The Tragic Case of Peter Knoll: What Legal Steps Could Have Prevented His Death?

This morning, I was reading the newspaper– on my smartphone– when a headline grabbed my attention: “Battle Erupts Over Estate of Wealthy Recluse Who Froze to Death Inside his Upper East Side Mansion (you can read the article here http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ny-metro-battle-estate-upper-east-side-man-20180722-story.html).

Reading this article led me to another one published on April 23, 2018, a number of months after his death that winter (read here: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/manhattan/hypothermia-kills-75-year-old-man-upper-east-side-townhouse-article-1.3949019).

Peter Knoll, a 75 year old Manhattanite and son of a furniture magnate,  froze to death in his apartment.  Con Edison had shut off his utilities in 2014. However and very unfortunately,  they failed to notify the proper adult protective and other city authorities so Mr. Knoll suffered in silence until his death. His close circle of family and friends evidently knew he had no heat in his home, but…nothing was ever said by anyone (as far as we know).

Publicly, there is not a lot known about his life in those last years. There is a brief mention of physical ailments, but the public record is largely silent on whether or not he suffered from any condition that cognitively or psychologically impaired him. My suspicion is that Mr. Knoll was not in his right frame of mind.  And I have some thoughts on that, but before I get to that…

In my professional experience, older people who live alone are often isolated-particularly if they live in a private residence–unless they have involved family or friends to supervise or otherwise “check in” on them.  This is why many older people and their loved ones, opt to have them reside in 1) senior living communities or 2) an assisted living residence. A third option, if finances permit, is to hire professional live in help. If problems arise, they will become known sooner.

It is shocking and tragic that a man of Mr. Knoll’s immense financial  resources would have been left to suffer alone. He had enough assets to not only live comfortably the rest of his days but to have others attend to his every need- without him ever having to leave his home, or ever becoming impoverished as a result.

The solution to this inevitable tragedy? Properly executed “Advance Directives,” individually known as a Health Proxy (for medical decisions) and a Power of Attorney (for everything non-medical). These documents are in effect during a period of incapacity. If these documents were never executed,  then the option would be an Article 81 Proceeding a.k.a. Adult Guardianship

I have been involved in Article 81 proceedings for a number of years and have worn every hat imaginable: 1. Petitioner’s Counsel, 2) Court Evaluator (the Judges’ “eyes and ears,”), 3) Counsel for the Alleged Incapacitated Person (AIP) and 4) Permanent Guardian.  Briefly, this proceeding is filed in Supreme Court (a trial court)  to request from the “Court” (the Judge) that a Guardian be appointed to care for the personal needs and property management of an “Alleged Incapacitated Person.” Yes, there is a hearing. Sometimes they are uncontested, other times they are quite contested. The AIP can consent, but sometimes they do not and then there are those who cannot.

In the end, the Judge determines if the person is incapacitated and how this incapacity could further harm them without the appointment of a Guardian.

Based on the brewing estate “battle” and the allegations by one of Mr. Knoll’s adult sons that others took advantage of his father’s “frail physical and mental state,” it seems it was known, at least by some, that Mr. Knoll was not well.

So why did nothing happen? I have absolutely no idea.  And if I were to put forth theories, this blog post would become even longer and I would become even more incensed.

My biggest takeaways from his story:

  1. Even all the money in the world cannot protect you, when people choose to remain silent.
  2. Watch over older people you know, in your family and community.  It really is our responsibility.
  3.  In Spanish there is a saying, “Hoy por ti, mañana por mi” which means “Today for you, tomorrow for me.” Treat others how you would want to be treated. Getting to old age is a privilege and it should happen with dignity.

 

Why Trusts and Estates and Elder Law are “common sense”

Last week, I chaired and also spoke at my alma mater’s first ever Trusts and Estates and Elder Law CLE entitled “Planning for Now and Into the Future”… that was also open to and attended by  geriatric care managers, financial advisors, social workers and non profit professionals.

The feedback I received from attendees during the breaks was overwhelmingly positive. There were a lot of “thank you for doing this” but there was also an acknowledgement that these are very necessary areas of law and that every lawyer and every person should become educated about. Because it is every day common sense law and too many people find themselves unprepared for the now… and the future.

The unpreparedness has everything to do with fear and avoidance; fear of talking about aging, disease and dying and avoiding the reality of…aging, disease and dying. I believe that people assume talking about it will make it happen so they’d rather walk around in blissful (?) ignorance. Remember, it is not “if” it happens,  but rather it is “when” it happens. It is the unknown that underlies it all.

Planning ahead is peace of mind -even if looking at your present and future is intimidating. I can assure any one that looking at it will bring knowledge and allow you to plan no matter your circumstances. I hope that your circumstances are ideal, but even if they are not you can still create a safety net for yourself and loved ones.

The thought of planning may be onerous but the work yields an immeasurable gift.

El Cuidado de Atención de Largo Plazo: Información Importante para Ud. y sus familiares

Hace unos meses, dí una breve presentación sobre el cuidado a largo plazo para los ancianos y discapacitados. Al contemplar mi propia mortalidad, la de mis padres y la de mis clientes, quise escribir un post sobre este tema. Es un poco largo, pero te prometo que aprenderás algo valioso.

Los estadounidenses tienden a pensar: “Tengo seguro médico, así que estoy cubierto.” Y mientras esto puede ser cierto para la atención médica de rutina, visitas al médico, recetas medicas, hospitalización y algunos tipos de rehabilitación, no se extiende a cuidado a largo plazo.

¿Qué es el cuidado de atención de largo plazo ? Yo podría definirlo, pero el Instituto Nacional de Salud (NIH) hace un mejor trabajo al explicarlo aquí. Cuando escuchamos “cuidado a largo plazo ” a menudo visualizamos una persona mayor, pero eso no es siempre el caso.  Cualquier persona puede enfermarse en cualquier momento y requiere de cuidados a largo plazo en una institución . Como estadounidenses estamos viviendo más tiempo debido a una mejor atención médica, los avances en la ciencia, los factores ambientales y, si tienes suerte, buenos genes. Inevitablemente, sin importar sus genes, todos nos vamos a enfermar. Simplemente no sabemos como ni cuándo.

La mayoría de nosotros no estamos preparados para financiar nuestras estancias a largo plazo en un hogar de ancianos. Y es costoso, más costoso que pagar por un año de universidad ( pública o privada ), una boda y, en algunos estados, el valor de los pagos de la hipoteca por un año . Durante mi presentación me referi a esta infografía y hace el costo económico realidad. Afortunadamente, hay maneras de planificar la financiación de cuidado de atención de largo plazo. Cuanto antes lo haga, más opciones tiene disponible. Ninguna de las opciones son baratas, pero las opciones posteriores son mucho más costosos – y no me refiero sólo al dinero.

a)       Pago privado . Esto es exactamente lo que significa. Usted o un ser querido paga de su bolsillo por largo plaza la atención en un centro . La mayoría de nosotros ahora sobrevivir a nuestros ahorros , especialmente a la luz del costo financiero muy alto asociado con el envejecimiento. Pero , si usted es uno de los relativamente pocos que se encuentran en el tramo impositivo exclusiva de “extremadamente ricos ” – felicitaciones. Ahora , para el resto de nosotros.

b)       Un seguro de atención de largo plazo ( LTC en ingles) . Yo se lo podría explicar pero creo que el Instituto Nacional de Salud ( NIH ) hace un mejor trabajo al definirlo aqui. El LTC es un seguro que usted paga para que pueda cuidar de usted en caso de necesitarlo en la incapacidad o vejez. Porque soy un gran fan de las infografías, aquí comparto otro del ano 2013 , que ilustra las tasas de aceptación y rechazo de seguros LTC en base a la edad, y también el costo de mantenerla.

De nuevo, lo mejor es planear lo mas pronto posible, porque una vez que se enferme, este tipo de seguro ya no está disponible para usted. Una advertencia: El seguro LTC probablemente no cubrirá toda su atención a largo plazo las necesidades para el tiempo que lo requieran. Este último es suponiendo que viva mas allá  del periodo de cubrimiento de la póliza; es decir, el dinero se acaba antes de Ud. morir. El seguro LTC seguro está destinado a ser un cojín de clases, para retrasar o prevenir el gasto de su bolsillo, separarse de sus activos , o la solicitud de Medicaid. Aplicando para Medicaid es el siguiente paso para muchos, pero no deja de tener problemas .

c )     Medicaid. Es un programa de seguro medico para personas con bajos ingresos. Para las personas   mayores calificar, deben de cumplir con ciertos límites de ingresos y recursos. Y esos límites son bajos y, en la opinión de algunas personas, casi cerca de indigencia . Aproximadamente 2/3 de los residentes de hogares de ancianos dependen de Medicaid para su cobertura médica y la mayoría de esas personas han trabajado con un abogado con el fin de calificar porque tenían “demasiado” en bienes. Y usted se sorprendería al conocer lo que consideran “demasiado.”

A diferencia de el seguro de atención de largo plazo, Medicaid continuará cubriendo su atención médica –mientras que cumpla con los requisitos del programa. Es posible que Medicaid pueda cubrir su cuidado de largo plazo hasta su muerte. Algo muy importante, Medicaid es el único seguro de salud que cubre el cuidado de largo plazo. Este enlace proporciona proporciona información sobre el program de Medicaid en mi estado natal, Nueva York.

d)    Hipoteca Inversa. Esta es una opción para las personas que tengan al menos 62 años de edad y han pagado su hipoteca por completo o que tienen más equidad en su casa que el balance de la hipoteca .  El importe de la hipoteca inversa debe ser suficiente para pagar su hipoteca (si es necesario), vivir en la casa y mantenerla, pagar facturas o deudas de algún tipo, fondos de renovaciones en su casa o tener ahorros para lo inesperado. Usted puede obtener una hipoteca inversa y nunca tocar un centavo de ella. Tengo poca experiencia con las hipotecas inversas, así que voy a dejar que La Comisión Federal de Comercio de los Estados Unidos proporcione más información aquí.

Por último, y como un bono por leer este post hasta el final, es una infografía de la financiación de envejecimiento en los Estados Unidos- y sin duda cuenta una historia. Hágase un favor grande, a planear y a planear temprano … y a compartir este post con los demás!

Mi próximo post será sobre la protección legal en lo que se refiere a cuidado de atención de largo plazo, principalmente en la formación de un fideicomiso y otros mecanismos legales. Haciendo esto puede salvaguardar sus bienes y anticipar su futuro cuidado de atención de largo plazo. Para planificar adecuadamente, necesitará un abogado apoyándolo.

Para aprender más sobre mí, visita mi sitio web aquí y conéctate conmigo en Twitter, Facebook y Google +

Your government will not take care of you…so you have to: a post on paying for long-term care

A few months ago, I gave a brief presentation on long term care for the elderly and disabled. As I contemplate my own mortality, that of my parents and the people I come into contact daily– I thought I’d write a post about it. It’s a little long, but I promise you’ll learn something valuable.

Americans tend to think, “I have medical insurance so I’m covered.” And while this may be true for routine medical care, doctor’s visits, prescriptions and in-patient hospitalization and some types of rehabilitation, it does not extend to long-term care.

What is long-term care? I could define it, but the National Institutes of Health does a better job explaining it.

When we hear “long-term care” we often visualize an older person, but that is not always the case. Anyone can become ill at any time and require long term care in a facility.  As Americans we are living longer due to better medical care, advances in science, environmental factors and, if you’re lucky, good genes. Inevitably, no matter your genes, you will become ill. We just do not know from what-or when.

Most of us are not prepared to finance our long term stays in a nursing home. And it’s expensive, more expensive than paying for one year of university (private or public), a wedding and in some states, a year’s worth of mortgage payments. During my presentation I referenced this infographic and the dollars and cents really do make it real. It is worth a look.

Thankfully, there are ways to plan the financing of long term care. The earlier you do it, the more options you have. While none of the options are cheap, the later options are much more costly – and I am not just referring to money.

a) Private pay. This is exactly what it means. You or a loved one pays out of pocket for your long-term in care in a facility. Most of us will far outlive our savings, especially in light of the very high financial cost associated with aging.

But, if you are one of the relatively few who find themselves in the exclusive tax bracket of “exceedingly wealthy”- congratulations. Now, for the rest of us.

b) Long-term care insurance (LTC). I could tell you what it is, but the National Institutes of Health (NIH) does a better job of defining it here. It is insurance that you pay for so that it can take care of you should you need it.  Since I am a huge infographic fan here is another one, from 2013, that illustrates rates of  LTC insurance acceptance and rejection based on age, as well as the cost to maintain it

Again, the earlier you plan the better off you are. Because once you become ill, this type of insurance is no longer available to you.

One caveat: LTC insurance will likely not cover your entire long term care needs for the time you will require it. The latter is assuming you live past the period for which it will cover your needs i.e. the money runs out before you die. LTC insurance is meant to be a cushion of sorts, to delay or prevent spending out of pocket, parting with your assets, or applying for Medicaid. Applying for Medicaid is the next step for many, but it is not without challenges.

c) Medicaid. It is a needs based insurance program. In simplest terms, you must meet certain income and resource limits in order to qualify. And those limits are low- and in some people’s opinions- almost near indigency.

About 2/3 of nursing home residents rely on Medicaid for their medical coverage and a majority of those people worked with an attorney in order to qualify because they had “too much” in assets. And you’d be surprised to learn what “too much” is.

Unlike long term care insurance, Medicaid does not “run out” and will continue to cover your medical care —as long as you meet income and resource eligibility. It can quite possibly cover your long term care needs until your death. Very important, Medicaid is the only health insurance that covers long term care; Medicare has never and will never do so.

This link provides a succinct overview of the income and resource limits required in my home state, New York.

d) Reverse Mortgage. This is an option for individuals who are at least 62 years old and have either paid off their mortgage completely or have way more equity in their home than a mortgage balance. The amount of the reverse mortgage should be sufficient to pay off their mortgage (if necessary), live in the home and maintain it, pay off bills or debts of any kind, fund home renovations or to have a “nest egg” for the unexpected.

You can obtain a reverse mortgage and never touch a penny of it.  I have little experience with reverse mortgages, so I will let US. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provide further information here.

Lastly, and as a bonus for reading this post to the end, is one last infographic painting a literal picture of financing aging in the U.S.  Pictures definitely tell a story.

Do yourself a big favor, plan and plan early…and share this post with others!

My forthcoming post will be about how legal protection, in the form of a trust document (and other legal mechanisms), can safeguard your assets as you anticipate long term care needs in your future. To properly plan, you will need a lawyer in your corner.

To learn more about me, visit my law practice website here and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook and Google + 

It can never be too early, but it can always be too late

As a solo practitioner, I now find myself doing a lot of networking. In recent months the phrase, “It can never be too early, but it can always be too late” has become a part of my lawyer lexicon. I think it is a phrase that is applicable to certain parts of our lives, but it definitely applies when speaking about what I do– mainly the practice of elder law and trusts and estates.

I generally deal with an older population- people who have lived life,  gained insight and experience (or maybe not) and, at the very least,  have a life to reflect on. But I also meet with younger people: single, married, with or without children, whose own  experiences have influenced their life outlook.  There is never a right age to plan for the future- it really depends on the person and their circumstances.  Some people need to feel “ready” to do so. News flash–you’ll never be 100% ready for anything.

People procrastinate when it comes to estate planning. My own parents did it, so it does not surprise me. I think estate planning, in general, really forces us to confront  our own mortality and to literally take stock of our lives– and our life’s work.

We will all die one day. You do not know when or how, but you know it will happen. This a scary thought for many of us. Who wants to think about drafting a will where you decide who gets what when you die…before you actually do? Morbid? No. I just call it smart.

I  hope to be a very old lady who dies peacefully in her sleep. I want to age and die with dignity, like everyone should. But I do not call the shots when it comes to my aging and dying– that is genetics and the luck of the draw.  Who wants to think about what happens if you can no longer take care of yourself or live independently? Who wants to think about who will make medical decisions for you if you can  no longer make those decisions competently? Scary stuff. Scarier still? Leaving those decisions to someone you would not have chosen to make them for you- just because you did not make that election when you had the opportunity.

I was taught from a young age that we have to confront the things that scare us in order to move forward.  I have learned that when I have confronted frightening situations: 1) I am stronger than I thought, 2) What I thought was scary really was not, and 3) That everything in life comes and passes. As quickly as it came, it can also go away.  In sum, we overcome.  Survival is what human beings do best.

Do not be afraid. Confront your mortality head on. Plan ahead.  Believe me, you will fee a lot of better if you do. Who does not like being in the driver’s seat?

How exactly did SHE become a foster parent?

Imagine my anger when I am surfing the internet and come upon this article in the New York Daily News,”Brooklyn tot covered in bruises fights for his life after suffering horrific abuse, mom eyed.”  The toddler, who had been removed from the custody of his biological mother and placed in foster care, is currently clinging to life and suffering from various internal injuries to major organs- as well as evidence of past injuries to his body. According to the article, the seriousness of his injuries were clearly visible to anyone looking at his battered little body.

Coming from a child welfare law background I know that foster care agencies usually scrutinize potential foster parents very closely- even those who are biologically related to the children they intend to care for. If you  had past involvement with child welfare authorities, either in or out of Court, and have “indicated” or substantiated cases of abuse or neglect  in the State Central Register for Child Abuse and Maltreatment (SCR) then you cannot become a foster parent nor are you in a position to adopt a child.

What is also lesser known, is that foster care agencies also conduct criminal background checks of potential foster parents, and  individuals over the age of 18 who reside in the same home or who could come into regular contact with the child. In addition, once a child is placed in foster care regular visits by a caseworker are required to ensure the health and safety of the child.  So it really blows my mind how this woman could have fallen through the cracks–and how no one- NO ONE noticed the multiple beatings this child took.  Body checks are part of caseworker visits, particularly for babies and small children. Fact.

Out of curiosity, I googled  “requirements to become a foster parent” and was taken directly to New York State’s Office of Children and Family Services (OCFs) website and read this. What struck me was this paragraph:

“Character: Each applicant for certification or approval must be required to provide the agency with the names of three persons who may be contacted for references. The agency must seek signed statements from these individuals attesting to the applicant’s moral character, mature judgment (emphasis added), ability to manage financial resources, and capacity for developing a meaningful relationship with children, or interview the individuals in person.”

AND THIS ONE:

Criminal History Record Check

The agency must (emphasis added) send the fingerprints to the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) where they are then sent to DCJS to conduct a search of its database and for DCJS to send the fingerprints to the FBI for a search of its database (emphasis added). The fingerprints are kept on file at DCJS and the certifying/approving agency would be notified should there be an arrest or conviction reported in the future to DCJS. The fingerprints are not maintained by the FBI.”

So, with all of these regulations I would really like to know how this 32 year old woman got through the cracks- because she certainly lacks in “moral character and mature judgment,”  especially if one believes that her 19 year old boyfriend is responsible for these atrocities. Did she forgot that she was responsible for this child, and I am not talking about her kid boyfriend? Did someone forget to send the proper documentation to the correct office? Did someone decide that her criminal record didn’t really mean anything? Did someone forget to make their required home visits, to inquire who was around the baby or to do body checks? What about physicals? Doctors? Oh, that neighbor who heard the child being massacred next door, stood by and did nothing?

Indifference. This is what this story reeks off. Indifference for the life of a child. Indifference towards the responsibility of being a foster parent, doing one’s job, and protecting those who can’t speak for themselves.  It’s disgusting.  Oh, to the 19 year old boyfriend, you can run and hide, but you’ll be found. Coward. To the foster mother, may God have mercy on your soul- because I sure don’t.

Mi blog– en espanol?

I am flirting with this idea…so don’t be surprised if you see posts popping up in my first language-Spanish. My law practice website is bilingual, like me, so why shouldn’t my blog be the same?  My posts will not be translations of my English language postings, rather they will be specifically geared towards a Spanish speaking public.  The more I write about it, the more excited I become.

Buena idea, no?