Saturday, November 21, 2020

Texas doctor sues Adult Protective Services staff over elder exploitation report

By David Yates

HOUSTON - The physician who sued a Houston probate judge over her guardianized mother’s will has also filed a complaint in federal court against the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services accusing the state agency of equal protection and due process violations.

Dr. Sheila Owens Collins named as defendants Adult Protective Services (APS) Director Jamie Masters, APS Supervisor Lydia Bias, and her niece Aisha Ross, alleging defamation, retaliation as well as unconstitutional policies, procedures, and practices, according to a press release.

“APS has a system in place to assure more experienced investigators get appointed for difficult cases, especially where there are forensic accounting issues,” Plaintiff’s attorney Martin J. Cirkiel wrote in the complaint. “But Defendant Bias did not sufficiently supervise staff to assure this occurred and rather appointed an inexperienced investigator.”

A neonatologist on staff at a Clearlake hospital and other hospitals nationwide, Dr. Owens Collins accuses Ross, her niece, of filing a false report with APS alleging that the physician was financially exploiting her mother Mrs. Hattie Owens.

“Aisha Ross took advantage of the obvious lack of experience of the investigator and totally contaminated the process,” the complaint states. “Not surprisingly, the first investigatory report from APS came back with a finding that Dr. Collins had financially exploited her mother.”

Ross allegedly used the APS finding to file for permanent guardianship of her grandmother Mrs. Hattie Owens.

“[Ross] cited the alleged exploitation of Mrs. Owens by Dr. Collins as the primary rationale for the application,” Attorney Cirkiel wrote in the lawsuit. “It totally polluted the guardianship proceeding with the guardian, attorney ad litem and Judge turning against Dr. Collins.” 

As previously reported in the SE Texas Record, Dr. Owens Collins sued Harris County Probate Judge Michael Newman last month in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, alleging unlawful treatment, rascality, and unfair judicial practices that violated Mrs. Owen’s final wishes before she died under court-appointed guardianship. 

On Nov. 3, the Honorable Judge Newman recused himself from underlying litigation involving the estate of Mrs. Hattie Owens.

“Dr. Collins filed a response to the application which disputed the need for a guardianship,” Attorney Cirkiel states in the plaintiff's pleading. “First, that the durable power of attorney and joint account were less restrictive means adequate to meet [Mrs. Hattie Owens’] needs. Additionally, that because Ross had a long criminal history of shoplifting and time in jail, it disqualified her from serving as guardian in the event the court determined the need for temporary or permanent guardianship.”

Dr. Owens Collins’ APS lawsuit, filed in the Western District of Texas in Austin, requests that the state agency’s failure to have a full appeal system in place be declared unconstitutional and that a declaratory judgment be issued ordering the APS to develop such an appeal process.

“Dr. Collins got in touch with Defendant Bias in the hope she could help facilitate the appeal process,” Dr. Owens Collins’ attorney states. “Rather than doing so, Bias threatened Dr. Collins that if she proceeded with the appeal she would assure the findings would definitely be reported to the Medical Board, the Houston Police Department and Harris County District Attorney’s Office. Sometime thereafter, the Houston APS Office did change the finding of exploitation to unable to determine but that finding requires reporting to the medical board and many other governmental entities.”

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Indiana National Guard deployed to every nursing home in the state

Soldiers will serve in nursing homes through the end of the year.

by Rich Nye

FRANKLIN, Ind. — In three waves over the last three weeks, Indiana National Guard soldiers received training and were assigned to assist long-term care facilities throughout the state. The final wave started working in nursing homes Monday. Each facility receives between 1-3 soldiers.

"Our guardsmen are reacting very well,” said Brig. Gen. Dale Lyles, Indiana National Guard Adjutant General. “As a matter of fact, it's been a very unique experience for them and a very broadening assignment for them, and they are enjoying what they are doing because they feel like they're making a difference."

The Indiana National Guard is now deployed to every long-term care facility in the state, 534 in total. Soldiers will serve in nursing homes through the end of the year. Most are assigned to facilities within 50 miles of their home.

Two guardsmen started working Monday at Otterbein SeniorLife in Franklin. The facility has about 450 residents. Sixty residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and 18 have died. Currently no residents are positive, but four staff members are out with COVID symptoms. So, the assistance from Sgt. Justin Rector and Specialist Josue Reyes is welcomed.   

"We definitely embrace it and we're appreciative,” said Rob Newcomer, executive director of Otterbein Franklin SeniorLife. “They are two fine young men. They're very respectful, very polite and actually they're almost like one of our employees now."

Credit: WTHR
Temperature check being done at Otterbein SeniorLife in Franklin, Indiana.

The soldiers monitor the front doors at Otterbein and screen everyone coming into the facility for COVID symptoms. Soldiers do not provide care for residents but handle other duties to allow staff to focus on care. Other facilities are using soldiers to take PPE inventory, sanitize entrances and common areas, and monitor outside visits for social distancing.

Credit: WTHR
More than 400 members of the Indiana National Guard trained at Camp Atterbury to help long-term care facilities with the pandemic.

"With the guardsmen and the time that they're putting in, that's essentially 16 hours that I can redeploy that employee and have them do something else that benefits the residents,” Newcomer said.

More than 1,300 soldiers are now serving in nursing homes throughout Indiana.

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COVID-19: NJ Long-Term Care Residents Who Go Home For Holidays Might Not Get Right Back In

by Jerry DeMarco 

New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli Photo Credit: NJSP
New Jersey's health commissioner urged families not to take residents out of long-term care facilities for the holidays -- and warned that they might not get right back in if they do – as the number of COVID-19 cases statewide continue to spike.

Guidelines issued by Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli include a mandatory 14-day quarantine for any long-term care resident, either in their own room or in an observation room, once they return to the facility after a family visit.

For that reason, Persichilli urged the facilities to create a “reservation list,” as well as a waiting list, based on the number of residents who can be quarantined at a time.
Administrators were also told to tell families that residents who leave without a reservation or while on a waiting list “may not be guaranteed readmittance to the facility at the end of their visit.”

“We remain concerned about the number of outbreaks we are seeing in long-term care,” Persichilli said, “so we need to be especially vigilant to protect this population.

“Small family gatherings are a significant driver of increasing cases, and bringing your loved ones home could put them at risk,” she added.

Residents of these facilities “are being treated for conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to suffering the most serious complications of COVID-19 infection, including death,” the commissioner wrote in a letter to facility administrators across the state.

“To protect the health of this vulnerable population,” she “strongly recommended” that families not take residents out of the facilities for “holiday celebration events or gatherings.”

Instead, Persichilli recommended “visitation outdoors or possibly indoors in facilities that meet the requirements for indoor visitation.

Long-term care facilities also should “plan to accommodate increased virtual communications for residents,” she said.

The facilities “need to develop a plan for holiday visits and gatherings” that estimate the number of residents who can be placed into a 14-day quarantine from Nov. 25 through Dec. 31, the commissioner added in her “guidance” letter.

They should also “create a reservation process tied to the number of individuals the facility can quarantine on their return,” she wrote. “A waiting list should be created once the reservation list is full.

“However, residents and families should be informed that residents who leave without a reservation or while on a waiting list may not be guaranteed readmittance to the facility at the end of their visit.

“Residents and families must certify that they will follow masking, social distancing and hand hygiene practices, and that they will notify the facility if anyone who attended the holiday gathering tests positive for COVID-19 or exhibits symptoms of COVID-19 within 14 days of the resident’s visit/stay outside the facility,” Persichilli added.

A link to the entire guidance letter is below.

CLICK HERE for: NJ Long-Term Care Holiday Visiting Guidelines

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Friday, November 20, 2020

AG Nessel files embezzlement charges against guardian

A court-appointed professional guardian used her position to steal from 11 vulnerable adults.


By Krystle Holleman

LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Thursday the Michigan Attorney General’s office announced they had filed a total of 12 charges against Jessica Englebrecht for allegedly abusing her authority.

Englebrecht, 33, of Scottville, faces eight felony counts, one high court misdemeanor and three misdemeanors for embezzling from 11 vulnerable adults she was appointed to act as guardian of by the Mason County Probate Court. She was arraigned in Mason County 79th District Court on Friday, Nov. 13 on the following charges:

Eight counts of embezzlement from a vulnerable adult - $1,00 or more but less than $20,000, a five-year felony and/or a $10,000 find, or three times the value of the money or property involved, whichever is greater;

One count of vulnerable adults-caregiver commingling funds/obstructing investigations , a two-year high court misdemeanor and/or a $2,000 find, or three times the value of the money or property involved, whichever is greater;

Three counts of embezzlement from a vulnerable adult - $200 or more but less than $1,000, a one-year misdemeanor and/or a $2,000 fine, or three times the value of the money or property involved, whichever is greater.

“Cases like this are precisely why my office has a unit specifically charged with evaluating reports of elder abuse and why there are a number of assistant attorneys general and investigators assigned to pursue bad actors,” said Nessel. “It is appalling that someone the court trusted to look after the finances of these vulnerable adults may have taken advantage of their positions, and I am grateful to the Michigan State Police and especially Trooper Kelsey Case for her perseverance and commitment to finding out the truth. Michigan’s Elder Abuse Task Force has recommended the certification of guardians to ensure they are qualified to serve the individuals under their care, and I am fully supportive of that measure.”

An investigation of Englebrecht by the Michigan State Police began in 2019 following a referral from Adult Protective Services. Allegedly, Englebrecht embezzled more than $20,000 from the 11 vulnerable adults total. She was appointed as a guardian and/or conservator for the victims from 2017 to 2019 and allegedly used her position of power to take control over the finances of the clients.

Attorney General Nessel made elder abuse a top priority for her administration to tackle, assisting in the creation of the Michigan Elder Abuse Task Force, which outlines recommendations to improve protections for elderly Michiganders. There are currently no qualifications or training necessary to be a guardian, simply an appointment by a judge. Information on the task force can be found HERE.
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Denver attorney is barred from practicing law for one year after multiple arrests

Robert Corry admitted to violating 13 rules of professional conduct

By Shelly Bradbury

A Denver attorney who was arrested at least four times in 2019 was suspended Friday from practicing law for one year and one day.

Robert Corry admitted to violating 13 rules of professional conduct and was suspended by Presiding Disciplinary Judge William Lucero.

The prominent Denver attorney and legal marijuana proponent was disciplined for committing a criminal act that reflected poorly on his fitness to be a lawyer, for charging unreasonable fees, mishandling client funds or property, failing to promptly and effectively communicate with clients and representing clients despite conflicts of interest, among other professional violations, according to the judge’s order.

Corry declined to comment on the suspension Monday.

Corry was arrested four times between June and October 2019 and faced allegations including violating a restraining order, driving under the influence, committing domestic violence and threatening people in public with a sword.

In 2013, Corry was arrested for smoking marijuana at a Rockies game and smashing the window of a recreational vehicle.

Corry was among the most prominent marijuana attorneys in the state, helping to draft Colorado’s successful marijuana-legalization ballot initiative and representing marijuana advocates in several significant legal victories.

He will have 14 days to notify his clients of the suspension, which began Friday, according to the order.

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Caregiver charged for alleged financial exploitation of client

Gloria Hoskins charged for exploitation

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A Memphis caregiver was taken into custody Wednesday for allegedly exploiting and defrauding an elderly client.

An investigation headed by the Special Agents with the Medicaid Fraud Control Division of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation led to the arrest of Gloria Hoskins.

Investigators received a referral from the Adult Protect Services of the Tennessee Department of Human Services calling for an investigation into a complaint of financial exploitation by a personal caregiver.

According to TBI, Hoskins provided home care for a client in Memphis from July to September. During their investigation, they were able to find that Hoskins was gained information from the victim to several of his/her financial accounts, purchased items using the victim’s name and even facilitated the sale of the victim‘s home, according to the TBI.

Hoskins is charged with financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult, theft of property between $60,000 and $250,000, forgery, and identity theft.  She is in the Shelby County Jail East on a $100,000 bond.

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Thursday, November 19, 2020

Nightmare before guardianship: Court proceeding can be messy, emotional

Anyone can file a guardianship application, and anyone can contest a guardianship application as well.

A guardianship case is initiated when someone files an application for guardianship in the appropriate court, such as a probate court.(Courtesy / Getty Images/iStockphoto)

By Virginia Hammerle

Recipe for a contested guardianship: Take one senior, add a dash of dementia, mix in a dollop of assets, simmer with decades of resentment and hurt feelings, and garnish with one or more disgruntled family members.

Guaranteed to cook up into a gut-wrenching and costly guardianship case.

A guardianship is a court proceeding that is initiated to have a person (the “ward”) declared legally incapacitated, take away one or more of that person’s rights, and have a guardian appointed.

There are two types of guardianships in Texas. A “guardian of the person” handles personal decisions regarding the ward, such as where the ward lives and the medical care a ward receives. A “guardian of the estate” handles the ward’s finances. The detailed scope of a guardian’s duties is determined by a judge on a case-by-case basis.

A guardianship case is initiated when someone files an application for guardianship in the appropriate court, such as a probate court. Ten counties in Texas have designated probate courts. In the other 244 counties, a guardianship would usually be filed in a county court.

Who can file a guardianship application? Anyone. That encompasses the loving adult child, the exploitive neighbor and the local UPS driver. Who can contest a guardianship application? Anyone.

The only restriction is that the person filing or contesting cannot have an interest that is adverse to the proposed ward. The courts are still working out what constitutes an adverse interest. Frankly, guardianship law in Texas has undergone a mini-revolution since 2010 and there remain a few bugs in the system.

(Now may be the time to disclose an endearing quirk. In Texas, a court with guardianship jurisdiction can start a guardianship action on its own initiative. This plays out when the court becomes aware, by fair means or foul, that someone may need a guardianship. The court opens an investigation and then, if it deems it necessary, authorizes someone to file a guardianship action.)

Once a guardianship application is filed, the judge appoints an attorney ad litem to represent the proposed ward. Of course, if the proposed ward has capacity then he or she could hire a private attorney to fight the guardianship. If.

So what determines the need for a guardianship? The Estates Code requires that a guardianship cannot be granted unless the court finds the proposed ward is "an adult who, because of a physical or mental condition is substantially 1) unable to provide food, clothing or shelter for himself or herself; 2) care for the person’s own physical health; or 3) manage the person’s own financial affairs. The court must also find that there are no lesser restrictive alternatives, like a power of attorney or a trust, available to the proposed ward.

Some cases go smoothly with everyone working in the best interest of the ward. Other cases, however, turn into a pitched battle over capacity, adverse interests, guardian qualifications or less restrictive alternatives. These are contested guardianships and may include allegations of theft, exploitation, neglect and abuse of the proposed ward. The judge may remove the ward from the home and appoint independent guardians.

That is the stuff of which nightmares are made.

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Pulled from care homes during pandemic, these seniors thrived — highlighting 'urgent' need for change: expert

Pandemic creates new issues in personal care homes, highlights old ones, experts say


by Caitlyn Gowriluk  

Sharon Webb pulled her grandmother, Mary Goertzen, out of Winkler's Salem Home this summer. (Sharon Webb/Submitted)

On a hot July day that was supposed to be one of her last, Mary Goertzen's grandchildren climbed one by one up a ladder to say goodbye through the window of her Winkler personal care home.

With visitor restrictions in place to stop COVID-19 from making its way into Salem Home, it was the only way most of Goertzen's family could see her for the last time.

"Everything about it was wrong," said Goertzen's granddaughter, Sharon Webb. "It was heart-wrenching to watch."

Days later, the care home's rules tightened again to only allow Goertzen one visitor every 12 hours. That meant her family would need to work in staggered shifts, keeping a meticulous schedule to make sure the 85-year-old wouldn't be alone.

But Webb saw another option. She and her husband decided to bring her grandmother home to live her last days with them — but what happened when she got there, Webb said, was nothing short of miraculous.

"Mentally, emotionally, spiritually, she just completely turned around," she said. "[She] just had this will to stick around."

Most of Mary Goertzen's family had to visit her through the window of her personal care home this summer, after staff at Salem Home told her family that Goertzen likely didn't have much longer to live. (Sharon Webb/Submitted)

About four months earlier, Lois Coleman Neufeld made the same decision for her mother, just as sites across Manitoba started restricting visits when the first cases of COVID-19 were detected in the province.

After one of their weekly Sunday outings — spent at church then at her house for lunch — Coleman Neufeld was walking her mother back into Parkview Place when a worker at the Winnipeg care home stopped them.

"[They] said, 'You can't come in. We're in lockdown,'" Coleman Neufeld said. 

"So we started asking questions about, 'Well, would we be able to come and visit tomorrow? Would we be able to take her out again?' And of course, it was new for everybody, so nobody had any answers."

In the meantime, she decided to bring her mom home to live with her. But over the next few days, it became clear what the new rules would mean for someone with dementia.

"I knew that if I left mom there, it would be like condemning her to a slow, painful death," she said.

Lois Coleman Neufeld brought her mom, Joy Coleman, home to live with her this past spring, after the personal care home where she was living brought in new COVID-19 restrictions. (Robert Neufeld/Submitted by Lois Coleman Neufeld)

And within a month of having her mom back at home, Coleman Neufeld said she also started seeing changes. The 91-year-old who could once only walk a few hundred metres before getting tired was now some days walking well over a kilometre.

It was a stark change from the woman living in Parkview Place who, unable to participate in most activities, was left in her room, discouraged and depressed.

"For the first time in years and years and years, I saw her cry. She's a very strong woman. She doesn't cry," Coleman Neufeld said, voice trembling. "So the question of taking her out wasn't a huge issue, in a way, to resolve. The biggest issue was, can I manage it?"

A difficult decision

While the improvements Webb and Coleman Neufeld saw were undeniable, so were the challenges they faced — and the sacrifices they had to make.

Webb, who is self-employed as a wedding planner, was able to take time off to become her grandmother's full-time caregiver.

And while she initially set her grandma up on a bed in her living room so she could spend her final days with a view outside, it eventually became clear that the arrangement needed to be more permanent. Webb and her husband moved to their basement while Goertzen moved into their upstairs bedroom.

Meanwhile, Coleman Neufeld was already on long-term disability, and her partner went down to part-time work to help her manage the new role. The shift also means she has less time for things that were usually part of her life, like camping, volunteering and seeing her grandchildren.

Lois Coleman Neufeld out for a walk in August with her mom, Joy, and her dog, Mulan. (Robert Neufeld/Submitted by Lois Coleman Neufeld)

"I think acknowledging the difficulty is a really important step," said Coleman Neufeld, "and to always try to keep your pulse on the issues or the developments or how you're feeling, how the caregiver is feeling."

The decision to pull out of a care home

As care homes across Manitoba report COVID-19 cases, and as some report outbreaks and deaths, pulling family members out can seem like a good option — but not everyone is equipped to do that, said Michelle Porter, director of the Centre on Aging at the University of Manitoba.

"It is really important for people to be — if they are going to contemplate making this decision — that they are [as] informed as they can be in making the decision so that they are able to handle the load," Porter said.

There are many factors to consider before taking that step, Porter said.

Those include considering whether a family or individual can provide the kind of care needed, whether their home is safe and whether — if things don't work out — they'll be able to readmit their loved one to their place of choice.

Care home beds in the Winnipeg area, for example — where Coleman Neufeld's mother's former care home is — are only held for social leaves, not full discharges, said a spokesperson for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (though clients are given a long-term care contact who will try to help facilitate readmission to their facility of choice if a bed is available). 

In the Southern Health region — where Webb's grandmother's former care home is — social leaves are allowed for up to 21 days, a spokesperson said, but after that the person would have to restart the panelling process to be placed back in a care home.

The pandemic has also shone a light on longstanding issues in long-term care, said Porter, including shared rooms that have made infection control nearly impossible and inadequate staffing that means many residents aren't getting the level of care they need.

While there's no comparing the care a person would get in a facility to the one-on-one attention they might get at home, the current recommendation of 3.6 care hours per resident should be increased to 4.1, she said.

"We certainly know that staffing should be changed so that we can have more full-time positions that are better paid that would enable people to be working in one place, building relationships with residents," she said.

"If they're running from one place to another because they can only get so many hours at each place, that's obviously not good for the staff, but it's also not good for residents."

And while Manitoba now seems to be taking steps to address some of its more glaring issues within long-term care, it remains to be seen whether those efforts will be adequate, said Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO of CanAge, a national seniors advocacy group.

"Do I believe that the Manitoba government, over the course of this first wave and now entering the second wave, knows the ingredients in the recipe for change? I do. The question is: will they actually move quickly enough?" she said.

"Every day that these issues are not addressed are days that lives are lost. It is, in my view, the most urgent situation that we have in Canada in the time of COVID-19."

Politicians 'shrug their shoulders'

Pulling their family members out of care didn't solve everything: Webb's grandmother still sees a palliative home care nurse and gets regular care for bedsores, and Coleman Neufeld's mother still requires help with things as simple as eating. But the thought of what may have happened otherwise is enough to make them grateful they were in a position to make that choice.

"Had we not pulled my grandmother out, I know she would not be here today. And I think it would have wrecked all of us," Webb said. "I think we would have just all been so wounded by that, I don't know as a family where we would be today."

Coleman Neufeld, whose mother lived in a care home that has since become the site of Manitoba's deadliest COVID-19 outbreak, is also haunted by what might have been.

"I think about it all the time. When the news came out, I felt so bad for the staff members and I felt bad for the families as well as the residents, that they're being isolated, that families feel abandoned, not being able to do what they feel is their responsibility to care for their parents," she said.

"I think I would have died.... I can only imagine the angst that families are feeling."

Both Webb and Coleman Neufeld are frustrated — even angered — by what they see as a general indifference from the people who are supposed to be solving problems in long-term care.

"I don't have any easy solutions, but neither do I hear discourse in amongst the politicians or in the care home setting," said Coleman Neufeld. "They mostly shrug their shoulders. 'Well, what can you do?'"

Reflecting on stories she's heard from families across the province, Webb agrees.

"I don't think the general public has even a glimpse of the things that are happening right now," she said. "And if we knew, nobody would want to put their loved one in a care home."

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Covid: care home called police after woman sneaked in to see husband

Patricia Hodges, 75, wanted to move Graham, 83, to another home after being denied visits

Patricia Hodges outside Wayside House in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. She was unable to see her husband from March to October. Photograph: Andrew Fox/The Guardian

by Robert Booth

A care home called the police when a woman who had been denied visits to her 83-year-old husband for eight months amid the Covid pandemic sneaked in to get him out.

Patricia Hodges, 75, used to visit her husband, Graham, daily at Wayside House in Bromsgrove, where he was being cared for with Lewy Body dementia. But her anguish at being prevented from seeing him from March to October, and a row over fees, sparked an attempt to move him to another home, she said.

The incident on 28 October followed a dispute between the Hodges and the care home, which began with requests for visits being denied. It ended with the home’s owner being accused of “holding” Graham Hodges over missing fees, which the home strongly denies.

Wayside House granted Patricia a visit the day before she tried to enter the home – the first in 221 days. By then the family had booked a new home and they were fearful of further isolation in the second wave of the pandemic.

The dispute highlights a dilemma facing care homes being asked to balance infection control with the mental health of residents and their families.

Last week a woman was arrested when she tried to release her mother from a care home in Humberside which had also stopped normal visiting. MPs are set to debate the issue in parliament on Wednesday.

“I rang the doorbell and I wasn’t going to be let in,” said Patricia, describing how a handyman had left a side door open and she entered to get her husband out. She was confronted by the care home owner, Rakesh Kotecha, who warned she was a Covid risk and subsequently called the police. Officers eventually asked her to leave the building where she was staging an impromptu sit-in.

In the car park, the Hodges argued to police that the home was exceeding its rights. Officers spoke by phone to social services and other professionals, who said there was no reason not to let Graham leave. He was finally allowed to move the next day.

“When Graham came out to get into the wheelchair taxi, he let out a loud cheer and then started weeping when he saw Bethan [his daughter] and the grandchildren and told them he loved them all and would be able to give them a kiss now,” said Patricia.

Kotecha said staff and residents could not be put at risk for one family to be able to visit, and that strict visiting restrictions and policies were needed to keep the home Covid-free.

“Of course we would love to have families visiting,” he said. “In the pre-Covid world we had no restriction on visiting hours at all.” He added that the home has now started allowing visits in a specially prepared room.

In June, Gethin Hodges, the resident’s son, had asked for a five-minute visit for his mother. He wrote: “My father is very frail and I don’t believe he will have many months ahead of him and it may well be the last chance my mum gets to see him.”

The home replied that only end-of-life visits would be possible and offered to facilitate video calls. It said: “Our concern is that if there is a second pandemic that by reopening our doors too soon, [we] might allow the virus into the home.”

The dispute developed when the Hodges declined to pay a 20% fee increase which the home said was to reflect increased costs from Covid such as for PPE.

In August, increasingly concerned about Graham’s wellbeing without visitors, the family gave the home a month’s notice. Kotecha said he wouldn’t allow an assessment of the resident’s health to be made by the new home because of £12,000 in owed fees. But he denied the family’s claim he was trying to “hold” Graham until he received payment.

He told the family: “It is the norm in the sector that another provider would not take a resident who has outstanding fees, as the new provider would not want to end up in the same position.”

Kotecha said the money “was not an issue as the care and safety for our residents is first and foremost … A move from his home was not going to be in his best interest as his health may well deteriorate”.

A fortnight later, Kotecha informed the family their August notice had “expired” and the home needed a new notice period to consider moving Graham. The family said it provided this on 1 October but Kotecha said he never received it. In late October, when the family said they were coming to collect him, the home said it still needed a period of notice.

“We had written to the family on several occasions asking them to provide a rolling notice which would have taken care of this issue,” Kotecha said. “They failed to do so. They were sent a reminder on 6 October that if they still wished to move [their] dad then they needed to provide a notice, which there was no response to.”

The family said it consulted Worcestershire county council social services and a solicitor who advised that the home had no rights to hold him, if it was doing so. Graham has now moved into a new home and is in a period of isolation before visits can begin.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Florida woman escapes guardianship using secret phone and Facebook to contact media

By: Adam Walser
LONGWOOD, Fla. — A Florida senior citizen speaks out after she was released from court-ordered guardianship and had her rights restored.

“It’s very scary to think that we’re in the United States, and this is happening to us,” said Jan Garwood, who was placed in professional guardianship in 2017 after she was involved in a car crash while grieving the death of her son.

Garwood, 70, was found to be incapacitated and stripped of her rights. That included her right to vote, choose her home and social environment, and control her money and property.

In Florida, a court can appoint someone to make decisions for another person if that person is found to be incapacitated by a panel of medical professionals.

Anyone can file a petition seeking to place another person under guardianship. Usually, those cases are brought by family members, social workers or guardians themselves.

Guardians are compensated at a rate of up to $95 an hour and are paid from the assets of those under guardianship. Guardians’ attorneys can be paid more than $400 an hour.

“All our rights. All our privileges, all the things we’ve worked all these years to keep. What’s going on?” Garwood said.

Reaching out on social media from dementia unit

Garwood first contacted the I-Team in April from the locked-down dementia unit of the Palms of Longwood Assisted Living Facility in Seminole County.

She first contacted us via Facebook with follow-up calls using the Facetime app on her secret cell phone.

“It’s hard to put a word on it. Heartbreaking, frustrating, challenging. Trying to get past people. Hiding my phone so I can get out and call people and try to get help,” Garwood said.

Her son snuck a cell phone into her room, which Garwood kept hidden from her guardian.

“There shouldn’t be anybody that should be able to have 100% control over anybody’s life,” she said.

A judge initially appointed disgraced former guardian Rebecca Fierle to care for her.

Fierle resigned from her cases after state investigators alleged she was responsible for the death of a man under her care. Fierle was later charged with two felonies and is awaiting trial.

A new guardian took over Garwood’s case. Garwood said when the woman wouldn’t help her get her rights restored, she took to social media.

“I put my ad on Facebook and said ‘somebody help me,’” Garwood said.

Guardianship reform advocate Hillary Hogue responded and visited her at the assisted living facility where her guardian had placed her. Believing Garwood didn’t belong in guardianship, Hogue helped Garwood get in touch with attorney Vito Roppo.

Lawyers and doctor help get rights restored

“I filed a motion to be appointed as her counsel at her request, and I put in there that I thought she should be re-examined,” said Roppo.

Roppo, who lives in Naples, worked with Central Florida attorney Leslie Ferderigos.

Ferderigos was the attorney of record for Garwood, who filed a motion which eventually led to Garwood's release.

The motion suggested Garwood's rights should be restored, following a doctor's evaluation of Garwood's mental capacity at a judge's request.

The doctor gave Garwood a nearly perfect score, writing in his report, “She is fully capable of handling and executing her own personal, medical and financial day-to-day affairs.”

Garwood was released from guardianship in late August.

“I never gave up that eventually, sooner or later, something would have to happen that I’d be able to get away from her,” Garwood said.

Home sold to ALF employee, belongings nowhere to be found

After her release, Garwood couldn’t return to the home where she raised her children and cared for her elderly parents before their deaths.

Her guardian had sold the house to an employee of Palms of Longwood, the facility where Garwood lived.

“It was sold for substantially less than the other homes in the area were going for, and we know that the house was never placed on the market for sale,” Roppo said.

“When you lose a house like that, you lose your memories,” said Garwood.

The proceeds went into a family trust Garwood can’t access, which was set up by her late uncle to benefit Garwood and her 103-year-old aunt.

Roppo and Ferderigos are currently trying to help her access the money.

What happened to Garwood’s belongings that were in the home remains a mystery.

“I had or have… over $300,000 worth of old furniture, jewelry, collectibles,” Garwood said, adding that she’s “still keeping my fingers crossed.”

Missing items include multiple signed original oil paintings Garwood bought while working at a high-end art gallery, she said.

Records show the guardian billed Garwood to pack and store her items, but Garwood's attorneys say the guardian's attorney the former guardian no longer has her personal property.

We contacted the guardian and her attorney each twice, but neither responded.

Getting food from charity, living in a garage

Garwood, who lived in a 2,735 square foot home before guardianship, now lives in a friend’s garage.

“We went to the food pantry and stood in line for four hours to get a couple of boxes of old food, and that’s what we’ve been eating,” Garwood said a short time after her release.

Roppo has now arranged for Garwood to receive her Social Security check instead of her guardian.

“You lose more rights in a guardianship, in most guardianships, than you do if you go to federal prison,” Roppo said.

If you have a story you think the I-Team should investigate, email us at

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Protesters in Long Beach call for nursing home reforms

Voices for Seniors held a rally at Kennedy Plaza in Long Beach on Saturday to demand answers and reform regarding the way their loved ones were treated in nursing homes during the pandemic. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez - CLICK TO WATCH VIDEO

By John Asbury

More than a dozen protesters stood in front of Long Beach City Hall on Saturday seeking nursing home reforms on visitation policies, admission of COVID-19 patients and proper care and treatment of elderly patients during the pandemic.

Demonstrators with the nonprofit group, Voices for Seniors, called on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state legislators to take additional measures to protect seniors from COVID-19, monitor their care and allow family members access to visit their loved ones in nursing homes and adult rehabilitation facilities.

"Maybe some people think we’ll go away but we’re still speaking up because our seniors deserve it," Voices for Seniors co-founder Vivian Zayas of Deer Park, said.

Zayas said she lost her mother April 1 after she tested positive at a West Islip facility. She said her mother was undergoing physical therapy when she was infected with the virus and died after she was transferred to the ICU.

Organizers criticized a March 25 state directive that allowed nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients if they had adequate care, personal protective equipment and staffing. The guidance stated, "no resident shall be denied admission solely because of COVID positive status," but did not require those patients to be admitted.

Protesters held a banner that said, "Cuomo, how many seniors died?"

State officials said the state Health Department was following CDC guidance and a report in July indicated COVID-19 was already present in more than 300 facilities, or 98% of nursing facilities from community spread or asymptomatic staff members before COVID-19 patients were admitted.

"This pandemic, while sadly still being politicized, is far from over. The Department continues to assist facilities statewide that are currently managing COVID-19 clusters and preparing for a second wave," Health Department spokesman Gary Holmes said in an email Saturday. "Our decisions will continue to be driven by data and science, and now is not the time for anybody to let their guard down. While we understand the challenges this pandemic has caused nursing home residents and their families, the state remains committed to protecting nursing home residents and front line workers from this unforgiving virus."

Assemb. Missy Miller (R-Atlantic Beach) attended the rally and said she is concerned about neglect and abuse in nursing homes where seniors and special need adults are not being monitored or only allowed limited visits from family members.

The state resumed visitation at nursing homes in July at facilities that have been COVID-19 free for 14 days and visitors can show a negative test in the past seven days. Some visitations have been restricted in facilities outside Long Island where clusters of cases have been reported.

Miller said she is sponsoring a bill to assign essential care workers access for each patient. She said some patients are dying from failure of oversight leading to neglect and loneliness.

"They’ve given up. They lost their families and they don’t understand it," Miller said.

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Workers threaten to strike at 11 nursing homes in Illinois next week if wages and pandemic hazard pay don’t increase

By Robert McCoppin

City View Multicare Center nursing home in Cicero on April 24, 2020. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

Workers at 11 nursing homes in Illinois are threatening to go on strike next week unless they are given raises comparable to other long-term care workers in the state.

Nearly 700 members of SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana, part of the Service Employees International Union, voted to strike on Nov. 23 if Infinity Healthcare Management doesn’t meet their demands for higher base pay and pandemic hazard pay. Strike notices were delivered Thursday, the union said.

Most of the workers are women, and many of them are Black or Hispanic.

Most of the 11 homes that would be affected by a strike are in the Chicago area. They include City View Multicare Center in Cicero, which had 249 coronavirus cases, and Niles Nursing & Rehabilitation in Niles, which had 54 COVID-related deaths, the most at any long-term care facility in the state.

Certified nursing assistants, or CNAs, who do most of the hands-on work with patients at the homes, are seeking a starting rate of $15.50 statewide, while other workers such as housekeepers and laundry workers are seeking $14.50 an hour outside Chicago and $15 an hour in Chicago, union officials said.

Infinity facilities received nearly $13 million in COVID-related economic assistance from the federal CARES Act, the union reported, and are seeking more.

Infinity did not answer multiple calls and emails for comment. In general, nursing home administrators have said they are limited by low Medicaid payments, and need government help to weather the ongoing COVID pandemic.

Last year, state lawmakers increased Medicaid funding for nursing homes by up to $240 million — $70 million of which was targeted to address staffing needs.

Statewide, nursing home residents have accounted for more than half of all deaths of people with COVID. Union workers said they were concerned that if they go on strike, their patients would be cared for by managers and contracted outside workers, but put the responsibility on Infinity to provide them with living wages and adequate protective medical equipment. Their contract expired June 1.

“Front-line workers are heroes,” U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García said at a news conference Monday with the workers. “We must provide them with the wages, benefits and protection they deserve.”

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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Britney Spears’ Refusal To Perform May Be Her Way Out of the Conservatorship

by Gina Ragusa

Singer Britney Spears is refusing to perform in response to a judgment against the removal of her father Jamie Spears as a co-conservator.

Singer Britney Spears | Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Judge Brenda Penny allowed Jamie to remain in the position. She suggested the parties re-explore the notion “down the road,” The Associated Press reports. However, Britney pushed back. “My client has informed me that she is afraid of her father,” her attorney, Samuel D. Ingham III announced. “She also stated that she will not perform as long as her father is in charge of her career. We are really at a crossroads.”

However, refusing to perform could possibly be the one motivating aspect that may ultimately inspire Jamie to dissolve his position.

An income reduction could move the case

Financial reasons are typically the crux of a conservatorship. Jamie obtained control over his adult daughter’s life in 2008 after incidents that led him to seek a conservatorship. But the arrangement extends beyond the financial aspect.

Even small moves are tracked in the name of keeping Britney safe. “Her most mundane purchases, from a drink at Starbucks to a song on iTunes, are tracked in court documents as part of the plan to safeguard the great fortune she has earned but does not ultimately control,” according to The New York Times.

But a reduction in finances may be a game-changer. Elaine Renoire, president of the National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse told The New York Times that money is typically the main driver in a conservator arrangement. Britney’s fortune is worth an estimated $60 million as of 2019, Forbes reports.

“As long as she is bringing in so much money and as long as the lawyers and conservators are getting paid, there is little incentive to end it,” she said. “Usually, the conservatorship just keeps going unless the conservatee makes a fuss or the family does.”

Britney Spears has been on an ‘indefinite work hiatus’ since 2019

Britney announced she was pivoting to focus on her father’s health in January 2019 and went on an “indefinite work hiatus,” according to The New York Times

Jamie experienced a ruptured colon, which landed him in the hospital for 28 days. “We’re all so grateful that he came out of it alive, but he still has a long road ahead of him,” Britney shared on Twitter. “We have a very special relationship and I want to be with my family at this time just like they have always been there for me.”

For health reasons, Jamie appointed Jodi Montgomery to be his temporary replacement last year. Britney has also requested that Montgomery take over the role permanently.

Jamie asserted he only wants the best for his daughter. His “sole motivation has been his unconditional love for his daughter and a fierce desire to protect her from those trying to take advantage of her,” according to court documents.

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Britney Spears' conservatorship can be both totally legal and quite bad for her. Many are.

Britney Spears arrives for the premiere of "Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood" at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Calif., on July 22, 2019.Valerie Macon / AFP via Getty Images file

By Chandra Bozelko

Whether it's the #FreeBritney movement's interpretations of Britney Spears’ Instagram posts or news items about her father’s rapid-fire legal filings to stay her sole conservator — a status allowed to continue as of this week — the debate over who should control Spears’ money and daily existence will seemingly continue for some time.

Spears has some star-spangled support in either the bid for her freedom or even mere transparency about the conditions of her ongoing legal status and how she might emerge from it. Miley Cyrus, Ariel Winter, Ruby Rose, Paris Hilton, Cher, Kacey Musgraves, the American Civil Liberties Union and around 110,000 other people have publicly called for Spears’ release from the conservatorship. Apparently, they aren’t convinced by the Los Angeles Times investigation from last year that found no independent evidence that Spears or her financial holdings were being harmed by the arrangement.

The problem, however, is likely not that her assets are being actively mismanaged — which should be easy enough for one of the court's evaluations to uncover — nor that she is being actively abused. Rather, there are emotional costs of a long-term conservatorship, especially to an otherwise capable person, and that damage rarely appears in court evaluations or public records.

Probate courts create conservatorships — in some states it’s called guardianship — when they rule that an adult is so ill or mentally unstable that they’re incapable of taking care of their basic needs. The court appoints another person — sometimes an attorney, sometimes a family member — to manage that person's affairs. Managing someone’s assets is called conservatorship of the estate; making decisions about their health and relationships is called conservatorship of the person. Spears is subject to both.

There are emotional costs of a long-term conservatorship, especially to an otherwise capable person, and that damage rarely appears in court evaluations.

The major issue with a conservatorship is that it strips a person of the legal rights to even fight it; to hire an attorney, the person subject to a conservatorship needs permission from the court, but she also lacks standing to bring suit on her own. That’s why most conservatorships survive until death: The people subject to them often lack the legal ability to escape from them.

I should know: From 2005 to 2014, both my person and my estate were legally conserved in the Probate Court of New Haven, Connecticut.

It started when my parents disagreed with my decision to fight criminal charges that were brought against me. (I was eventually convicted but my case remains on appeal.) For a period of time as part of the conservatorship, I was medicated against my will, I could not choose my own doctors or lawyers and I had no right to enter into a lease or even an employment contract of my own choosing. I was legally considered too disabled to be capable of making any of my own decisions.

It was one of the worst times of my life — and there’s stiff competition for that label, given that I served six years in a maximum security prison. To be told that you can’t be trusted with money or a car is hurtful. But to be told that you can’t be trusted with the right to self-determination or your own choices is devastating. It’s a total negation of your humanity.

About 1.3 million people find themselves in these arrangements in the United States; $50 billion of their assets are controlled by someone else. We know nothing about their ages, gender or diagnoses — or even if they have official diagnoses in every case — because the data on these legal arrangements is practically nonexistent.

To strip a person of her agency can’t help but be abusive, even when fiduciaries are doing their jobs.

Since there’s no official survey of the number of people living under such court orders, it’s impossible to tell if such guardianship arrangements are used in gender or racially disproportionate patterns. The few studies on it examine the relationship’s effect on the system, not on the people in these arrangements. Unquestionably, we need more data from the various guardianship systems to begin to assess whether they are functioning well for all the people subject to them — but they are assuredly not.

We do know that a good number of people under the control of conservatorships likely don’t need to be, and that even more don’t need full guardianship. In 2018, Syracuse law professor Nina Kohn testified as much to the Senate Special Committee on Aging.

An important part of Kohn’s testimony was that often even unintentional harm comes from these relationships: To strip a person of her agency can’t help but be abusive, even when fiduciaries are doing their jobs.

So even if Spears' father and long-time co-conservator, Jamie Spears, isn't doing anything legally wrong, that doesn’t mean the conservatorship he's overseen honors his daughter’s dignity. Focus has fallen on Spears’ finances and her mental health status, but many aspects of her life are no longer her own.

For example, she reportedly can’t have an iPhone. And, while the tabloids are often filled with gossip about Spears, her boyfriend Sam Asghari and whether they might become engaged, they have always missed one huge point about a conservatorship: While she’s under one, Spears may not legally be able to consent to marriage without approval. (As a legal matter, it’s not even clear that she, or anyone under a conservatorship, can consent to sexual intimacy without approval.)

Conservatorships’ message is clear: People who are deemed disabled aren't allowed to behave like full persons.

Even though Jamie Spears isn't doing anything legally wrong, that doesn’t mean that the conservatorship he's overseen honors his daughter’s dignity.

That’s why there’s strong anecdotal evidence that people improve and even thrive when they’re released from conservatorship controls. The humanizing effect of being granted the authority to make even the smallest decisions can be drastic. As someone forced into one myself, I would expect that, with time and some assistance she seeks out of her own accord, we would come to see a self-possessed woman if Spears' conservatorship were removed.

It is, of course, fair to wonder why Spears herself hasn’t formally petitioned to terminate the conservatorship. As her father and his attorney have noted, she chafes against the arrangement but hasn't asked to be freed. (She has asked the court to remove her father as her conservator.)

If Spears’ conservatorship is anything like mine, it can be — or even just feel — more punitive than it is protective. In my case, any disagreement with my conservator landed me in a psychiatric hospital, even though I became the caretaker for my conservator when he suffered a stroke and couldn’t drive himself.

Spears, meanwhile, has clearly been competent enough to complete three years of a Las Vegas residency and serve as a judge on "The X Factor" — but, like many of us, she might wonder after years in a conservatorship if she really is capable of deciding matters herself. Or she may fear seeing her relatively scant privileges revoked if she speaks up. (Her lawyer, Samuel D. Ingham III — whom she was only allowed to hire last month — told the court on Tuesday, "My client has informed me that she is afraid of her father.")

Conserving and appointing guardians to oversee the affairs of people who can’t handle their lives without assistance is a necessary part of humane society; requiring people who truly can’t function for one reason or another to negotiate their way through daily life would be cruel.

But it’s just as cruel to take away the rights and personhood of a person who merely disagrees on what the right decision is for them, or makes not-so-great decisions. Spears might have done some outrageous and dangerous things in the past — driving with a child on her lap, barricading herself inside her home — and she clearly had a public meltdown. But that behavior seems to be more of a response to the trauma of child stardom, young motherhood and relentless paparazzi. And, like many people in Hollywood, her family's concerns that people were taking or could take advantage of her wealth, good nature and mental health challenges aren't without precedent.

But Spears hasn’t been allowed the most basic human right: the right to err, and then grow and improve from that erring. People grow and change not in spite of their bad decisions, but because of them — if we allow them to.

It's long past time for the Probate Division of the Los Angeles Superior Court to cut Spears’ conservator cord. Even if she has ongoing challenges (and who among us doesn't), she's clearly a competent professional who is capable of making mostly good decisions. Someone with her wealth — a reported $59 million — can and will likely hire people of her own choosing as competent as her conservators to manage her money and schedule anyway; it’s not as if she’ll proceed through life without assistance.

But she will proceed, finally, on her own. That will likely make all the difference.

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Power-of-Attorney Abuse Can Drain Your Retirement Savings. Choose One Wisely.

By Neal Templin

Durable power of attorney is one of the most important and useful documents you will ever sign. It is also one of the most dangerous if it falls into the wrong hands.

Your will controls what happens to your money after your death. But the power of attorney can determine what happens to it while you’re still alive. If abused, there may not be any money for anyone to inherit.

“It really is essential that the person giving the power of attorney understand how powerful the document is,” says Vincent Casiano, a San Diego estate lawyer.

Legally, a person with power of attorney has a fiduciary duty to serve the best interests of the person on whose behalf he or she is acting. But the reality is that nobody polices how most power-of-attorney agreements are used. While the vast majority are used correctly, estate lawyers say that unscrupulous people have used the designation to pay personal expenses, move real estate into their name, or loot the assets of the person they’re representing.

Kerry Peck, a Chicago lawyer who specializes in litigating estate and trust cases, says his firm handles a half dozen or so power-of-attorney abuse cases a year. Some involve caregivers who enter into relationships with ailing clients.

Peck handled a case some years ago where a well-to-do man in his 70s began going to physical therapy after suffering a stroke. He soon became involved with the therapist, a woman in her 40s, and gave her power of attorney. The therapist used the man’s money to go on a spending spree, including buying a car and making a down payment on a vacation home. In all, she took close to half a million, Peck said.

His firm was alerted by relatives and it eventually got the man placed in a court-monitored guardianship to safeguard his assets. Peck said lawyers were able to recover only a part of what the therapist had taken from the man.

“When you pick your agent under power or attorney, you need to pick someone who loves you more than they love your money,” Peck said.

Power-of-attorney agreements for various purposes have existed for centuries, but the durable power of attorney is a relatively recent development. Previously, if you gave power of attorney to someone to represent you in financial dealings, the agreement became invalid as soon as you were incapacitated.

Your financial affairs would then be handled by court-monitored guardianships, which are still used today in cases where there is no power-of-attorney agreement. But guardianships are cumbersome, expensive and can take many weeks to set up. In the 1950s, states began permitting a durable power of attorney that would persist even after a person was incapacitated.

Lawyers say the durable power of attorney is an improvement from the delays of a court-monitored guardianship. But with greater ease can come greater abuses—even from trusted loved ones.

Ken Russell, an estate lawyer from Huntington Valley, Pa., was involved in a case years ago in which an 87-year-old woman who had recently inherited nearly $1.8 million in assets gave power of attorney to her daughter. Sixteen months later, the mother had little more than $100,000 remaining in her account, Russell said.

The lawyer went to court on behalf of the mother to demand the daughter account for her power-of-attorney transactions. The accounting showed that the daughter had transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars to herself, Russell said.

The mother and daughter reached a settlement in which the daughter transferred back almost $800,000, Russell said. The rest of the money was gone, and the mother didn’t want to pursue further legal action against her daughter, he said.

Because of the experience, Russell now drafts power-of-attorney agreements mandating quarterly or yearly accountings to other siblings or heirs. People with power of attorney tend to be more careful if they know they are being watched, he said.

There are other safeguards that lawyers use to limit power-of-attorney agreements. Andrew Hook, a Virginia Beach, Va., estate lawyer sometimes drafts power of attorney agreements with two agents, so each can keep an eye on the other.

For other clients, he drafts springing power-of-attorney agreements, which aren’t effective until the client is certified as incapacitated. Many estate lawyers dislike springing powers of attorney because they’re more cumbersome, but Hook says some clients want “a speed bump.”

When it comes to his own affairs, Hook has a power-of-attorney agreement without limits for his wife.

“I’ve been married since 1978,” he says. “My power of attorney is effective immediately. If my wife was going to run off with the assets, she would have done this a long time ago.”

Power-of-attorney disputes frequently occur as siblings quarrel over control of their parents and their finances. Deborah Tedford, a Mystic, Conn., estate lawyer handled a case where a brother and sister shared power of attorney for their father, who was in his 90s and had an estate over $1 million.

Then their younger brother moved in and persuaded the father to switch power of attorney to him without his siblings’ knowledge, Tedford says. The younger brother soon became the joint owner of his father’s bank accounts, effectively disinheriting his older siblings, Tedford says.

Eventually the brother moved the father out of state, and his two siblings don’t know where their father is living now or even if he is still alive.

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