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Elder Law Clinic Fall 2019

Congratulations to a hard-working group!

Jay Zhang, Kelsey Grier, Elliott Beale, Carley Starnes, Drew Winslett, Katy Thompson, Cody Ledford, and Lanie Summerlin.

I Insist on Going Home!

Three women in their 80’s. Same story: sick, no family help, few or no friends. They had been “found down” by emergency medical services and all three needed hospitalization. Then, once patched up, they demanded to go home. The hospitals and social services agencies filed court actions to have these women declared “incompetent.” When should our community, intervene and appoint a guardian to take over making housing and medical decisions for someone?

These three cases were handled by students Lanie Summerlin, Elliott Beale, and Carley Starnes. All three of their clients insisted that they could safely return home. The clinic students were charged by the court system with investigating the situation. The three “respondents” (all in the medical facilities) fought hard against the students’ recommendations. One asked the court to fire the student handling her case. Another kept citing her college education and her dreams of finding a house with a yard and a fence. Another screamed and insisted she could safely return to her isolated home in the countryside.

After lengthy hearings with testimony, medical records and our students’ recommendations, the Court determined in all three cases that there was clear, cogent and convincing evidence that the “respondents” were incompetent. The county social services department was appointed to be guardian for each of them.

Helping Families Pay for Care

Cody Ledford helped a granddaughter – “Gayle” - who is the court-appointed guardian for her grandmother. As guardian, Gayle can only make medical and housing decisions in this particular case. The grandmother has a small IRA account with a bank but is now incompetent and unable to withdraw the funds. Cody researched the legal mechanism that would allow the bank to place the IRA funds with the Clerk of Superior Court. Then, Cody would file a motion on Gayle’s behalf for disbursement of the funds to her, for her grandmother’s benefit.

Clinical Professor Kate Mewhinney

  • Was invited to Israel for an international conference on “The Future of Gerontology” at Ben-Gurion University and the University of Haifa. She was one of the scholars in different fields of aging from the USA, Canada, India, the UK, and Australia. Mewhinney participated in both closed (invitees only) sessions and open public events.
  • Will retire in the summer of 2020 from her position as the clinic’s managing attorney.
  • Taught a unit on “Consumer Issues in Long Term Care” for the Master of Studies in Law (MSL) program, an innovative on-line course at Wake Forest Law.

A Case of Granny-Snatching?

Mary Lou is a frail 97-year-old with memory problems. She’d been living in her house in Florida for many years. But her three adult children come up with a plan. The eldest son, in Florida, put his mom on a plane and whisked her up here to North Carolina. Then, her son here started a court case right away to have her declared “incompetent.” Courts have to proceed carefully in these situations. Otherwise it might be too easy for families to “snatch” an elderly person and use courts in a state that is not appropriate to rule on the elder’s rights.

Katy Thompson served as her Mary Lou’s court-appointed advocate. She investigated the situation and spoke with the client, all three children, and the client’s medical providers. Katy also researched to see if our state’s courts have jurisdiction, or decision-making power, given that her client was clearly a Florida resident. She examined the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act (UAGPPJA), adopted a couple years ago in our state. Katy’s determination was that our courts do have the power to rule on this case, because of Mary Lou’s presence here in a facility and the fact that two of her sons are here. Also, her client did not object to being here. These factors made North Carolina a “significant connection state” and conferred jurisdiction on this state’s courts to rule on Mary Lou’s competency.

We were fortunate to have a consultation on this case with Meredith Smith of the U.N.C. School of Government, who has taught and written extensively on the new jurisdictional statutes.

And I leave my dog, Smoky, to.....

The application for the clinic’s services was unusual. It read, “I want a will for my house and my dog, Smoky.” Pets are like family members for most people, and particularly for older adults. Finding a trusted person to care for one’s pets is a major concern. Jay Zhang met with this client and completely understood how she felt. As they talked about their shared love of their pets, she got more relaxed about Smoky’s future….and, of course, who would inherit the house, too! Jay provided both professional will drafting and an empathetic ear.

Community Involvement

We hit the road this semester! The clinic students provided useful legal information at Goler Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, Union Cross Moravian Church, Assembly Terrace Apartments, Walnut Cove Senior Center, and the East Bend Senior Community Center. They also visited the Williams Adult Day Center, a nationally recognized program that serves people who are memory-impaired. This was all in addition to their trips on behalf of clients to court, hospitals and long-term care facilities, witnesses’ and clients’ homes and more.

A Little Help from Our Friends

Students in the Elder Law Clinic interact frequently with a wide range of professionals. They partner with medical providers, social service agencies, and the staff and judicial officers at the county courts. These collaborations help the students provide holistic, comprehensive services.

This semester, the Elder Law Clinic thanks geriatrician Mary F. Lyles, M.D., who taught our students some essential medical concepts and terminology. Thanks also to Jim Hickmon, J.D., MBA, CFP, for assisting on a trust dispute matter. He is with the Charlotte firm of Hickmon & Perrin and is also an adjunct professor of law.

Advocacy for Clients with Disabilities

Kelsey Grier represented a client who we’ll call Ida. Ida was born intellectually disabled. She is now 61 years old and lives in assisted living where all her needs are met. Her parents have reached their 80’s, so they decided to ask the courts to appoint their son to serve as guardian for Ida. Kelsey interviewed her client, the family, and several medical providers and caregivers, preparing a report to the Court recommending a limited guardianship. However, the Court determined that Ida’s impairments were too significant for her to retain decision-making power over important aspects of her life. Her brother was appointed to be her “guardian of the person.” She was happy about this and feels secure as her parents age.

The Students Speak

• “I feel like a detective! It was a real challenge to track down a certain witness in one of my court cases. But I figured out how to find her and I got really useful information from her.

• “This client’s situation made me so sad. She has no one to rely upon."

“In terms of my own family’s needs, I now understand what it means to ‘be prepared.’ During the first month of the semester, my grandfather passed away and he had no legal documents in place. Things would have been much easier for my family if he had prepared financial and health care powers of attorney and a will.”

“I like to get straight to the point and prefer to keep things formal. However, working with clients in this clinic helped me learn to slow down. Now I’ll take the time to get to know them a bit, before diving into the legal issues with them.”

“The doctors I shadowed at the hospital’s memory assessment clinic had outstanding bedside manner. I was impressed with the direct, but caring, way that they communicated with the patient and his wife.”

“I used to be afraid to talk with a client on the phone, but after doing it several times in the clinic, now it’s not a problem for me.”

“I had a truly great experience in the medical center’s memory clinic. I saw how cognitive impairment is measured, a topic we had touched on in a class with the geriatrician. And I admire how the doctor firmly but kindly told one patient that she should stop driving or he would report her to DMV. The doctor also advised the patient’s family to remove firearms from the house, because the patient had been getting aggressive.”

“I am better prepared to practice law. I was not very confident when it came to client interviewing and this clinic has given me confidence in a safe environment.”

“I have valued getting to interact with clients, not only on a professional level but also on a personal level. It has felt really great to be able to explain concepts to people, listen to their questions, and help them understand further. Also, I learned about the aging process and about legal steps to prepare for aging.”

“This clinic has inspired me to do more for those who lack financial means. While law is a profession and I want to earn a living, the legal system isn’t all about making money. The clinic showed me concrete ways in which I can help others in need.”

• “I learned that client interviews don’t always go according to plan and that while it is important to have a plan and accomplish certain tasks, it is also useful to remain flexible.”

“My family avoids talking about aging and death because it makes them uncomfortable. This course has taught me how important it is to plan for the future. When I’m home for Christmas break, I’m going to strongly encourage my parents to have wills and powers of attorney.”

Save the Date: April 30, 2020

Wake Forest University will be hosting another Aging Re-Imagined Conference this spring. This free conference is open to the public. National and local speakers from a variety of disciplines will talk about and demonstrate innovative developments in their field of aging. Dance, science, arts and more! This is always a popular and energizing event.

A Rising Star

Lucas Moomaw, a third-year law student, is Professor Mewhinney’s research assistant. He was a clinic student last year and will graduate in May 2020 and join the Asheville office of Van Winkle Law, in its estates, trusts and elder law group. Lucas recently published a comment in the Wake Forest Journal of Law & Policy entitled “Keep Out: Pre-Dispute Arbitration Provisions and Home Health Care Agencies.” Congratulations, Lucas!

Clinic Alumni News

  • Will Miller ('09) has joined the Lexington firm of Brinkley, Walser and Stoner. His practice includes estate planning and elder law. The firm's managing member, David Inabinett ('96), was also in the Elder Law Clinic and includes elder law in his practice.
  • Erin McKee (‘15) writes: “I recently started in the role of Assistant Attorney General for Broughton Hospital with the N.C. Department of Justice. Broughton Hospital is a state-operated inpatient facility for psychiatric patients in my hometown of Morganton. I represent the state's and the facility's interests in involuntary commitment hearings, guardianship proceedings, and personnel cases. I also facilitate responses to subpoenas and court orders for records related to mental health and substance abuse treatment. I'm proud to serve a facility that provides such important services and is a cornerstone of my community.”
  • Silke Hynes (‘19) joined the High Point firm of Cecil & Cecil where she handles estate planning, advance directives, Medicaid planning, trusts, and real estate.
  • Megan Dyer ('18) is now with the firm of Weaver, Bennett and Bland in Matthews, NC, practicing estate planning and administration.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me

I was very impressed by everyone involved. The first visit, I got lost in the building. A young student went and got a wheelchair from the clinic. I was treated with respect and compassion the entire time. Thank you for my favorable visits!

Jay Zhang did an excellent job of explaining the different components of my legal documents. I wouldn’t change anything about the clinic. From the time I entered the door, everyone was polite and showed us great respect.

Carley Starnes immediately made me feel very comfortable and answered my questions. If she couldn’t, she got help.

A Few Final Words

Find resources on elder law issues, including in Spanish.

Read more news from the Elder Law Clinic.

Donate and help us serve older clients and train a new generation of lawyers!

Thank you for your support of the Elder Law Clinic!

WFU School of Law, PO Box 7206, Winston-Salem, NC 27109 eclinic@wfu.edu (336) 758-5061