New York Power of Attorney is a legal instrument executed by an
individual with capacity (a principal) appointing another (an agent) to
handle his/her financial affairs. The current durable “short form” Power
of Attorney is clunky, cumbersome and difficult to execute without
legal support. The 2009 and 2010 statutory amendments to the Power of
Attorney laws offered little to reduce the complexities and, in fact,
imposed additional constraints on execution and modification of the
form. Reform has long been needed and the COVID-19 pandemic made the
situation more dire.
Last month, Governor Cuomo signed new legislation that greatly
simplifies and improves New York state’s power of attorney form,
relaxing certain requirements about signatories and language deviations.
Among its improvements and clarifications, the amendment allows an
authorized representative to sign the document at the principal’s
direction when the principal is physically unable to do so; and expands
the agent’s access to the principal’s health care and billing records
for financial reasons.
As this amendment takes effect in June 2021, health care facilities –
especially nursing homes - should become familiar with the new
requirements and its “user-friendly” nature. Patients and residents in
care facilities often have financial matters that need to be addressed
in the community. The Power of Attorney form can be executed with
greater ease so that an agent can be appointed to address those unmet
financial needs. If executed properly, the principal’s property affairs
can be managed during a period of inability or incapacity and should
serve to avoid the nursing home’s or family’s need for costly, time
With nursing homes costing between $12,000 to
$20,000 per month, most seniors should be armed with an Elder Law Power
of Attorney that may save assets that would otherwise go to nursing home
costs, even on the eve of needing a nursing home.
No one wants a nursing home but the longer we live, the higher the chance we may need a nursing home at the end of life.
a Power of Attorney, you name people you choose, called agents, to
manage your legal and financial affairs if you are incapacitated. You
avoid or reduce the risk of a time consuming and costly guardianship
proceeding where a judge appoints a legal guardian to manage your
The Elder Law Power of Attorney is a stronger form
of a Power of Attorney that includes unlimited gifting powers, which
allow a single person who applies for Medicaid in a nursing home to
protect assets from nursing home costs by using the gift and loan
For example, if Mom, who is single,
needs a nursing home and has $500,000, she will not qualify for Medicaid
to pay for her care. She may only keep $15,900 under Medicaid law. One
option is for Mom to spend her money on monthly nursing home costs until
only $15,900 remains. Virtually all her nest egg goes to the nursing
home instead of to her child, which was the plan.
If Mom has the Elder Law Power of Attorney, the
gift and loan strategy works like this. Half of the money, $250,000,
goes to the child as a gift under the unlimited gifting powers. The
other half of $250,000 goes to the child as a loan under a promissory
note with a rate of interest.
Any gifts made in
the past five years cause a penalty period. Mom must self-pay the
nursing home for a period based on the amount of the gift. In her case,
Mom will have to pay the nursing home for about 20 months. Every month
during the penalty period, the child pays Mom a monthly payment that,
with her income, pays the nursing home bill. At the end of the 20
months, Mom qualifies for Medicaid to pay for her care for the rest of
her life and the child keeps the $250,000 gift. Saving half using the
gift and loan strategy is sometime referred to as “half a loaf
A standard Power of Attorney without unlimited gifting powers limits gifting to $500 per year and cannot save Mom’s assets.
Elder Law Power of Attorney also allows the agent to create, amend and
revoke trusts for future circumstances that require more planning. The
agent may also change beneficiaries, which is helpful if a beneficiary
is disabled and on government benefits.
had created a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust five or more years before
needing a nursing home, she could have saved the entire nest egg for her
child. Pre-planning is always more protective, but the Elder Law Power
of Attorney is indispensable if needed.
LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Las Vegas police report they have arrested a third
woman connected to an elderly abuse incident that took place on
Christmas day last year.
Detectives arrested 57-year-old Eleanor
Walters. Authorities say she is the owner and operator of a group home
where the alleged abuse took place.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department originally reported that on
Dec. 29, 2020, its Special Victims Section received a video from social
media that depicted an elderly victim and a vulnerable adult being
physically abused by a caretaker.
Detectives were then able to identify and arrest 26-year-old
caretaker Stephany Gilbert and 23-year-old Jakia Edwards stemming from
the incident on Dec. 25, 2020.
Police say Edwards could be seen in the video as she recorded Gilbert berating the victims and physically abusing them.
LVMPD says Walters has been booked in the Clark County Detention
Center. She is facing four counts of neglect older or vulnerable person,
two counts of abuse older or vulnerable person and conspire to abuse,
exploit or isolate older or vulnerable person.
“I’m really proud of the detectives on this case,” said Sgt. James
Johnson of the Elder Abuse Unit. “They did a phenomenal job ensuring
these victims were taken care of and the suspects were taken off the
Sgt. Johnson added that many cases of elder abuse go unreported, but he hopes more people will speak up.
In 2020, LVMPD says its Elder Abuse Unit made an arrest or submitted for an arrest warrant in 58 cases.
Anyone who suspects elder abuse is taking place is urged to report it to the LVMPD Elder Abuse Unit by phone at 702-828-3364.
Fearing infection and isolation, relatives are turning to home care as new services make that option more possible for many
By Anna Matthews and Tom McGinty
| Photographs by Jeremy M. Lange for The Wall Street Journal
The pandemic is reshaping the way Americans care for their elderly,
prompting family decisions to avoid nursing homes and keep loved ones in
their own homes for rehabilitation and other care.
Americans have long relied on institutions to care for the
frailest seniors. The U.S. has the largest number of nursing-home
residents in the world. But families and some doctors have been
reluctant to send patients to such facilities, fearing infection and
isolation in places ravaged by Covid-19, which has caused more than
115,000 deaths linked to U.S. long-term-care institutions.
The drop-off has persisted since spring, including at times
when the virus’s spread was subdued. In the summer, when many hospitals
were performing near-normal levels of the kinds of procedures that often
result in nursing-home stays, referrals to nursing homes remained down.
Occupancy in U.S. nursing homes is down by 15%, or more than
195,000 residents, since the end of 2019, driven both by deaths and by
the fall in admissions, a Wall Street Journal analysis of federal data
shows. (Click To Continue Reading)
The Friday Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. has been put to use in distributing both Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines to now daily 600 seniors who are in Group 1 of Phase 1b, open to patients age 65 and older. By Casey Toth
North Carolina will make COVID-19 vaccines available to anyone age 65
and older and all health care workers, regardless of whether they are
exposed to coronavirus patients, the state announced Thursday.
The new eligibility rules partially match a change in
guidelines announced by the federal government on Tuesday. Alex Azar,
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, said vaccinating everyone
65 and older would be simpler and make the process go faster.
Gov. Roy Cooper first announced the change Thursday to members of the
N.C. Association of County Commissioners. It is also now reflected on
the state Department of Health and Human Services’ vaccination website, yourspotyourshot.nc.gov.
North Carolina started distributing vaccine last
month for hospitals to administer to front-line employees who work with
and around COVID-19 patients. A federal program, run through CVS and
Walgreens, also began inoculating residents and employees of nursing
homes and other long-term care facilities.
Now, all health care personnel who work around patients are eligible.
The new criteria put people age 65 and older ahead of other
front-line essential workers, such as firefighters and teachers. Under
the old plan, the next groups to qualify for vaccination after people 75
and older would have been front-line health care workers and essential
workers age 50 and older followed by front-line health and essential
workers of any age.
Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state Secretary of Health and
Human Services, says the state’s goal is to make the prioritization plan
easier to understand and execute. North Carolina shifted to a
simplified system with five groups, doing away with different phases and
built-in subcategories that were to be used to prioritize who gets the
“We know there has been more confusion than there
needs to be, and so we are definitely hearing the message about
simplicity and speed,” Cohen said. “That’s why we’re trying to really be
clear: What we’re vaccinating right now is all health care workers and
those 65 and older.”
Registration information is collected from seniors lined up in their
vehicles to get their COVID vaccine shot during a drive-thru COVID
vaccination clinic at North Johnston High School in Kenly, N.C.,
Thursday, January 14, 2021. Ethan Hyman firstname.lastname@example.org
Competition for limited vaccine supply increases
The change will widen the pool of people now seeking
vaccination, making the competition for the limited supplies of vaccine
more fierce. Joan Seymour of Cary, who is 79, said this will make it
even harder for her to get her shot now.
“Wake County isn’t even setting up appointments until
19 January,” Seymour wrote in an email. “Now I’ll have to contest
appointments with additional millions over 65. It’s not fair.”
There are just more than a million North Carolinians
between 65 and 74 years old, according to estimates from the N.C. Office
of State Budget and Management.
DHHS previously estimated that there are about 435,000 people in
North Carolina older than 75. The health department also estimated that
there are an additional 292,000 direct health care workers who were not
initially eligible to receive vaccine.
Many doctors and others in health care support the
change, said Tatyana Kelly, vice president of planning, strategy and
member services for the N.C. Healthcare Association, which represents
all 130 hospitals in the state.
The health problems that make people vulnerable to
COVID-19 often begin at age 65, Kelly said. And, she said, only
vaccinating people 75 and older leaves out a disproportionate number of
people of color or with low incomes who have lower life expectancy on
“We really need to focus on making sure those in
marginalized and under-served communities can get the vaccine quickly,”
Kelly said. “You have a higher ratio of people, to be honest, who are
white in the age 75 and up group.”
Kelly said there already isn’t enough vaccine to go around, and that
won’t change with the new criteria. Like everyone involved in the
vaccination process, she urged patience.
Since vaccine distribution began a month ago, North
Carolina’s total allocation has been 706,075 first doses; both vaccines
require two doses. That’s more than a million doses less than it would
take to vaccinate everyone who’s now eligible.
Cohen acknowledged that vaccine remains in limited
supply. She said the state is now receiving about 120,000 doses a week
and that it’s working with hospitals, health departments and others to
get all of it to people within seven days.
“We have less vaccine in our state than the number of
people who are eligible to get it at this moment,” she said. “For those
who are 65 years and older, you could get vaccine starting now, but
that doesn’t mean vaccine is available for you today or an appointment
is available for you today.”
Demand exceeds supply
Katye Griffin, the executive director of the N.C.
Association of Local Health Directors, agreed with Cohen, warning that
the high demand for vaccine is already outpacing the limited supply for
those who already have made an appointment to receive the vaccine.
“We may need a week or two to incorporate newly
revised groups and guidance since appointments and events have already
been scheduled,” Griffin said.
In New Hanover County, for example, the health
department announced that appointments were booked through Friday with
people 75 and older. When the department receives next week’s shipment,
it plans to open appointments to those who became eligible with
UNC Health set up 15 vaccination clinics in 12 counties this week and
says its ability to inoculate people is limited by the availability of
vaccine. Spokesman Alan Wolf said the health system will adjust its
screening and scheduling system to allow those 65 to 74 to make
Those appointments were already full this week.
Still, UNC applauds the state for broadening its eligibility criteria,
“We continue to see too many older adults who are getting really sick and ending up in our hospitals,” he said.
Allan Goldberg of Raleigh doesn’t want to join them.
Goldberg, 76, says he’s a heart attack and cancer survivor who tried to
schedule a vaccination at Duke Health and UNC, and learned the only
appointments available were in Kinston. He thinks the vaccine rollout
has been poorly handled and doesn’t see why the priorities should be
“With 65-and-overs now eligible, they can have the thrill of joining
me in the ‘no appointments available’ queue,” Goldberg wrote in an
Advice from federal government shifts
The change in guidance from the federal government
caught state officials off guard on Tuesday. Cohen says the state
developed its plan based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention and said her office would quickly review the
Cooper expressed frustration Tuesday with the timing of the new directive.
“One of the continuing problems we have had with the federal
government is that they have continued to shift their advice on what the
priorities of the vaccine should be,” Cooper said at a press conference
two hours after Azar announced the changes in Washington.
The wider criteria are part of a broader federal strategy to increase the pace of vaccinations, which have lagged nationwide.
Azar said the federal government would ship all the
vaccine it currently has on hand, rather than holding some back for the
second doses that both vaccines require. He said production has become
reliable enough that the second doses can be shipped straight from
manufacturers to the states.
Azar also announced that in two weeks the federal
government will begin allocating vaccine to the states based on the
number of residents 65 and older and on what percentage of a state’s
previous vaccine shipments have been given out.
Azar said his department would like to see states broaden the
distribution channels for vaccinations to include pharmacies and mass
On Thursday, the state Department of Health and Human
Services announced large community vaccination events in 21 counties,
including Wake, Mecklenburg, Durham, Orange, Chatham and Johnston. Links
to the websites of the organizations putting on the events can be
found, listed by county, at covid19.ncdhhs.gov/findyourspot.
Watch as hundreds of seniors, 75 and over, line up in
their vehicles to get their COVID-19 vaccine shot at West Johnston High
School in Benson, N.C., early Tuesday morning, January 12, 2021. By Ethan Hyman
People with underlying health problems must wait
North Carolina is not adopting all of the eligibility
criteria recommended by the Trump administration. Azar and CDC Director
Robert Redfield also urged states to begin vaccinating anyone under 65
who has a documented health condition that makes them vulnerable to
Under the state’s new vaccination system, people age
16 to 64 with “high-risk medical conditions that increase risk of severe
disease from COVID-19” will be eligible to get the vaccine in Group 4,
after front-line workers.
John Welfare of Waxhaw said he is angry that the
state decided to make people 65 and older eligible for vaccine now but
not younger people like himself with underlying health problems.
“I have a highly compromised immune system and COPD, but now hundreds
of thousands of otherwise healthy people just jumped in front of me
while I am a sitting duck for this horrible disease,” Welfare wrote in
an email. “This is grotesquely unfair and infuriating.”
Cohen ended her press conference by noting that some
sort of prioritization system is necessary because of the limited
supply. She said if North Carolina used all the vaccine at its disposal,
only about 6% of the state’s 10.5 million residents would get at least
an initial dose.
“Which means we have to do the work we’ve done all
year long, which is wear a mask, stay socially distant and wash your
hands often,” she said. “Please do stay home and only go out for
essential business. Remember, there is a lot of virus here in North
Members of the North Carolina National Guard help Forsyth County Department of Public Health and its residents with the COVID-19 vaccination as the NCNG assists the state's health departments to expand coronavirus immunization efforts. By North Carolina National Guard
A Ranshaw woman employed as a home health caregiver is charged
with involuntary manslaughter and neglect, according to Coal Township
Debora Avellino, 57, of Webster Street, was arrested and
brought before Shamokin District Judge John Gembic on Tuesday on the
charges of felony neglect of care of a person she was responsible to
provide care for and misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter after police
said Avellino caused the death of Vincent Avellino, 83, because she
failed to provide care for him.
Coal Township police say they were
contacted by the county Area Agency on Aging after an October incident
that saw Vincent Avellino brought to the Geisinger Shamokin Area
Community Hospital by Debora Avellino for a report of a skin tag on
Vincent Avellino's body that had developed in the course of three to
emergency room doctor told police the wound Vincent Avellino had could
not have developed over the course of a few days and that it had to take
several weeks to develop to the level of severity it did, police said.
The doctor told officers if the wound had been treated immediately, it
would have healed, police said.
An emergency room nurse who was
working the night Vincent Avellino was brought in agreed with the doctor
and told officers the wound was there for more than a few days, police
Police say Vincent Avellino needed emergency surgery and the doctor
on-call referred the case to the county's aging office because it
appeared to be severe neglect. Vincent Avellino died in early November.
say on Oct. 26 they spoke with a representative of the aging office who
told officers Vincent Avellino was moved to Geisinger Medical Center,
in Danville, because of complications after receiving the surgery.
Township police arrested Debora Avellino on Tuesday, and Gembic sent
her to Northumberland County Prison on $20,000 cash bail.
Actress Nichelle Nichols arrives at the premiere of Neon's "Colossal" at the Vista Theatre
Since 2018, Nichelle Nichols, the iconic actress who portrayed Lieutenant Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series, has been entangled in a legal battle
over control of her estate. Kyle Johnson, her only child, claims that
his mother’s former manager, Gilbert Bell, committed elder abuse by
taking advantage of her diminished capacity to steal her money and
control her finances. Bell claims that Johnson has been intimidating him
and Nichols for years and that Johnson is attempting to sell Nichols’s
properties out from under her.
The allegations have led to a
complicated, multi-year battle over who will control Nichols’ estate,
specifically, the properties she owns in the Woodland Hills section of
According to the California judicial system’s website,
a conservatorship is a legal arrangement where a person or group of
people is placed in charge of another person’s financial dealings.
Conservatorships are granted when someone is deemed incapable of
responsibly managing their own financial affairs.
According to Vulture, conservatorships have made headlines in the past few years because some high-profile celebrities, like Britney Spears and Amanda Bynes,
have had conservatorships established. Both Spears and Bynes were
deemed unfit to manage their finances and their careers after having
mental health crises.
Johnson petitioned a Los Angeles County
Court to grant a conservatorship over his mother in 2018 because she had
been diagnosed with dementia. According to his countersuit against
Bell, Johnson also filed for conservatorship so that he could prevent
Bell from continuing to control his mother’s finances and career.
Nichols’ legal battle became headline news again over the summer when her sister, Marian Smothers, started a GoFundMe
to raise money for Nichols’ legal fees. The various suits and
countersuits filed by Bell and Johnson have been tied up in the legal
system for over two years. There are multiple lawsuits involved in the
legal battle in California.
The GoFundMe page included a long note
from Smothers, which laid out the allegations against Bell. The page
contained a streamlined version of the allegations included in Johnson’s
countersuit, which was filed just a few weeks before the GoFundMe went
According to Indiewire,
Bell’s lawyer, William Bowen, responded to both the countersuit and the
GoFundMe. In a written statement, Bowen refuted the claims made in the
GoFundMe summary and the countersuit. He also maintained that Bell had
never defrauded Nichols, stolen from her, or committed elder abuse.
The latest legal action in the case came in November 2020. City News Service
reported that Johnson submitted a petition in the state of New Mexico
for his conservatorship over Nichols to be valid in that state. Johnson,
who lived in New Mexico previously, moved back to the state with his
mother after his permanent conservatorship was granted. The move was
approved by a California judge in August 2020.
conservatorship was granted by a judge in California, it needs to be
reviewed by the New Mexico courts to make it valid in that state.
Nichols’ sister, the same one who started the GoFundMe, submitted
documents to the court stating her support for the move. Smothers wrote
that Johnson’s move back to New Mexico was best for both Johnson and
Nichols as Johnson had an established community in the state that could
help him care for his mother. She also stated that Nichols’ other family
members were not able to care for her due to health and familial
issues, so Johnson was the best person to be her primary caregiver.
the legal battles still underway in California could create problems
for Johnson’s petition to the New Mexico courts. A friend of Nichols’,
Angelique Fawcett, initially opposed Johnson becoming the conservator of
Nichols’s estate, as she told People in
2019. She sided with Bell in the legal battles between him and Johnson,
going so far as to file a petition to stop the conservatorship. She
retracted that challenge after Johnson agreed to let her see Nichols
However, Fawcett has claimed that Johnson began
preventing her from seeing Nichols in 2019. Through her lawyer, she
requested that the court enforce her right to visit Nichols. Since this
piece of the legal battle over Nichols’ affairs has not been resolved,
it could pose problems for the conservatorship case in New Mexico as
Fawcett no longer has access to these visits.
In November, a California judge declined to rule on Fawcett’s request, leaving it to the New Mexico courts.
I’ve been in and around politics for nearly 2 decades in one capacity
or another. I’ve learned that the policy changes that really matter and
are greatly needed are usually not the ones that get the attention they
deserve. We as a nation have a habit of talking about legislation and
policymaking in a vacuum. It is as if the only issues that matter are
the ones that make headlines or are good for campaign slogans and
speeches. Education, taxes, regulatory reform, protecting the 1st and
2nd amendment, or whatever the headline-grabbing topic of the day gets
all the attention.
Ethics reform here in Alabama is one that (with good reason) has been
discussed a lot in recent years. Candidates run on the topics that make
for good water cooler or dinner table conversation. The laws related to
court-ordered conservatorships and guardianships have probably never
made that list for any candidate anywhere. Yet the cone of silence
surrounding it doesn’t make it any less important for those who need the
system to protect them, their health, and their finances, or those
abused by it. Moreover, the lack of attention lets fraud and abuse run
rampant throughout the system, and federal and legal experts studying
the situation predict it will only worsen as more of our population
Let’s face it; we’re all guilty of perpetuating the problem of
ignoring the people and issues that should be a no brainer to fix and
protect. Now is as good of a time as any to change that. This is the 8th
part of a series meant to bring attention to this policy issue, but I
want to circle back to the beginning before I get into it.
For those who have not heard, it is with great sadness that I share that last week, Joann Bashinsky (known by many as Mama B or Mrs. B) passed away
and was laid to rest. Mrs. B was the woman whose courage and kindness
in fighting her court-ordered conservatorship was detailed in several of
the first written editorials of this series and discussed on many of my
frequent radio appearances while hosting shows throughout the state.
I often described her as “fiery,” and
that’s what she was. When she found herself in a court-ordered
conservatorship, she had many tools that not everyone else in the same
situation are afforded. First, she had the will and courage to fight it.
Most have either but not both. In the audio recordings she made that
were a part of my first story in this series, she questioned the
assumptions being made about her and her health, and she stood her
She had the wherewithal to know she
couldn’t go at it alone against a system that mainly operates in the
dark. She told her story to anyone who would listen, and she gave
several media interviews to get her story heard.
In the other cases I’ve investigated or am
currently investigating, family members or lawyers who speak to me do so
confidentially, off the record, or in the background out of fear that
direct media coverage naming the parties involved will upset either or
both the court-ordered conservator or the judge assigned to the case.
Their fears are not necessarily
unreasonable. Based on my research and the work of advocacy groups who
shine a light on this subject, the issue of retribution is commonplace. A
frequently cited act of retribution for those who speak out or fight
back against the system is increased prescription dosages or new drugs
added to a ward’s medication routine. Sometimes these medicines are
meant to leave the individual confused, weak, or sleepy. This is exactly
the type of situation that aides the case against them and contributes
to the proof that an individual cannot care for themselves. The second
thing that can and too frequently happens to those objecting to their
cases is isolation. Wards are kept from their loved ones especially if
those loved ones are objecting to the courts actions. These are a
powerful method of silencing wards and their families.
Unlike Mrs. B, and in the only other public
case I’ve ever heard of in the mainstream media, Britney Spears, the
majority of those under court-ordered conservatorships find themselves
facing an uphill battle to win back their rights with no media coverage
I’ve spoken to lawmakers on every level
from city, county, state, and federal, who had no idea how the system in
its current form exists or how it works. This is a fact that is
chilling given the tremendous amount of power those involved, from
judges to conservators, guardian ad litems, and others within it, have.
Though there have recently been several
documentaries, including an episode of Dirty Money on Netflix, the
overwhelming majority of seniors and their families don’t get to detail
the often shocking stories of families torn apart, exorbitant legal
fees, and other conditions most would find distressing.
One of the biggest challenges to the
publication of these stories is that few people are willing, and even
fewer are able, to succinctly share their stories. Most cases involve
long and arduous tales of family dysfunction, sibling in-fighting, a lot
of he-said-she-said, and contradicting stories that go in circles and
are time-consuming to unravel. These hard to follow stories and
oftentimes too wild to be true stories are facts that predators within
the system take advantage of. Courts and court-ordered appointees claim
they’re “protecting” the wards even when said ward has family that can
and should be their protectors.
As I stated above, Mrs. B’s case was
different in that she was willing and able to tell her story to anyone
who would listen. I watched from afar after my series began, and I moved
on to other cases as story after story
came out on Mrs. B, knowing she was making a difference with each one.
She was adamant that what happened to her was wrong—an opinion upheld by
the Alabama State Supreme Court. The court’s ruling gives me hope for
others in the same situation if only their cases make it to them.
The last time I spoke to Mrs. B was a brief
moment on the day the court ruled in favor of her on her case. I told
her that day that I had spoken to someone close to a family going
through similar circumstances who intended to use the ruling on her case
as a defense in theirs, as they too were denied legal representation.
She told me she was glad to know that her efforts would be making a
difference and gave me a message to tell them not to give up.
I promised her that even though her case
was over (or so I thought), I would continue investigating and reporting
contested court-ordered conservatorships and guardianships as I had
been doing since the issue was brought to my attention. This series has
never just been about Mrs. B. It has been about the broken system and is
meant to shine a light on the system that has for far too long operated
in the dark. Mrs. B’s case provided a strong foundation for fighting
for all those who have found themselves and their loved ones in similar
circumstances and the policy changes that can prevent future cases like
theirs from happening again.
Though most wards are under such strict
lockdowns I’ve been unable to speak to them directly, I will always
remember the sounds of exasperation in Mrs. B’s voice as she described
feeling betrayed by those who she ultimately fought until the day she
Mrs. B is the third person who has passed
away as I’ve been investigating and reporting their case or their
family’s efforts. Many will remember the family involved in another case
I reported on, that of the father whose daughter was fighting to get
him out of a conservatorship that she described as going against his
wishes. He passed away several months ago. Again, my heart ached when
his daughter texted me the news.
I was in the early stages of investigating
another case when that ward passed away. Each call or text telling me
about the death of someone whose rights were seemingly denied, whose
assets potentially stolen, or family weaknesses exploited, has had a
profound impact on me personally. I’ve gotten to know the stories of
those involved and know that some simple policy changes could change a
So that’s what today’s story is, a promise to you, the reader, to
continue telling the stories of those who find themselves in these
circumstances and highlight the policy implications of them. Here are a
few places lawmakers can start:
No one should have to go through this system alone. Every potential
ward needs both a guardian ad litem and an attorney of their own to
speak on their behalf.
We’re discussing the rights and freedom of Americans. Every court
proceeding needs to be recorded either by a professional
transcriptionist or by audio recording. It is unconscionable that courts
are operating without proper record-keeping in a day and age where
digital records are so easy to keep.
Required training for guardian ad litems charged with advocating for a senior or potential ward
More transparency and accountability. I’ve been seeking records from
Jefferson County, AL, related to their two court-ordered conservators
for 8 months now. That is unacceptable.
No ward should be able to be isolated from their loved ones.
No court should allow a ward’s finances to be managed in secret by
skirting the law and using a power of attorney to hide their actions
(more on this in my next piece).
It’s notable that in February of 2003, the U.S. Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, which at the time included Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, held a hearing on the case of Mollie Orshansky (aka
Mrs. Poverty for her role as the economist who shaped and defined the
way the U.S. government describes poverty). Throughout that hearing,
lawmaker after lawmaker discussed the growing system and ways it was
being exploited. That is the type of discussion we need to have in the
Alabama legislature this year! Join me in calling for it. Together we
can make sure that those who need to be protected are while making sure
everyone in the system has their needs met, their voice heard, and their
While Biogen’s experimental Alzheimer’s treatment aducanumab faced yet another snag recently in its convoluted path toward FDA approval, other drugs companies are catching up: Eli Lilly and Co. announced
on Monday that its investigational drug donanemab showed promise in a
mid-stage clinical trial for patients with early symptoms of
The initial results from the drug’s
Phase 2 clinical trial provide much needed hope for the Alzheimer’s
community, which has seen setback after setback in drug development.
Alzheimer’s drug trials have had a 99 percent failure rate, and many drug companies have bailed from developing therapies for Alzheimer’s.
According to the Lilly’s news release,
donanemab slowed the decline of cognition and ability to perform
activities of daily living by 32 percent in participants who received
the therapy, compared to those who received placebo, meeting its primary
goal of statistically significant slowing of decline over 18 months.
“The positive results we have
obtained today give us confidence in donanemab and support its rapid and
deep plaque clearance for the potential treatment of Alzheimer’s
disease,” Dr. Daniel Skovronsky, Lilly’s chief scientific officer and
president of Lilly Research Laboratories, said in a news release.
The Phase 2 clinical trial involved 272 participants, which the Wall Street Journal reported
to be a relatively small number of volunteers. Lilly said full trial
results will be presented at a medical meeting and submitted for
publication in a peer-reviewed clinical journal.
While there are FDA-approved drugs that can ease the symptoms
of Alzheimer’s and improve quality of life, they do not target the
hallmarks of the disease: beta-amyloid plaques and tau pathology. The
Alzheimer’s community have long awaited a therapy that can alter the
course of the disease.
In a quest to develop an effective treatment, an increasing number of scientists and drug developers are turning to immunotherapies, like donanemab, aducanumab, as well as BAN2401
jointly developed by Eisai and Biogen. Each of these experimental
Alzheimer’s treatments are designed to treat the disease by boosting
people’s immune systems in a way that cuts down on beta-amyloid
plaques. Immunotherapy has shown success in cancer treatment, and researchers hope that it may be effective to target neurodegeneration. Like
aducanumab, donanemab targets beta-amyloid, a protein known to
aggregate in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. According to
the company, donanemab targets a specific kind of beta-amyloid known as
N3pG which can be rapidly cleared, allowing for short-term treatment of
However, there are still questions
about beta-amyloid as a target: Biogen’s aducanumab has been in the
limelight recently as FDA advisers overwhelmingly said in November
the company had failed to prove that the drug is an effective treatment
for Alzheimer’s. Now, the drug awaits approval by the agency.
Lilly’s drug could be proof of
concept. Chief Science Officer at the Alzheimer’s Association Maria C.
Carrillo welcomed the initial results.
“On behalf of the more than five
million Americans living with Alzheimer’s, the Alzheimer’s Association
is encouraged by these preliminary data,” Carrillo said. “We look
forward to seeing the results of a second, larger Phase 2 trial, which
is currently recruiting.”
Peter Dinklage and Rosamund Pike in “I Care A Lot.”—Netflix
positive reviews out of the Toronto International Film Festival,
Netflix purchased the rights to “I Care A Lot,” a dark comedy filmed in
Massachusetts in 2019 about Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”),
who cons her way into legal guardianship of senior citizens and drains
them of their savings. After assuming guardianship of another elderly
woman, Marla finds out that the woman she’s trying to swindle has
someone in her life (Peter Dinklage, “Game of Thrones”) who is as
ruthless and unscrupulous as Marla herself. “I Care A Lot” was filmed in
Boston, Braintree, Dedham, Medfield, Millis, Natick, Rockport,
Watertown, Wayland, and Wellesley, and debuts on Netflix on Feb. 19.
Cheryl Shega never was “right,” her family members say.
oldest of three children, she “functioned at a much lower level” than
her two siblings, her brother, Greg Shega, said in a court affidavit.
held down an auto parts clerk job for only a few years in the 1970s and
didn’t cook, clean, do laundry or wash dishes. Rather, she relied on
her mother for all that, until her mom died unexpectedly in 2015. She
continued to live with her father until he, too, passed away two years
her siblings’ help, Cheryl lived alone in her parents’ Hibbing,
Minnesota home where somewhere along the line she came into contact
online with a woman from Peyton she believed to be her long-lost cousin.
a period of years, that woman and her husband, Laura and Stephen Craig,
gained Cheryl’s confidence and persuaded her to, without authority,
name Laura as beneficiary of certificates of deposit held in a trust her
parents had established years earlier for the benefit of their
children, Cheryl’s brother and sister say in a lawsuit against the
Craigs filed in Minnesota in July. The certificates of deposit (CDs)
were valued at about $250,000.
Cheryl died on May 27,
2019, at age 67 at the hospital she was taken to after she was found
unconscious in her squalid home, which was crammed with unwashed
clothing and mountains of trash.
Her siblings, Greg of
Arizona and Nancy Weiser of Utah, were surprised to learn their frugal
parents, who appeared to own little, had squirreled away that much
money. They were more surprised to find Cheryl had designated Laura as
the sole beneficiary.
Within days of her death, her
siblings’ attorney, David Crosby, notified the American Bank of the
North to freeze the assets, because Cheryl was considered a “vulnerable
adult” under Minnesota law due to “long standing medical, physical and
emotional infirmities and dysfunctions,” Crosby said in a letter to the
Ignoring that, the bank transferred the assets less than a month later to Laura.
and Nancy doubt Laura has any relation to the family. They believe she
somehow became acquainted online with their emotionally needy and
unstable sister who searched relentlessly for the cousin who had
disappeared more than 40 years ago after joining a spiritual sect.
Cheryl Shega at the family home.
Courtesy Shega Family
The Indy has reported previously on cases of
guardians and conservators taking advantage of incapacitated persons
they are assigned to protect. Some pilfer millions of dollars from
estates in a system that lacks scrutiny and accountability. Yet,
prosecutions are rare.
Different from those cases,
Cheryl didn’t have a legally appointed guardian or conservator but was
persuaded by a relative stranger who gained her confidence to name her
as an heir to a good portion of the family trust assets.
and contractual decisions that are completely inconsistent with
lifelong practices or written intentions often occur when in isolation,”
he says via email.
But the Craigs’ attorney, Charles
Shreffler of West St. Paul, Minnesota, says via email that Laura, 59,
who he says truly is Cheryl’s long-lost cousin, “did nothing to
influence Cheryl,” made no moves to hornswoggle her into naming her as a
beneficiary, and didn’t know she’d been named a beneficiary until after
Noting the beneficiary assignments
occurred over a period of 14 months, Shreffler says, “That length of
time demonstrates that Cheryl made these decisions deliberately, freely,
No one ever examined Cheryl
Shega professionally to determine a diagnosis, but her sister-in-law,
Amy Shega, says she lived as a dependent until her parents died, was
difficult to deal with, especially if she didn’t get her way, and didn’t
seem to feel emotional attachments.
“She never saw reality,” she says. “You could not relate to her. You could never disagree with her.”
she died and the family went through the house, they discovered a book
hidden in their mother’s room about how to live with a child that’s
diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic.
“They tried to hide that because they were embarrassed by it,” Amy says.
to the lawsuit, people acquainted with Cheryl knew she suffered from
mental illness. She was moody, childlike, hung doll clothes in her
closet, spent her time sleeping and watching soap operas and had no
social activities outside her home.
physically attacked her mother and brother on different occasions, Amy
says, but wasn’t placed in residential care, the siblings assumed,
because their parents couldn’t afford it.
In fact, over
the years Amy and her husband, Greg, paid to replace all the home’s
appliances for his parents, renovated the bathrooms, replaced the roof,
provided vehicle maintenance and built a new deck onto the house,
believing the couple was without financial means to do so, according to
court documents. Also, Greg’s sister, Nancy, pitched in to provide
maintenance on the house and planted and maintained gardens.
their mother, Charlene, died in 2015, the siblings worried about Cheryl
and their dad, Ed, but signs pointed to a stable situation.
and Nancy set up automatic pay for bills, drawn on a bank account
linked to the trust, which they believed contained about $25,000, though
Cheryl went to the bank and was told “there was a lot of money in a
savings account,” she told her sister. Both siblings took turns visiting
Cheryl and their dad every other month, Amy says.
Ed Shega became ill, and a dispute arose surrounding his care. Cheryl
insisted he not be placed in a skilled nursing facility because there
was no money to pay for it, a claim that, Greg and Nancy later came to
recognize, was out of character for a person who had never shown
interest in financial matters.
“There was a social worker working with the family,” Amy tells the Indy
by phone. “She was really afraid for Ed’s safety. Nancy and Greg
started the process of getting Ed moved.” That meant a court battle, but
they prepared for it. Five complaints had been filed by social workers
regarding Cheryl’s negligence in caring for her dad.
Cheryl Shega, right, with family members.
Courtesy Shega Family
Problem was, Amy says, “The courts didn’t move fast enough, and he died.”
After the family buried their father in May 2017, they visited Cheryl in the family home and found it in order.
“Everything was good,” Amy says. “The house was clean.”
Cheryl had proven incapable of cooking and cleaning, the siblings
decided to allow her to live alone. “We would never, ever, ever have put
Cheryl in a [care] home,” she says. “One, she was volatile. She would
have been a danger to be around if she was confined. She was happy if
she was able to live the rest of her life in her home. It would have
been more cruel to force her into a facility.”
periodic visits and lots of phone calls from her siblings — sometimes
multiple calls a week — two years later, things fell apart.
On May 16, 2019, Nancy
didn’t get an answer when she called Cheryl, so she phoned a member of
the church Cheryl had once attended, who agreed to check on her.
The friend arrived about the same time as police, whom Nancy had called when Cheryl didn’t answer her phone.
found Cheryl collapsed on the floor. She was conscious but said she
couldn’t walk. An ambulance took her to a hospital where she lived for
12 days. The death certificate lists cause of death as severe
malnutrition, catatonia and bowel obstruction.
also found the house filthy, the windows draped with blankets, dead mice
and rats throughout, cat feces, piles of trash that indicated she’d
been living on cake mix, ice cream, Dr Pepper, Eggo waffles and Little
Debbie snacks, stacks of dirty clothing on all the beds and bags of junk
mail she’d saved. (She had a practice of leaving money for neighbors
who dropped off food on her porch.)
“In two years’
time, some of the doors to the rooms, you couldn’t open them,” Amy says.
“She still hadn’t learned to use the washing machine.” Amy reports
Nancy and Greg during their visits had left sticky notes everywhere with
their phone numbers and instructions on how to do certain tasks.
says Greg and Nancy hadn’t visited Cheryl for about 18 months but were
in touch with her weekly by phone. “They had no idea that she had gotten
that bad,” Amy tells the Indy via email. “Nancy was in
communication with members of the church and they too had no idea Cheryl
had gotten that bad. Cheryl wouldn’t let anyone in the house so that
prevented everyone from seeing the reality of it.”
contact between Cheryl and Laura had dropped off, Laura phoned Cheryl
24 times from May 8 to May 28 without reaching her. But Laura never
contacted authorities for a welfare check, the lawsuit says.
Cheryl was admitted to the hospital that day, caregivers described her
as “totally disoriented” and having a “loss of touch with reality,
expressing paranoid thoughts,” while “refusing to eat, spitting out oral
medications and not communicating verbally.”
20, Laura called the hospital and suggested Cheryl suffered from a
simple sinus infection and was an active and independent person. She
also advised the staff to keep Cheryl away from her siblings, because
they were only interested in the money, the lawsuit says.
[Laura] explained that Cheryl has had a lifetime of animosity with her
siblings, Nancy and Greg,” the medical record states. “She also
explained that Cheryl has lived in fear of Nancy sticking her in a
nursing home and cashing out the house and the trust to receive the
Upon her death, Nancy and Greg
went to the bank to find out how much money was available for her final
arrangements and were astonished to learn the bank held assets valued at
The lawsuit notes that Ed and Charlene
Shega established a trust in 2009 in which they placed all their
assets, including their home. They named Cheryl the primary beneficiary
and the other two children, Greg and Nancy, as successor beneficiaries,
meaning they would inherit any assets remaining after Cheryl’s death.
lawsuit claims Cheryl didn’t have authority to change beneficiaries.
But even as Cheryl asserted there was no money for her father’s nursing
care, she had assigned Laura Craig as beneficiary of four CDs.
Ed Shega, Cheryl’s father, at a nursing facility.
Courtesy Shega Family
The first CD was assigned to Laura in August 2016 before
Cheryl’s father died. The other three were assigned in September and
October 2017, after her father died. The lawsuit says that two weeks
after one of the CDs had been signed over to Laura that September, Laura
called Cheryl on Oct. 11, 2017. They spoke for 13 minutes, the lawsuit
says. On that same date, Cheryl changed the beneficiary to Laura on
another CD. Thirteen days later, Cheryl changed the beneficiary on the
Given her limitations and disinterest in
financial matters, those actions were out of character for Cheryl, the
lawsuit contends. American Bank employee Geri Chapman helped her make
those beneficiary changes without contacting the other siblings, the
lawsuit contends. Amy Shega says American Bank claimed it didn’t know
the trust existed, though she says the bank had helped Charlene and Ed
Shega set it up.
After Cheryl died,
Greg and Nancy discovered she had been searching for lost relatives for
years via the internet, including sending emails to people in Slovenia
and Croatia. In 2012, she’d sent a message to Laura Craig, whom she
believed was her cousin, Laura Johnson, who left Minnesota some 40 years
before. In it, she asked, “Are you my cousin?”
Craig responded and quizzed Cheryl about their families, asking for photos and telling her to keep their communications secret.
a Feb. 19, 2012, email to Laura, Cheryl wrote, “You don’t have to
worry. I respect your privacy and will never tell anyone where you are
or that I am in contact with you.”
On Aug. 13, 2012,
Cheryl wrote to Laura, telling her that her father, Cheryl’s uncle, had
died. She closed the message saying, “I am so thrilled to be a part of
your life. Don’t worry, if anyone wants to find you, they will have to
do their research just like I did.”
Laura responded on
Sept. 9, 2012, thanking her for the family news, noting the two had
spoken on the phone and asking her how old she was.
In another message, dated March 12, 2018, Laura wrote of her Christian faith and said, “You are so much a part of our family!”
lawsuit casts doubt on whether Laura Craig truly is Laura Johnson, and
there appears to be no evidence Laura and Cheryl met in person after
After Cheryl’s mom died in 2015, her online dialogue with Craig became more frequent, the lawsuit says.
also came to light later, through caregivers, that when her father was
failing, Cheryl spoke frequently to a relative from Colorado by phone.
“What we do not know however,” the lawsuit says, “is what Laura was telling Cheryl during their phone calls.”
discovered after Cheryl’s death showed that, during the time she
resisted placing her father in a nursing facility, she frequently
communicated with Laura via emails.
Cheryl also threw a
temper tantrum and threatened to kill herself when her brother asked
his dad if he could see a copy of the trust.
Inside the Shega home as it was found after Cheryl died in May 2019.
Courtesy Shega Family
“In hindsight,” the lawsuit says, “it has become evident
that Laura, with the assistance of her alleged husband, Stephen, were
the driving force behind Cheryl’s new focus on finances and attempts at
As previously noted, Greg and Nancy
didn’t know their parents had accumulated significant funds. Besides the
CDs, assets were held by other institutions. Those institutions obliged
the family’s request, through an attorney, to not pay out any sums to
But despite two such notices, American Bank paid
$247,188 from the CDs to Laura after she hired a lawyer who wrote to
the bank asking for the money, the lawsuit says.
lawsuit seeks more than $1 million in damages alleging undue influence,
exploitation of a vulnerable adult, unjust enrichment, tortious
interference with the estate, deception/fraud, intentional
misrepresentation, negligence and aiding and abetting the exploitation
of a vulnerable adult.
“How could the bank do that
[change beneficiaries] and not know she was mentally incompetent? That
money was there for her [Cheryl] to use to live on, but the trust
clearly states that she cannot change the beneficiaries,” Amy tells the Indy by phone.
the trust designated all three children as having powers of attorney
over their parents’ health care and assets, she says.
and Stephen Craig have filed a motion to dismiss, contending the court
lacks jurisdiction over them and “the complaint fails to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted against these defendants because ...
the complaint fails to allege any facts or plead a cause of action under
the Multiparty Accounts Act....”
Likewise, the bank is
seeking dismissal, alleging bank officials didn’t know the assets were
part of a trust. In its answer to the lawsuit, American Bank states,
“Any actions taken by Defendants were based on legitimate business
consideration and were done without the intent to injure or harm
Plaintiff” and that Cheryl’s estate contributed to any damages sustained
by the estate by its own actions or inactions. The bank and its
employees declined to provide the Indy with a response.
A family photo of Ed and Charlene Shega, seated, and their children, from left, Cheryl, Greg and Nancy Weiser.
Courtesy Shega Family
The estate countered there’s ample evidence to prove the
lawsuit’s claims, citing as an example the “13-minute phone call ...
when Cheryl made Laura a beneficiary of one of the certificates of
A decision on the motions to dismiss is due in January.
In a five-page response to Indy questions, the Craigs’ attorney, Shreffler, alleged the lawsuit is “filled with innuendos.
facts are there to support the claim that either Laura or Stephen
influenced Cheryl?” he adds. “The Complaint alleges that Cheryl had been
close to her family until she reconnected with Laura, and that the only
possible explanation for Cheryl’s difficulties with her siblings is
Laura’s undue influence through telephone calls. That theory is
undermined by actual facts...”
Among those, the Craigs claim:
knew nothing about being named beneficiary on the CDs until contacted
by the Shega trust’s attorney in June 2019. She did know she was made
beneficiary on another investment, however, according to text messages
between Cheryl and Laura.
•There was tension between
Cheryl and her siblings. Now, Shreffler says, “she [Nancy] wants you to
believe that Cheryl was vulnerable and that they had a close
relationship.... The essence of being a ‘vulnerable adult’ is not being
able to take care of one’s activities of daily living. Nancy’s comments
in the medical records reveal that she knew Cheryl had been taking care
•In a handwritten 2016 Christmas letter,
Cheryl sent Laura a copy of a stock statement, saying, “As you can see
you are the beneficiary.... Keep this safe it tells you how to contact
Allete [Inc.].” Shreffler considers this “more evidence Cheryl made
these decisions on her own.” Laura is unaware of what became of that
stock after Cheryl’s death.
•Asked if Laura truly is
Cheryl’s cousin, Shreffler notes when Laura called Nancy when Cheryl was
hospitalized, Nancy never said, “Who are you?” Rather, “She knew she
was talking to her cousin Laura,” he says. Also, Laura filed an
affidavit with the court in August 2020 stating she is, in fact,
Cheryl’s cousin and possesses a birth certificate to prove it.
about the 13-minute phone call, Shreffler says Laura “doesn’t remember
what she and Cheryl talked about.” But he adds the span of time — from
August 2016 to October 2017 — during which Cheryl changed beneficiaries
on the CDs “demonstrates that Cheryl made these decisions deliberately,
Ed and Charlene Shega on their wedding day.
Courtesy Shega Family
told Laura there was a “lifetime of animosity” between her and her
siblings and that Laura “did not try to isolate Cheryl from her
Moreover, Shreffler notes, “There is no
evidence that Cheryl lacked capacity” and that Cheryl couldn’t be
To underscore Laura’s
innocence of any attempts to unduly influence Cheryl, Shreffler notes
that while Cheryl told Laura about the stock investment, she didn’t tell
her about the CDs.
“Whether it was right or fair that
Cheryl picked her cousin over her siblings as her beneficiary is
nobody’s business except Cheryl’s,” he wrote. “The evidence shows that
Cheryl made those decisions freely, and provides some insight into why
she made those decisions. The Craig’s [sic] have done nothing wrong.”
According to Nolo.com, an Internet
legal website, it’s up to a complaining relative to prove that a will
or other instrument was written under undue influence. To do that, they
•Property is left to a person in a way that
defies normal circumstances, such as close family members being left out
in favor of others, without an obvious explanation.
benefactor was particularly dependent on, or trusted, the person who
exerted influence. (This is sometimes called a “confidential
relationship” between them.)
•Illness or frailty made the benefactor susceptible to undue influence.
•The influencer took advantage of the benefactor and benefited from the change.
a North Dakota case, an elderly woman changed her will to name a friend
as beneficiary to 35 percent of her estate, unlike her previous will.
Witnesses testified in the 2011 case that the friend controlled the
woman’s visitors and tried to ostracize family members from the woman,
who suffered from dementia. In that case, the court ruled the friend had
exerted undue influence and invalidated the will in question.
Amy Mason, an attorney representing the Shega siblings, tells the Indy
by phone that Cheryl’s case is unusual, because it involves alleged
undue influence across state lines. Normally, she says, the influencer
and the vulnerable person see one another frequently. In Cheryl’s case,
she never met with Laura during her seven years of contacts by emails,
letters, texts and phone calls.
Cheryl was susceptible, Mason says, because, “Cheryl was very isolated. She didn’t have any friends.”
a 1984 case, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that undue influence
is normally shown through circumstantial evidence that supports a theory
that opportunity existed, the influencer participated in the
preparation of the will of the vulnerable person, development of a
confidential relationship, disinheritance of those whom the decedent
probably would have remembered in a will otherwise and exercise of
influence or persuasion.
Such cases, Mason acknowledges, are “tough” to win.
an outsider looking in, you don’t see all that’s happening,” she says.
“Someone needs to understand how someone like Cheryl would be influenced
compared to the average individual. She was a loner and lived in a
Mason likened the situation to dating
site scams that persuade lonely elderly women to transfer thousands of
dollars to a stranger, because they wrongly think they’re in a
“If not for Laura misguiding her, if not
for Laura and her husband trying to convince her she was all alone and
they were the only ones who loved her and cared for her, she [Cheryl]
would not have made these changes,” Mason says. “I believe that Laura
was very calculated and knew exactly what she was doing.”