by Reg Turnbull, Jefferson City
The legislative session is drawing to a close. In my years in Jefferson City since 1977, I have never before witnessed such a polarizing legislative session. Our legislators spend a lot of time posturing to make statements for partisan reasons against both of the executive branches of the federal government headed up by President Barack Obama and Missouri government headed up by Governor Jay Nixon.
Special interests seem to have a lot of influence this year—perhaps because of term limits or perhaps because of the polarizing political times. Of course our advocacy roles become more important to those of us who work on issues affecting elderly people with catastrophic healthcare issues and people with special needs because of their disabilities. In a way, these are also special interests that we must not permit to be forgotten in the midst of the partisan posturing, the dispensing of favors for the wealthy and politically well-connected, and the reduction in government services involving people whose living depends upon them.
Members of The Missouri Bar who practice Elder Law are well suited to step into leadership and support roles for our most vulnerable citizens. In your communities as well as on the state and federal levels, please make your voices known on behalf of those we serve as public policy is crafted and adjusted in these trying times.
Columbus, OH, is the birthplace of each of our two Elder Law Committee members being spotlighted in this issue. Julie Berkowitz followed the more traditional track for lawyers: after high school attending college and law school, followed by law practice. She has been an Elder Law attorney since before 2000. Lynn Bayes-Weiner, on the other hand, took a nontraditional route to becoming a lawyer by first teaching school after attending high school, then serving as a psychotherapist, and beginning to raise her kids before she went to law school and graduated in 2012. Like many of us experienced Elder Law practitioners, Julie practiced other types of law before devoting her practice to Elder Law. Lynn took on Elder Law straight out of law school probably in part because the field is now more recognized for new graduates.
Several of the members of the Elder Law Committee are participating in a multi-disciplinary effort of MO-WINGS, the Missouri Working Interdisciplinary Network of Guardianship Stakeholders, to review and recommend changes to Chapter 475, which has not had a major change since 1983. The use of durable powers of attorney for financial management and health care decision-making as well as the use of trusts were not prevalent in 1983. Many advocacy groups, family members, and people who have or might need guardians and conservators are watching to see what changes may be coming.
Of course in the last thirty years there has been much change in treatment and support modalities for people who might need to have a guardian and conservator as well as in the development of various support systems. These changes may sometimes remove the need for appointment of such court-appointed and supervised fiduciaries. These and other issues are being discussed.
The Family Law Section has been invited to update the parts of Chapter 475 affecting minors. Public administrators are involved as we are learning that Missouri is unique in having county officials serving in such functions. Of course with electronic bank records and court filing requirements, the issues facing MO-WINGS are daunting.
I think that the group might be ready to circulate some discussion drafts in 2014 with an eye to finalizing the recommendations for vetting by the involved organizations including The Missouri Bar and the other interested groups before introduction to the legislators in 2015 or 2016. Watch for opportunities to discuss the various issues as this process unfolds.
Our Committee is collaborating with other Bar committees on several projects. National Healthcare Decisions Day was an effort of four committees—Elder Law, Probate and Trust, Health and Hospital Law, and Solo and Small Firm. Our own Brigid Fernandez took a lead role in coordinating the various efforts as we sought to involve local bar associations and law firms to hold NHDD activities to encourage conversations and completion of documents on health care planning.
We also work with the Probate and Trust Committee because many of us do Estate Planning and Probate/Trust Administration as part of our Elder Law practice.
Finally, we try to coordinate with the Family Law Section on many issues such as the estate planning necessary for special needs spouses and children when dissolutions take place in addition to reminding domestic relations practitioners of our skills that might be useful for antenuptial planning as well as the need to revise estate planning documents after marriage (or a dissolution of marriage).
For our Second Annual Elder Law Institute on June 20 in Blue Springs and June 21 in St. Louis, Denis Culley, the staff attorney for the Maine Legal Services for the Elderly agency, will present on what we can do about financial exploitation of our clients. Please don’t miss this very important program because, as most of us can attest, people who are frail, elderly or disabled often are taken advantage of by those they should be able to trust—whether family members or purported financial advisors.
Other programs during this event offered twice include recent developments in the law, planning for farm and annuity assets, basics of conducting a fair hearing, estate recovery, and use of irrevocable trusts. All Elder Law practitioners should attend at one or the other of these locations as we focus on Missouri Elder Law issues confronting us all. We hope to see many of you there.
Finally, check out our BONUS SPOTLIGHT of someone well known to each of us, to find out some things you did not know about ……Reginald (“Reg”) H. Turnbull.
Your committee leadership consisting of our vice-chairs, council members, board and YLS council liaisons, and I jointly and severally seek to provide value to our Elder Law Committee members. If you have an idea for a newsletter article or for something that we could do to add value for you, any of us would love to hear from you.
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