle of equity, and that the loan should be repaid. The estate appealed.

The Kansas Court of Appeals reverses, holding that because the statute of limitations for enforcing the note had passed, the note was no longer valid. The court rules that there was “no authority for the district court to rule that as a matter of public policy different rules apply to note and mortgage agreements involving familial relationships.”

For the full text of this decision, go to: http://www.kscourts.org/Cases-and-Opinions/opinions/CtApp/2015/20150529/110768.pdf

Top 8 Medicaid Planning Mistakes, go to: http://www.raphanlaw.com/#!medicaid-planning-mistakes/c46u

What Rights Do Bedsore Victims Have?

You’d be surprised how many times we hear the following from clients…”the nursing home said our dad’s skin condition was broken down and poor health led to bedsores”, or some similar version of this. These comments  inappropriately lead people to believe they or there loved ones do not have legal rights when it comes to bedsores or pressure sores (decubitus ulcers). Of course they are not the fault of the bedsore victim. Especially when they are in the care of professionals of a hospital, medical or nursing facility. Patients, elders, unhealthy or not do have legal rights–which also includes the right to sue for bedsores. Read more about the Rights of Bedsore Victims below:

bedsore treatment, bed sore malpractice

  1. The defendants insurance company may ask you for a recorded statement describing the appearance of bedsores and your treatment. Remember you have no obligation to give them such a statement, nor is it wise to do so.

  2. The defendant’s insurance company will ask you for authorizations to obtain your medical records. Let your attorney release your records after he or she has reviewed them. It’s best not to offer information by yourself. 

  3. Some insurance companies will offer you money to settle the case before you contact an attorney. In this situation the insurance company knows they will have to pay out money and they hope to settle the claim before you hire an attorney who can negotiate and demand a higher amount. Always consult an attorney if an insurance company is offering you money. By doing so you will in all likelihood increase your net recovery even after taking out the lawyers fee.

  4. Once a bedsore case is settled and the defendant is released, regardless of whether you make a full recovery or not, the money you received cannot be taken away, it is your money…tax free.

  5. If you need surgery, it is important to go forward with that before you settle your pressure sore or bedsore lawsuit.

  6. If you are persuaded by a hospital or nursing home and settle a case on your own, only to find out 6 months later you have more serious conditions than first thought, you have forfeited your rights to recover additional money. That is why it is so important to contact an experienced bedsore attorney before you sign anything.

  7. You are able to sue for and recover a monetary award from new injuries and infections and the aggravation of old ones caused by bedsores or pressure ulcers.

Additional Bedsore information & Guides:

THE DOCTOR WEIGHS IN BEDSORE ARTICLE by Attorney Brian A. Raphan

HOW MUCH IS A BEDSORE LAWSUIT WORTH: CASE EVALUATOR

DOWNLOAD: BEDSORE LEGAL & MEDICAL GUIDE

Grades of pressure sores
If a person is bedridden for long enough, the areas of skin constantly in contact with the mattress
or chair will start to discolor. This shows that the skin is in danger of ulcerating.
Pressure sores are graded to four levels, including:
• Grade I – skin discoloration, usually red, blue, purple or black
• Grade II – some skin loss or damage involving the top-most skin layers
• Grade III – necrosis (death) or damage to the skin patch, limited to the skin layers
• Grade IV – necrosis (death) or damage to the skin patch and underlying structures, such as tendon, joint or bone.

Complications of pressure sores
Untreated pressure sores can lead to a wide variety of secondary conditions, including: • Sepsis (bacteria entering the bloodstream)
• Cellulitis (inflammation of body tissue, causing swelling and redness)
• Bone and joint infections
• Abscess (a collection of pus).

For more helpful information  or a free consultation you may contact me by email here: Contact

Regards, Brian A. Raphan

Bed and/or Chair Rest + Neglect = Bedsores

Article by Brian A. Raphan. Published 3/17/15 in ‘THE DOCTOR WEIGHS IN’

When a patient develops pressure ulcers, it is often a sign of neglect and can even be the result of hospital malpractice, nurse malpractice or nursing home negligence.

Any time a patient is confined to a bed or chair for a period of time and not provided proper and adequate care, the risk of pressure ulcers increases.

The National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel (NPUAP) defines a pressure ulcer as a “localized injury to the skin and/or underlying tissue, usually over a bony prominence, as a result of pressure, or pressure in combination with shear.” Illustrations of the stages of pressure ulcers are shown below:

stages of bedsores

Sadly, pressure ulcers are the underlying cause of mortality and morbidity for several thousand patients across the country each year. Researchers analyzing the national Medicare Patient Safety Monitoring System (MPSMS) database found that the nationwide incidence rate for hospital-acquired pressure ulcers was 4.5 percent. The five states with the highest incidence rates are New York (5.2%), Missouri (5.3%), New Jersey (5.3%), Massachusetts (5.5%) and Pennsylvania (5.9%).

The federal government, in its first year of a federal initiative to improve patient safety, recently imposed penalties aimed at reducing preventable harm. Five states saw a significant percentage of hospitals being penalized: New York, where 26% of hospitals were penalized by having their Medicare reimbursements cut by 1%; Missouri, 25%; New Jersey, 37%; Massachusetts, 22%; and Pennsylvania, 25%.

In New York State, penalized hospitals included some well-known healthcare facilities, such as Beth Israel Medical Center and New York University Langone Medical Center.

All sedentary patients are vulnerable, but the elderly and patients whose skin condition has been compromised are especially at risk. Pressure ulcers are most common on bony prominences with little protective fat or muscle (such as heels, hips, shoulders, and tail bones), and they develop when patients stay in one position for too long without shifting their weight. The constant pressure against the skin reduces blood flow to contact areas. The skin begins to break down and the tissue dies, possibly in a matter of hours. Friction and shear caused by sliding down in the bed, or being moved improperly from a stretcher to a bed can exacerbate the problem. Pressure ulcers slow a patient’s recovery, can lead to other issues and infection and prolong hospital stays. The total annual cost for treating pressure ulcers in the U.S. is estimated at $11 billion. However, pressure ulcers (also known as bedsores and decubitis ulcers) are preventable.

To prevent pressure ulcers and damage to the skin, recent NPUAP recommendations can be summarized in seven steps:

prevent bedsores

Because these seven steps are so easy to follow, when a patient develops pressure ulcers, it is often a sign of neglect and can even be the result of hospital malpractice, nurse malpractice or nursing home negligence.

Upon admission to a hospital for another health concern the issues can go unnoticed, allowing further damage to take place in a relatively short time. This also creates liability on the part of the hospital.

In many lawsuits that we handle, the hospital is dealt a bad hand by receiving a patient from a nursing home where a skin breakdown or pressure ulcer has already begun. At times, due to dementia for example, a patient may not be able to express or know how to communicate pain upon entering the hospital. However, this is no excuse for not identifying a high-risk patient and making regular daily assessments.

To be clear, pressure ulcers are not the fault of the patient. The patient is a victim. Medical negligence by a hospital, doctor, nurse, aide or medical technician is unacceptable and may be the cause of pain and suffering, or even result in death. It is simply not acceptable for patients to develop bedsores or pressure ulcers while they are in the care of medical professionals and receiving medical care and treatment at a facility.

There is no doubt that hospitals and staff, from talented skilled doctors, nurses and medical professionals to support staff and administration, do their best to help and treat patients. However, protocols exist in every facility, and perhaps, it is just a matter of every individual being a bit more aware, and caring just a little more, when dealing with the elderly and at-risk patients.

By Brian A. Raphan (Principal Attorney, Law Offices of Brian A. Raphan, P.C.

Download a Free Bedsore Legal, Medical & Treatment Guide

To Collect Debts, Nursing Homes Are Seizing Control Over Patients

The need to protect your assets is always at hand. Planning for long-term care with an elder law attorney can help protect your assets for the in home spouse and heirs. Medicaid Planning or Life Care Planning helps to ensure that you or your loved one get the best possible long-term care and the highest possible quality of life, whether at home, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home. The following article brings this issue to light.

Article via The New York Times: 

Photo credit: Piotr Redlinski for The New York Times

To Collect Debts, Nursing Homes Are Seizing Control Over Patients.

Lillian Palermo tried to prepare for the worst possibilities of aging. An insurance executive with a Ph.D. in psychology and a love of ballroom dancing, she arranged for her power of attorney and health care proxy to go to her husband, Dino, eight years her junior, if she became incapacitated. And in her 80s, she did.

Mr. Palermo, who was the lead singer in a Midtown nightclub in the 1960s when her elegant tango first caught his eye, now regularly rolls his wife’s wheelchair to the piano at the Catholic nursing home in Manhattan where she ended up in 2010 as dementia, falls and surgical complications took their toll. He sings her favorite songs, feeds her home-cooked Italian food, and pays a private aide to be there when he cannot.

Can I Give My Kids $14,000 a Year?

If you have it to give, you certainly can, but there may be consequences should you apply for Medicaid long-term care coverage within five years after each gift.

medicaid planning

The $14,000 figure is the amount of the current gift tax exclusion (for 2014 and 2015), meaning that any person who gives away $14,000 or less to any one individual does not have to report the gift to the IRS, and you can give this amount to as many people as you like.  If you give away more than $14,000 to any one person (other than your spouse), you will have to file a gift tax return.  However, this does not necessarily mean you’ll pay a gift tax.  You’ll have to pay a tax only if your reportable gifts total more than $5.43 million (2015 figure) during your lifetime.

Many people believe that if they give away an amount equal to the current $14,000 annual gift tax exclusion, this gift will be exempted from Medicaid’s five-year look-back at transfers that could trigger a waiting period for benefits.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The gift tax exclusion is an IRS rule, and this IRS rule has nothing to do with Medicaid’s asset transfer rules. While the $14,000 that you gave to your grandchild this year will be exempt from any gift tax, Medicaid will still count it as a transfer that could make you ineligible for nursing home benefits for a certain amount of time should you apply for them within the next five years.  You may be able to argue that the gift was not made to qualify you for Medicaid, but proving that is an uphill battle.

If you think there is a chance you will need Medicaid coverage of long-term care in the foreseeable future, see your elder law attorney before starting a gifting plan.

For more on Medicaid’s asset transfer rules, click here.

Regards,

Brian A. Raphan

The Law Offices of Brian A. Raphan, P.C.  7 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10001  212-268-8200 

http://www.RaphanLaw.com

A great way to enhance quality of life for elder New Yorkers

Activities for Life NY, LLC  offers an amazing service that has been helping enhance the quality of life for many of our clients.
Activities for Life
My law office has used their unique services of for over 10 years because we have found they offer excellent 1 to 1 therapeutic recreation, tailored to our clients who have lost their connection to recreation and/or are unable to get out and enjoy life like they once did. I have personally seen some of my clients ‘come back to life’ under the tutelage of Marni Rose, President of Activities for Life.
The goal of therapeutic recreation is to help stimulate a person mentally and/or physically through fun, engaging, and creative activities, regardless of age or illness. One of the most important aspects of working with Marni and her team is that they really ‘get’ how to communicate to all the involved parties of someone under geriatric care.
Activities For Life’s relationships with personal care aides, care givers and managers, family members, and us lawyers allows her a 360 degree ability to coordinate the pieces with grace. I know that when my clients are contracting the services of Activities for Life, they will simply get the best that New York has to give in therapeutic geriatric services and live their best life possible.
-Brian
 To see the benefits of Marni’s service see links below.

What Happens to a Medicaid Recipient If the Spouse at Home Dies First?

Senior Couple Square

When one spouse is in a nursing home and applying for Medicaid, planning has to take into account the possibility that the spouse who is not in the nursing home (called the “community spouse”) may pass away first. This is because the community spouse’s death may make the spouse in the nursing home ineligible for Medicaid.

In order to qualify for Medicaid, a nursing home resident can have only a limited number of assets. Careful planning can allow the resident’s spouse to maintain some assets. However, if that community spouse passes away first and leaves those assets to the nursing home resident, the resident suddenly would be over Medicaid’s asset limit.

While the community spouse can write a will that disinherits the Medicaid resident, most states have laws that allow spouses to claim a portion of their deceased spouse’s estate regardless of what the will says. This is called the elective or statutory share. The amount the spouse can claim varies from state to state.

A spouse can disclaim his or her elective share, but if a Medicaid recipient disclaims the inheritance, it is considered an uncompensated transfer of assets and the recipient may receive a period of Medicaid ineligibility. To avoid this, the community spouse will most likely need a will that addresses this issue. One option is for the community spouse to create a will that leaves the nursing home spouse exactly the amount of the elective share. Another option may be to create a special trust that contains the elective share. You should talk to your elder law attorney to determine the best course of action for you and your spouse.

For more information about Medicaid, including a FREE GUIDE to Medicaid’s Asset Transfer Rulesclick here.

This month we are offering AARP members discounted rates and free initial phone consultation to help determine if you can benefit from medicaid planning. Email: medicaid@RaphanLaw.com

Regards, Brian