Working With Elderly Clients
Elderly clients are unique – not only because of their extensive life experiences, but because their bodies and minds are slowing down. They’re a very susceptible population, and are often prime targets for financial abuse. Indeed, the California legislature has categorized the elderly as a “disadvantaged class” of citizens.
When first meeting with a client, every attorney must identify exactly who his client is. With the elderly, this isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Most elders come to the lawyer’s office accompanied by a close relative, friend, or caregiver. Sometimes this extra person is present for emotional support, and sometimes is needed to supply more detailed information than the elder is able to because of memory problems.
Regardless, the lawyer must make one thing crystal clear: Whatever the legal problem is, whatever the legal services will entail, all actions must be made solely for the best interests of the elder. Period.
Most often, it is necessary to enlist the help of the elder’s family or other trusted person. Here’s an actual case that illustrates the uniqueness of working with an elderly client:
85 year old Jan came into our office, accompanied by her close friend, Mable. Jan had lived in her home for 40 years, including the past 15 years living alone, following the death of her husband. Six months ago, Jan had fallen and underwent hip surgery. She was then transferred to a skilled nursing facility for a 6 week rehab.
The day she was scheduled for discharge, her daughter-in-law picked her up. Jan, now physically recovered, thought she was going back home. Instead, her daughter-in-law told her there was no way she could live alone again and, with her son’s “help”, they had rented a room at an assisted living facility and even moved some of Jan’s furniture into her new room so she would feel more comfortable.
Jan was devastated. Years earlier, she had signed a health care power of attorney that named her son as “agent” with authority to make all health care decisions, including placement into a facility if her medical and mental condition so warranted.
Jan had also signed an irrevocable trust that named her son as “trustee”. The terms of the trust stated that son had complete control over all trust assets, including title to Jan’s house. If Jan were to be placed into a “facility”, then the trust authorized son to sell the home and, essentially, collect an early inheritance.
Jan had pleaded with the assisted living facility to let her go – that she was being held captive against her will. The facility would simply try and placate her, telling her she wasn’t able to live by herself (at home) any longer and that her son, via the health care power of attorney, was in control and there was nothing they could do except follow his instructions.
After hearing Jan and Mable explain Jan’s plight, we took action to have her escape from the facility. We contacted her primary physician and made arrangements for her to be driven by Mable from the facility directly to the doctor’s office. Jan was not restricted from leaving the facility for a “lunch appointment”, so it was under that pretense that Mable was able to pick Jan up. We also contacted local law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office to seek advice and also to advise them so they would be prepared to respond appropriately when son filed a “missing person” report.
We also made arrangements for Jan to temporarily reside with another friend, until we could get her moved back into her own home. Immediately after Jan was “freed”, we notified her son and advised him of the further legal actions that would be taken and what he needed to do to set the matter right.
We also worked with the doctor to ensure that Jan would have home health care services provided to meet any needs that could not be taken care of by herself. We then contacted a home health care agency and arrange for those services.
Now it was time for the “heavy lifting”. After exploring all legal options, we determined that court involvement would be necessary to obtain the quickest remedy. The immediate goal was to have Jan returned to her home which was now being rented (for free) to the son’s- son-in-law.
Although Jan had the requisite legal mental capacity, we filed for a voluntary conservatorship over both her person and estate, and also filed an elder abuse lawsuit against her son. Once served with the summons and complaint, he quickly agreed to have his freeloading renter vacate the home, and Jan was soon returned with minimal assistance from the home health care agency.
Jan was always the client. But this case illustrates the uniqueness of working with elderly clients, and the involvement needed from other persons to ultimately right this wrong. Jan could not have accomplished this without the assistance of her good friend, and the efforts of her attorney, doctor, and social workers.
If you or a loved one needs assistance with an elder or senior law problem, then pick up the phone and give us a call. We’re here to help. The initial telephone consultation is always free.
Copyright. 2007-2012. Law Office of George F. Dickerman. All rights reserved.