Comprehensive Planning. Lifelong Solutions.

Death & Procedure:

By Sarah Schmidt

What to do when your client or a family member dies or becomes incapacitated during litigation.

As elder law attorneys, we routinely deal with the ambit of legal issues arising from the death or incapacity of a client, but the death or incapacity of a client may create a whole set of new legal issues and procedures for attorneys not well versed in elder law or for pro se litigants.  For example, what happens if a party dies while litigation is pending?

In many instances when a party dies during the pendency of litigation, once the proper personal representative qualifies on the estate of the decedent, the parties can (and should) move to substitute the personal representative for the deceased or incapacitated party. See, e.g., Bartee v. Vitocruz, 288 Va. 106, 111 (2014) (citing Va. Code § 8.01-56 and Rule 3:17) (“[I]f a person becomes incapable of prosecuting or defending a case due to death, the action may proceed on behalf of the decedent’s estate by and through the substitution of decedent with his personal representative.”). The Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia very sensibly allow this motion to be made by a successor, but it must be properly served with the proposed amended pleading, and the opposing party should be given twenty-one days to respond, unless they agree otherwise. Va. Rule 3:17(B). If the motion to substitute is not made within a reasonable and proper time, upon death the suit will be discontinued. See Va. Code § 8.01-18. Additionally, when making a motion to substitute, Virginia attorneys must be careful to style the case properly. See Va. Code § 8.01-6.3.

A helpful tip for attorneys practicing in circuit courts in the Commonwealth of Virginia: when you make a motion to substitute a party, and your motion is granted, be sure to also submit an order which directs the clerk to amend the style of the case. Alternatively, this language can be included in your order granting the motion to substitute. If the clerk does not have any direction to amend the style of the case, it may very well go unchanged with the potential of creating a number of filing and administrative issues for both parties in the future.

In many instances following the simple procedural rules for substitution (after proper qualification) will allow the case to go forward. In some cases, however, the death of party means the death of the action. For example, in the case of a pending action for divorce, if one party dies while the suit is pending, but before entry of the final decree, the action abates and the court will no longer have jurisdiction over the matter. The action abates because “the death terminates the marriage, thus rendering the divorce suit moot as it relates to the parties’ marital status.” Estate of Hackler v. Hackler, 44 Va. App. 51, 67 (2004) (quoting Sprouse v. Griffin, 250 Va. 46, 50 (1995)). The court lacks jurisdiction because a circuit court’s jurisdiction in divorce suit is purely statutory. And because the court no longer has jurisdiction over the parties’ property, it cannot make any award of equitable distribution.

The same is not true, however, if the party to a divorce proceeding dies after entry of the final decree—even if litigation is pending over enforcement of the final decree or separation agreement. For example, the Virginia Court of Appeals addressed a case where a party passed away after the entry of the final decree, but before entry of a proposed qualified domestic relations order (“QDRO”). The court held that the action did not abate, and that the circuit court indeed had continuing jurisdiction to enter the QDRO. See Forest v. Forest, 2013 Va. App. LEXIS 80, at *6 n.6 (Va. App. Mar. 12, 2013). Moreover, it is well established in Virginia that “property rights and interests become vested in the parties when they agree upon them, set them forth in a valid separation agreement, and have them incorporated into their final divorce decree.” Griffin v. Griffin, 62 Va. App. 736, 765-66 (2014).

This newsletter is not intended to be exhaustive; there are many other considerations, scenarios, and legal issues that arise when a client or party dies during the pendency of litigation that are outside the scope of this article. When faced with these issues, the advice of an elder law attorney should be sought.

 

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – New Baby Lion in Norfolk

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what can you tell us about the new baby lion born at the Virginia Zoo in Norfolk?

Kit Kat:  Well, this is a feel-good story if there ever was one! A baby male lion was born to a female lioness named Zola on Oct.28, 2017. Zola is thirteen. As of yet, her cub is unnamed. The zoo plans to have a naming contest in the next few weeks. A Cub Cam is planned, too, so the public can follow his progress. Currently, he is kept secluded in a cubbing den, as he gains strength and girth. At birth, he weighed 3 pounds and 5 ounces. He now weighs about 10 pounds. Eventually, he will weigh around 350 pounds, if he takes after his dad, Mramba, another resident at the zoo.

Baby lion is getting a lot of attention—maybe a little too much. Most litters of lion cubs have between two-to-five cubs. Since baby lion is an only cub, his mom Zola is lavishing all her maternal love on him. Her grooming has been a little excessive, according to Colleen Clabbers, the zoo’s veterinarian. Baby lion has developed a sore under his right arm. The zoo is monitoring the situation. Stay tuned for further updates on Baby Lion! (Ryan Murphy, “ ‘Fuzzy and vocal’ lion cub born at Virginia Zoo,” The Virginian Pilot, December 1, 2017, pg. 1 and 8)

Upcoming Seminars

Distribution of This Newsletter

Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at mail@hooklawcenter.com or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Posted on Friday, December 8th, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.

Home for the Holidays: Conversations for Every Stage of Life

By Elizabeth Boehmcke

It’s that time of year again when families gather to celebrate the holidays. For many, it may have been months or a year since they visited with family and a lot may have changed in the interim. Perhaps we notice that Grandpa is not as steady on his feet as he was, or that Mom seems to be having trouble remembering where she put the car keys. Perhaps we see that an illness has taken hold or has progressed further than before. Perhaps Dad just retired and he and Mom are making plans for a cruise to Alaska. Children may have been born. Friends and other relatives may have passed away. What is certain is that whatever changes have occurred since the last big get- together will be a topic of conversation.

In addition to celebrating the joy of being together, it is important to think about setting aside some quiet time to address serious issues. If it seems clear that aging parents are in need of assistance of some kind, it is important to discuss that issue with them. Assistance needs can run the gamut from needing an extra hand with house and yard work to medication management to meal preparation to 24/7 custodial care and everything in-between. It is possible that they are unaware of the challenges they are facing. But more likely, it is apparent to them what kind of assistance, if any, they need. If they in fact have a comprehensive plan which covers their financial and physical needs and goals, sharing that information with concerned children and other family members may put their minds at ease. On the other hand, if there is no comprehensive plan in place, finding ways to discuss the needs may allow the family to identify problems and develop solutions. Finally, these conversations can allow a family, who has identified problems and become overwhelmed by them, to seek help from those qualified to help, especially in terms of making financial recommendations for how to pay for and plan for long-term care and protection of assets.

It is also important to have conversations about end-of-life medical decision-making and about financial decision-making. It is vitally important that every adult over the age of 18 have in place advance medical directives and durable powers of attorney to prevent the need for going to court to obtain guardianships and conservatorships in the event that a person can no longer make decisions for himself/herself. But as important as having the documents in place is and as important as it is that those documents be prepared by an experienced elder law attorney who can help you weigh the importance of including special powers that are necessary for public benefits planning, it is just as important that your wishes about who makes decisions for you and how you wish to die be known to your family.  This is your opportunity to let the family know how you feel and what you would like to see done in the event that you can no longer speak for yourself.

For parents of almost any age, having an open discussion with family about what your wishes are in the event of death is critical. Parents of young children need to consider how their young children will be cared for in the event both parents are killed. Naming a guardian in a Will ensures that your desires will be heard and will hopefully keep other well-meaning relatives from fighting over the children and your estate. Adults of all ages need to discuss who they want to administer their estates, how they want their assets distributed, what their plans are. While for some families keeping these plans a secret is desirable, for most, secrecy only means that your loved ones are guaranteed to fight among themselves and perhaps harbor resentments towards each other. While obviously not good for family relationships, such dysfunction can also lead to court battles which are never cheap.

Finally, for those who come home to older family members and notice, perhaps for the first time, that there is a change in how the older family members are acting or reacting, it may be time to have a serious conversation about whether a visit to the doctor is needed to rule out or diagnose dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association’s website lists 10 warning signs of dementia and recommends that anyone experiencing any of these symptoms should consult a physician:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life, especially recently learned information;
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems, like following a familiar recipe;
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work or leisure, like how to drive to a familiar location or remembering the rules of a favorite game;
  • Confusion with time or place, like losing track of seasons or the passage of time;
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships, like difficulty reading or judging distance, the latter of which may manifest as trouble driving.
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing, like having trouble following a conversation, stopping in the middle of a conversation and repeating themselves, or struggling with common vocabulary and calling thing by the wrong name;
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps, like putting eyeglasses in the freezer;
  • Decreased or poor judgment, like giving large amounts to telemarketers or losing track of cash, or like paying less attention to personal grooming;
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities they used to enjoy; and
  • Changes in mood and personality, like becoming confused or suspicious or anxious.

The attorneys of Hook Law Center know the importance of having these family conversations. Please make time to have them with your family and consider allowing us to join you. We are happy to meet with your whole family in person, on the phone or over the internet to assist you all in finding comprehensive solutions to the problems that may become apparent when you come home for the holidays

 

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Fiona the Hippo-Zoo Star

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, who is Fiona the Hippo, and why is she so famous?

Kit Kat:  Well, this is one of the cutest stories I have heard about recently. Fiona is a hippopotamus who resides at the Cincinnati Zoo. She was born there last January 24 (a bit prematurely), and has been a major sensation ever since. The zoo’s vice president of marketing says, “I feel like I represent Beyoncé. People fly across the world to just catch a glimpse.” All this attention is due to Michelle Curley, the zoo’s communications direction and her four-person team. Ms. Curley had the brilliant idea to publicize Fiona’s every move from the moment she was born on social media. There have been videos of Fiona on Facebook. Fiona has posed with couples for their engagement photos. One of these photos ended up being on “The Tonight Show.” A local ice cream company even named a summer flavor after her called “Chunky Chunky Hippo.” The list goes on and on.

It’s wonderful that Fiona has gotten this far. Her future did not always look so rosy. She was born 6 weeks early and only weighed 29 pounds. A normal hippo baby should weigh between 55 and 120 pounds at birth. However, zoo personnel made every effort to keep her alive. Fiona was placed in the equivalent of a newborn I.C.U. with round-the-clock care. Doctors from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital assisted with her care. She, at one point, had to have an IV inserted to address dehydration. There were lots of other health issues along the way until May 15 when she seemed to turn a corner and gain strength. The struggles were documented on social media, and the public fell in love with her. When the zoo said they would cut back on the daily social postings, 100,000 people responded clamoring for more. It seems as if Fiona is serving as a pleasant diversion from the stresses of life. According to Amy LaBarbara, the zoo’s coordinator for marketing and events, “People tell us all the time that Fiona is something everyone can agree on. We have heard from countless people online that Fiona has been uniting the United States. We hear from people going through chemo that tell us she is the only bright spot in their day.”

It appears that Fiona is quite a girl! She seems to bask in the attention. She floats between the animal world and human world with the greatest of ease. (Rachel Syme, “Hooray for Fiona the Hippo, Our Bundle of Social-Media Joy,” The New York Times, Nov. 25, 2017)

Upcoming Seminars

Distribution of This Newsletter

Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at mail@hooklawcenter.com or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Posted on Friday, December 1st, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.

What Just Happened?

By Letha Sgritta McDowell, CELA

Last week the US House of Representatives passed a tax bill that appears to overhaul the Internal Revenue Code as it has existed since 1986.  While many favor simplifying the tax code and its maze of complex rules, the House simplification would have ramifications that require careful thought and analysis.  The current Internal Revenue Code was passed in 1986 and  took more than 3 years to write; the recent House tax bill took just a few weeks and was passed without a single hearing.

Despite the apparent haste, many Americans still don’t seem overly concerned about the possibility of an overhaul of the tax code.  However, it is likely that for many in the middle class, the proposed changes would have a significant increase in their overall tax liability.  In addition to changes for the middle class, others such as the elderly or people with disabilities, will also be affected.

Included in the House version of the tax bill, and indeed a major vocalized motivation for tax reform, is a reduction in corporate taxes.  The idea is that corporations will be less likely to move overseas to avoid the current corporate tax structure.  However, for individuals, the changes are much broader than a change in rate.  The House bill proposes to compress the number of tax brackets from 7 to 4 ranging from 12% to 39.6%.

What is of most concern is the elimination of almost every itemized deduction with a few exceptions.  The charitable deduction will remain, deduction for real property taxes up to $10,000 will remain, and the home mortgage deduction will remain.  However, the state and local tax deduction is eliminated, as is the deduction for tax preparation and many deductions related to paying for college. Of concern for many locally who own a second home or vacation home for rental purposes, the deduction of mortgage interest for second homes has been eliminated.  This proposes to have a major impact on the tourist economy, especially in North Carolina.

Furthermore, for many elderly and people with disabilities, the elimination of the medical expense deduction is troubling.  Many rely on the medical expense deduction to reduce or eliminate taxes, because they are utilizing a large portion of their income to pay for their much-needed medical services and supports.  This includes those paying high health insurance costs, using savings to pay for long-term care, as well as those paying their income as a “co-pay” to their long- term care facility since they are eligible for Medicaid.

In addition to these changes, the standard deduction is almost doubled, simplifying tax filings for many.  However, the personal exemption is eliminated.  In addition, the proposed estate tax exemption is increased to $11million per person or $22 million per married couple.

In sum, there are sweeping changes proposed in the House bill.  A Senate version has also been proposed. While containing some differences, it is not wildly different from the House bill.  There appears to be pressure in Washington to get new tax legislation passed before the end of the year.  Many feel that it is too early to determine how this tax bill will actually affect the average American, or the net impact on the federal deficit. Stay tuned as this important issue continues to unfold.

 

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Benefits of a Dog

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what can you tell us about the benefits of having a dog?

Kit Kat:  Well, there is some research coming from Sweden which says that having a dog might actually extend your life! The research was compiled by scientists from Uppsala University. Sweden, it appears, is the perfect place to conduct such studies. Detailed records are kept on its citizens including hospitalizations, medical history, and even such things as whether they own a dog. Over the 12-year period of the study, what was discovered is that people who had a dog had less cardiovascular disease or die for any reason. This was especially true for single people. Mwenya Mubanga, one of the authors of the study, says, ‘Dog ownership was especially prominent as a protective factor in persons living alone, which is a group reported previously to be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death. Perhaps a dog may stand in an important family member in the single households.’

Another interesting finding was that hunting dogs seemed to offer the most protective health benefits. Scientists are not quite sure what is the cause of the improved health benefits. Are people who chose to own dogs a healthier lot overall, or does having a dog lead to one taking more exercise and leading a more active lifestyle? We don’t know for sure at this point, but what the study is definitely telling us is that having a dog may indeed be a life extender.

This study did not tackle the subject of owing other pets, but I would say from informal observation that owning other pets such as cats can be just as beneficial! We felines are very attentive to our parents, and we love them just as much as our canine cousins! (Michelle Cortez, “Having a dog might just save your life, Swedish research says,” from Bloomberg News, as re-printed in The Virginian-Pilot, Nov. 19, 2017, p. 10)

Upcoming Seminars

Distribution of This Newsletter

Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at mail@hooklawcenter.com or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Posted on Tuesday, November 28th, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.

Buyer Beware: The Dangers of Do-it-Yourself Estate Planning

By Jessica A. Hayes

There are increasingly more websites offering do-it-yourself estate planning documents at a very low cost.  If you’re trying to save money, it might be tempting to cut corners and use one of these websites, especially if you believe your wishes and your estate are simple.  Unfortunately, while the cost to use these websites may be low, the expense of fixing the problems they cause is almost guaranteed to be significantly higher.

In recent years, I’ve encountered several documents generated online which had serious flaws – for example, a trust that was missing major distribution provisions, a will without the necessary attestation clause, and a power of attorney that was not sufficiently broad enough to permit the agent to assist the client in qualifying financially for Medicaid.  If the issue is brought to my attention while the individual still has the mental capacity to sign a new document, we’ll sign the new document, revoke the old one, and the crisis will have been averted.  If I am seeing the document for the first time after a client has died or lost mental capacity, unfortunately, we will have to rely on that document moving forward.

You may create a revocable trust online, but if you fail to fund it – to transfer assets into it or name it as the beneficiary of those assets, or to pass assets into it at your death via a “pour-over” will – it will be useless.  You may also create a power of attorney online, but if you fail to include some of the powers we often recommend in order to assist clients in qualifying financially for Medicaid or VA Aid & Attendance, your agent will have fewer options available to them in the event you require assistance paying for long-term care.  These documents are more than just forms to be filled in.  What they say matters.

A well-formed estate plan takes into account your wishes, your family circumstances, your financial situation, and any potential tax consequences.  To truly be effective, it must be comprehensive.  If someone – an online service or even an attorney – is willing to prepare estate planning documents for you (a will, trust, advance medical directive, and/or power of attorney, generally) without getting a full understanding of your family dynamics and your assets, consider that a red flag.  You will not be getting the best advice, nor will it be tailored to meet your needs.

An experienced estate planning attorney will walk you through the estate planning process, gathering the necessary information and making recommendations specific to you.  You will walk away not only with a set of documents carefully crafted to meet your needs, but also with specific recommendations and the peace of mind in knowing that your affairs are in order.

Hook Law Center recognizes the importance of keeping estate planning affordable, and is in some circumstances able to prepare same-day documents for clients, keeping costs down and avoiding a return trip to our office.  To determine whether you may be a good candidate for this service, contact the Hook Law Center today.

 

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Dementia & Keeping a Pet

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, should someone with dementia keep a pet?

Kit Kat:  Well, there are many things to consider when a person is diagnosed with dementia. If there is a beloved pet in the household, it may be best not to make any change right away. Pets are an enormous source of comfort and stimulation for anyone, let alone one who is declining in mental awareness. As the disease progresses, there will be things to consider about maintaining a pet.

First, one must consider the capability of the person with dementia. In some, the disease progresses very slowly. My human mother’s mother lived with dementia/Alzheimer’s for 17 years. In others, the disease progresses rapidly. So each situation must be evaluated individually, and it must be determined if the person with dementia has the capability of caring for a pet. Pets, though, lovable, do require work. With cats, buying litter, scooping it daily, maybe too much for someone with impairments to manage by themselves. Dogs need to be walked. Is there a close friend or relative who can help with these tasks?

Second, one must ask if the individual wants to keep the pet. Sometimes, with dementia, there are accompanying personality changes. Do pets bring joy to him/her or are they a source of irritation?

Should the decision be made that the person in question can no longer keep the pet, there are alternatives. A friend or relative may volunteer to raise the pet and allow visits with its former owner. As a last resort, surrender the pet to a no-kill animal shelter or the humane society.  Never just let the pet out on the street to fend for itself. Cats, which have been indoor all their lives, do not adapt well there. My family adopted one such cat we found in a restaurant parking lot. She had been fixed, but was about 10 years old, the vet estimated. Sometimes, people are specifically looking for older pets who are past the kitten/puppy stage where they jump a lot and chew on things.       The final decision should be made considering what is best for both the person with dementia and the pet. (Adapted from Celia Monroe, https://supercarers.com/blog, 10-16-17)

Upcoming Seminars

Distribution of This Newsletter

Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at mail@hooklawcenter.com or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Posted on Friday, November 17th, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.

Protecting Assets When A Spouse Enters A Nursing Home

By Shannon Laymon-Pecoraro

As an Elder Law attorney, I often see the devastating toll the cost of nursing care can have on a married couple’s assets. The most upsetting cases involve healthy spouses that have essentially been impoverished as a result of the unhealthy spouse’s need for care. The basic fact is that such impoverishment can be completely avoided with proper guidance as a result of the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act of 1988 (“MCCA”), which essentially provides a framework to prevent spousal impoverishment under the Medicaid rules. While it would be nearly impossible to debunk all the myths pertaining to Medicaid we address, there are a few common ones that we at the Hook Law Center see most often.

Myth – They only look at one spouse’s assets when determining eligibility.

Resources held by either the institutionalized (the spouse that needs care) or community (the spouse that does not need care) spouse shall be considered available to the institutionalized spousal however, certain exclusions apply to various assets. For example, some assets, such as the primary residence of the community spouse, is a non-countable resource for Medicaid eligibility. Additionally, the MCCA sets forth an exemption amount, known as the community spouse resource allowance, to ensure there is a small safety net for the community spouse. Currently, the community spouse resource allowance is 50% of the total countable resources of the couple up to $120,900, with a floor set at $24,180. The countable assets of the couple above the community spouse resource allowance must then be “spent down.” A spend down, to an elder law attorney, merely means the conversion of a countable resource to either a non-countable resource or a new income stream, and does not necessarily mean that money needs to be spent. Once the institutionalized spouse is eligible for Medicaid, the resources and income of the community spouse will not be considered for continuing eligibility of the institutionalized spouse.

Myth – I can’t gift money to my spouse because of the 5-year look-back period.

The Virginia Medicaid manual has a blanket exemption for transfers between spouses. This permits spouses to transfer assets between another without risk of a penalty period for the transfers. The tough analysis associated with these transfers include whether someone has the legal authority to transfer assets to the community spouse (via a power of attorney or conservatorship that expressly permits such gifts) and what tax implications, if any, would result in such a transfer.

Myth – Medicaid is going to take my house.

Medicaid does not take anyone’s home, let alone the primary residence of a community spouse. Instead, the Medicaid considers the primary residence of a community a non-countable, or exempt, resource when determining eligibility.  This myth, I believe, arises from the fact that if a single individual does not reside in real property for 6 months then the home must be listed for sale, and that Medicaid may put a lien against the home upon the death of a Medicaid recipient. The fact remains, that while the house may need to be sold or when the house sells, Medicaid may be entitled to some of the proceeds, Medicaid does not actually take the home.

Myth – We have too much money for Medicaid.

With proper planning, most couples can protect their assets and qualify as an institutionalized spouse for Medicaid. The planning, as previously mentioned, requires the conversion of countable resources to non-countable resources or a new income stream and does not require the impoverishment of the community spouse.  The plan should be custom tailored to each couple, and what works for one, may not work for another. As a result, you should consult an experienced elder law attorney to develop a plan that will work for you.

 

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – ECPI to the Rescue

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what can you tell us about ECPI helping a 3-legged dog walk again?

Kit Kat:  Well, this is a wonderful story. A four-year-old beagle named Ray Ray lives in Norfolk. He’s had quite a lucky life in some respects, and unlucky in others. The unlucky part is that a couple of years ago he was in an accident, and had to have his back right foot amputated. That led to other problems like gait and stress issues on his remaining legs.

Now comes the lucky part. His first bit of luck was to be adopted by Susan and Phil Glassner of Norfolk. To do so, Ray Ray had to move from North Carolina where he had been taken in by a rescue group. He loved his new home, and the other two dogs who already lived with the Glassners. However, dealing with a missing foot was causing stress on his hips and spine.

Then came his second piece of good luck. His mother, Susan, happened to see on Facebook a post about some students at ECPI’s Richmond campus who had made a prosthetic arm for a child. Susan had a friend who worked at ECPI’s Virginia Beach campus, Nadine Newhart, who contacted the Richmond campus for her. It was an incredible feat of timing! The engineering students at ECPI’s Richmond campus needed a project for their senior capstone class. The students got to work on it, and within no time they created a prosthetic leg for Ray Ray. The new leg is supported by a harness and wheel combination that allows Ray Ray to make turns. The students had to be quite creative, because the leg had to be made of certain materials which Ray Ray would not destroy by chewing.

So thanks to ECPI students, who used their ingenuity and technical smarts, Ray Ray is enjoying life once more as a four-legged canine! (Robyn Sidersky, “ECPI students accomplish a real feat, and an amputee dogs gets a prosthetic limb,” The Virginian-Pilot, November 3, 2017, pg. 3)

Upcoming Seminars

Distribution of This Newsletter

Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at mail@hooklawcenter.com or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Posted on Monday, November 13th, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.

Can You Be Held Personally Liable for Your Parent’s Long-Term Care in Virginia?

By Sarah Schmidt

In 2017, the average cost of nursing home care in Virginia amounts to $94,896 per year, $7,908 per month, for a private room.[1] That cost is steep enough to concern even the most affluent of clients. While children often feel morally responsible to step in and help out an aging parent financially, what if they do not?  What if they cannot? Can they be held legally responsible? The answer may surprise you.

As many as twenty-nine (29) states have filial responsibility laws on the books.[2] Filial responsibility laws are statutes which require an able child to provide financial support for an indigent parent.  Any legal obligation of an adult child to support his or her parent is not founded in common law; such an obligation can only be created by statute.[3] While many states have never enforced their filial statutes,[4] such statutory obligations do exist, and the policies behind them are deeply rooted in history and tradition.[5]  The theory and policy behind filial responsibility is one of reciprocity. When the government began providing public benefits through social security, Medicare, and Medicaid, this greatly reduced the need to enforce filial responsibility laws.[6] Some commentators, however, opine that the enforcement of such obligations will resurge due to the predicted deficits in the public benefit programs.[7]

 

Virginia Code Section 20-88 was enacted in 1920. It imposes an obligation on persons eighteen years of age or older, to provide for the support and maintenance[8] of his or her mother or father, if: (1) after reasonably providing for his own immediate family, the child is of sufficient earning capacity or income, and (2) the parent is then and there in destitute or necessitous circumstances.[9] The Virginia Supreme Court interpreted this to be a subjective standard and found that the parent’s standard of living to which they are accustomed is taken into account.[10]

The juvenile and domestic relations district courts have exclusive jurisdiction in all cases arising under Virginia Code Section 20-88. Because the juvenile and domestic relations district courts are not courts of record, the total number and frequency of cases involving Code Section 20-88 remain unknown, but the statute has been enforced. For example, this statute was enforced in a 2015 case filed in Virginia Beach Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, where a Judge ordered eight children to pay for the assisted living expenses of their biological mother in the amount of $5,500 a month. This award, according to counsel for the petitioner of that case, amounted to as much as $71,500. The order was appealed to Virginia Beach Circuit Court, but the case settled before trial. [11]

While the Virginia Supreme Court has never considered a case regarding filial responsibility and long-term care, this statute undoubtedly extends to support for the cost of long-term care. Fortunately, there are a number of defenses a child might use to protect himself or herself from a filial responsibility action, but the details of those defenses are beyond the scope of this newsletter. Should you find yourself facing an action by a third-party to be held liable for your indigent parent, it is imperative that you hire an attorney with experience in elder law and long-term care planning.

[1]       See Genworth 2017 Cost of Care Survey (last visited Oct. 30 2017),  https://www.genworth.com/services/servlets/pdf/CostofCare_2017

[2]     Jared M. DeBona, Mom, Dad, Here’s Your Allowance: The Impending Reemergence of Pennsylvania’s Filial Support Statute and An Appeal for Its Amendment, 86 Temp. L. Rev. 849, 855 (2014).

[3]     Americana Health Ctr. v. Randall, 513 N.W.2d 566 (S.D. 1994).

[4]     Lundberg, supra note 29 at 534.

[5]     Swoap v. Superior Court, 516 P.2d 840, 848–49 (Cal. 1973) (“[T]he duty is deeply rooted and of venerable ancestry; it can be traced back . . .  to the year 1601.”);  Americana, 513 N.W.2d at 571;  see Jared M. DeBona, Mom, Dad, Here’s Your Allowance: The Impending Reemergence of Pennsylvania’s Filial Support Statute and An Appeal for Its Amendment, 86 Temp. L. Rev. 849, 855 (2014) (referring to the Elizabethan Poor Laws in 1601 which created statutory obligations to provide for poor family members).

[6]     Jared M. DeBona, Mom, Dad, Here’s Your Allowance: The Impending Reemergence of Pennsylvania’s Filial Support Statute and An Appeal for Its Amendment, 86 Temp. L. Rev. 849, 849 (2014).

[7]     Id. at 856.

[8]   Mitchell-Powers v. Hardware Co. v. Eaton, 198 S.E. 496, 499–50 (Va. 1938)  (“Support and Maintenance, as used in the statute, mean in a moral and legal sense, having a regard to the situation, mode of life and condition of the persons concerned. It means more than the son or daughter, if of sufficient earning capacity or income, must do more than relieve the pangs of hunger, provide and furnish only enough clothes to cover the nakedness of the parent. He or she must furnish such support as comport with the health, comfort, and welfare of a normal individuals according to their standards of living, considering his or her own means, earning capacity and station in life.”).

[9]    Id. at 499 (emphasis added) (finding that “Destitute” or “Necessitous Circumstances” is defined as: “not possessing the necessities in life; in a condition of extreme want; without possessions or resources,” and “living in or characterized by poverty; needy . . . [and] as narrow, destitute, pinching, [and] pinched.”).

[10]      Id. (finding that Va. Code § 20-88 “was intended to cover the case of a parent in destitute or necessitous circumstances according to his or her standard of living.”).

[11]       See Johnson v. Southerland, Virginia Beach Circuit Court No. CL15-381 (2015).

 

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Shrews in Winter

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what can you tell us about how shrews handle the winter? Are they out and about or do they hibernate?

Kit Kat:  Well, they are out and about for sure; however, the interesting thing is that their skull and brain mass shrink by about 18 % during the winter. Shrews are about the size of a mouse, but are really more like a mole. Also, they are found in almost all parts of the world. Scientists speculate that their brains become shrunken to conserve energy. According to Javier Lazaro of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany, “They also have high metabolic rates and very little fat stored in their bodies. Therefore, they starve within a few hours if they do not hunt constantly.” Therefore, a smaller skull and brain, as well as some of their major organs and  their spines also shrivel in size as well. A smaller corpus means less food is needed to sustain it during the cold months.

To conduct the study, the researchers captured 12 shrews in Germany near the Max Planck Institute from summer 2014 to fall 2015. All were micro-chipped, and measured at three different intervals. The skull-shrinking phenomenon was noticed in all twelve. What the scientists think happens is this—their “brain case shrinks when the joints between the bones of the skull reabsorb tissue during autumn and winter. As spring approaches, the bone tissue regenerates.” Scientists are not sure why other invertebrates can’t do the same, but the phenomenon may have implications  for humans, especially those who are afflicted with osteoporosis, and other bone and joint diseases. Medical researchers are very intrigued by this new information. Stay tuned as scientists continue to study this issue. (Douglas Quenqua, “As Winter Sets In, Tiny Shrews Shrink Their Skulls and Brains,” The New York Times (Science section), Oct. 23, 2017)

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Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at mail@hooklawcenter.com or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Posted on Tuesday, November 7th, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.

Avoiding Guardianship/Conservatorship

By Elizabeth Boehmcke

Recently, I was struck by what we have been seeing in our office much more frequently: clients coming in for guardianships and conservatorships for their loved ones. The vast majority of these matters are not contested: the potential ward is clearly incapable of managing his/her own financial and medical affairs because of advanced dementia, brain injury, congenital disease or other clear medical issues. Furthermore, the other members of the family are in agreement as to who should care for the potential ward and what needs to be done for his/her care. Occasionally, we see contested matters where the potential ward’s incapacity is not so clear cut, or where the family cannot agree on who should be in charge, or how the potential ward should be cared for. Putting aside for the moment those cases where the potential ward may in fact have capacity, the overwhelming majority of the other cases, contested or not, can be prevented through the execution of three relatively simple documents: a durable general power of attorney, an advanced medical directive and a HIPAA release.

A durable general power of attorney is the document in which you name an agent to act for you in connection with your financial affairs. An advanced medical directive is the document in which you name an agent to act for you in connection with medical and personal matters (such as where you live and who cares for you). The HIPAA release gives your medical providers permission to speak with your agent about your medical conditions. These documents are sometimes collectively thought of as necessary for “planning for incapacity”. I prefer to think of these documents as “your voice” because they frequently speak when you, the principal, are no longer able to effectively voice your opinion or to process the information necessary to make an informed opinion. In other newsletter articles, we have discussed the importance of choosing a good agent, of deciding whether your agents can or should work together, and of informing your agents about your end-of-life choices and decisions and where your assets are held. However, I would really like to emphasize an important benefit that should not be glossed over.

Statistics show that approximately 1 in 9 people who reach age 65 will develop dementia, and 1 in 3 who reach age 85 will develop dementia. Alzheimer’s Association – Risk Factors (www.alz.org). Others will suffer accidents and other medical emergencies that affect their abilities, physical and mental. Without a durable power of attorney and advanced medical directive in place, court action to appoint a guardian and conservator to manage your personal and financial affairs may be necessary. Court action is expensive, costing thousands of dollars. The durable power of attorney and the advanced medical directive allow you, in most cases, to completely AVOID the need for court action in the event of your incapacity. Further, if the durable power of attorney and advanced medical directive are prepared as part of a comprehensive long-term care plan such as are advocated at the Hook Law Center, both you and your agent will be comfortable in the knowledge that in the event asset protection planning for government benefits is necessary after your incapacity, your documents will work for you to that end. Even if your durable power of attorney and advanced medical directive are not part of a comprehensive plan and even if it becomes desirable to obtain a guardianship or conservatorship in order to implement a strategic asset protection plan, simply having those documents in place and nominating your agent to act as your guardian and conservator can potentially save legal costs by reducing the risks of litigation. Simply put, these documents will save you money during your lifetime – money which can be used for your care, for the care of your spouse and potentially saved for your heirs. Failure to execute these documents may well result in the needless expenditure of your money on attorneys and court fees and the loss of your right to choose who will be making important decisions for YOU. It’s as simple as that.

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Myths about Black Cats

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, since this article will appear around the time of Halloween, what can you tell us the myths surrounding black cats?

Kit Kat:  Well, actually there are quite a few myths about black cats, and none of them are true! As Jodie Valade who wrote an article in All Animals says, “the curse of the black cat is really that they are so misunderstood.” What is true is that black cats are the most common in the feline population, followed by grey. A 2013 ASPCA study found that 33 percent of all cats coming into shelters are black, and grey was the 2nd highest coming in at 22 percent. As Inga Fricke of the Humane Society of the US (HSUS) says, ‘When you’re getting more black cats in, it creates this perception that black animals aren’t getting adopted as much.’ On the contrary, black and grey cats are adopted at shelters almost equal to their percentages of entry.

To counter any adoption reluctance, shelters have become quite clever at marketing. Using free media such as Facebook, they have created postings for Black Friday deals (Nebraska Humane Society of Omaha), Me and My Shadow (Arizona Animal Welfare League and SPCA), Black Goes with Everything (Pet Rescue of Mercer, NJ), and Don’t Be Afraid to Adopt (The Humane Society of Utah waives adoption fees for black cats during the month of October) to name a few. Fricke of HSUS also says, ‘This is kind of a remarkable age for sheltering in that we have people working in shelters who are not just dedicated animal lovers who are committed to homeless animals, but who are actually stepping back and looking at the data and the numbers and figuring out what’s true and what’s just anecdote.’

Black cats are lovable like most felines. Our family has adopted two from Savannah, GA. We all have different personalities, and cats are no exception. That’s what makes life so interesting and challenging! (Jodie Valade, “Black is the new black,” All Animals, September/October 2017, p. 16-17)

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Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at mail@hooklawcenter.com or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Posted on Monday, October 30th, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.

Planning for Death the Swedish Way

By Letha Sgritta McDowell, CELA

A large part of elder law is helping clients plan for what happens after their death. To that end we, help clients execute wills, revocable trusts, irrevocable trusts, change beneficiary designations, review joint account titling, etc. all with the goal of helping clients pass monetary assets after their death. Many times I’ll be asked to include a specific gift of a tangible item within these same documents, and it consistently gives me pause. There are legal ramifications to including such a specific gift in a will. For example, a specific gift of a tangible personal item can force an estate through probate even if it isn’t otherwise necessary. If that tangible item is a Picasso or the Hope Diamond, then that is appropriate. In the vast majority of cases, the item is much less valuable and, in many cases, the named gift recipient isn’t interested in receiving the item.

A recent article in the New York Times explained what many clients struggle to determine, the next generation, largely generation X and millennials, are not interested in inheriting heirlooms or other tangible person items. There are always exceptions to this, of course; however, many people struggle with either how to have this delicate conversation while their family members are still living, or they struggle with what to do with years of accumulated possessions after their loved ones have died.

This desire not to inherit has been a major change from previous generations and, according to experts, this is the first time in history that the next generation isn’t looking for material goods from the previous generation. This shift away from possessions has arisen for many different reasons. First, many Americans are living longer than ever before. This means that, by the time a parent has passed away leaving tangible items, the children already have a fully furnished household with minimal room for more material goods. In addition, we live in a society which values material possessions, so a fully furnished household is an over-furnished household as well as a storage unit with excess items. Add to that items from a parent and homes of the next generation are crammed with objects.

Another reason for the lack of desire to inherit tangible items is a change in style. The 90s saw an uptick in rich and elaborate decoration with a country style. However, beginning in the 2000s, minimal with clean lines became the new style, leaving lots of parents with the 90s look and feel which was completely opposite from what a young person starting their life was looking for.

Yet another reason is that, for many millennials, they simply don’t have the place to put new objects. Living spaces are getting smaller (think Tiny Houses on HGTV and minimal living space designs from Ikea). Even for children who want their parents dining room set either after they die or when they downsize, they have no place to put them.

So, what is the solution to this growing problem of unwanted stuff? The Japanese Art of decluttering has been a popular movement and the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” has been a best seller for years. The Swedish have also developed a concept called “death cleaning.” Death cleaning is based on the idea that the Swedish don’t want to be a burden to anyone, and cleaning out personal possessions to leave a minimal amount for loved ones left behind benefits everyone.

As an attorney, my suggestion is to have a conversation with loved ones about what items they may like to inherit. If there are specific items that a loved one would choose to inherit, be sure to specifically list that on a tangible personal property list. Be sure to encourage loved ones to be honest with their feelings to avoid anyone feeling “guilted” into taking items they may not want or have room for. For those everyday items which do not have appeal to anyone in particular, begin decluttering early and giving those items to a charity such as Habitat for Humanity or Goodwill which will help ensure they are given to those in need who could use the items. Cleaning out and decluttering early is often a gift for loved ones and is often more appreciated than unused items from a storage unit.

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Taming Wild Horses

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what can you tell us about prison inmates taming wild horses out in the West?

Kit Kat:  Well, this is another interesting story. This particular story occurs at a ranch near Carson City, Nevada at a 1,100 acre property. The ranch is part of the Northern Nevada Correctional Center, a medium-security prison which serves minimum-security inmates. Approximately 2,000 wild horses can be served there. There is an abundance of wild horses and burros in the West that come under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management. One way it is handling as many as 86,000 foals born during the spring of 2017 is to have them tamed or ‘gentled’ at facilities such as the Northern Nevada Correctional Center (NNCC). Similar programs exist in other states such as Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, and even California and Kansas. Inmates in those states can volunteer to serve their time at such facilities. It’s a win for both the inmates and the horses, many of whom end up being adopted.

Take for example, the case of John Harris, 38. When he first came to NNCC, he had a bit of a temper. He had worked with farm animals where he grew up in Northern Iowa, but never horses. Initially, when he worked with the horses, he got ‘worked up’ and the horses did too. Over time, he learned through the expert instruction of Hank Curry, an experienced cowboy, that one can get better training results by being calm and low-key. Mr. Curry has come to see his job as being more than a horse trainer. ‘I’m a counselor, a teacher, a horse trainer. You establish pride in the guy and pride in his job, he’s going to be a lot more successful when he gets out of here.’ The training cycle lasts four months. A big rodeo is then held and open to the public. Horses and burros are auctioned off, and the whole process starts again.

It’s a terrific program. As a photographer named Ryan Shorosky, who took pictures of the program during the spring of 2017, commented– there is a ‘beautiful parallel between the inmates and the horses, using each other to get to that next point.’ (Steven Kurutz, “Wild Horses and the Inmates Who ‘Gentle’ Them,” The New York Times, Oct.5, 2017)

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Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at mail@hooklawcenter.com or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Posted on Friday, October 20th, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.

New Medicare Cards Coming Soon

By Jessica A. Hayes

Between April 2018 and April 2019, Medicare will be issuing new Medicare cards to all of its beneficiaries, approximately 60 million Americans, in an effort to cut down on identity theft and fraud. Instead of using Social Security Numbers to identify individuals, they will now be using randomly generated identification numbers, called “Medicare Beneficiary Identifiers” (MBIs), which will contain both numbers and uppercase letters and be 11 characters in length. An MBI is confidential and should be protected as personally identifiable information. Beneficiaries do not need to do anything to receive these new cards; they will be provided with them automatically and free of charge.

While this is designed to reduce instances of identity theft and fraud, consumers should be aware that there is nonetheless the potential for scammers to use this development to their advantage. They may contact Medicare beneficiaries and inform them that there is a fee that must be collected before a new card may be issued. Or perhaps they will make beneficiaries believe they will lose their benefits if the scammers’ demands are not met right away. Scammers are creative and convincing, but knowledge up front about the free rollout of new cards is the best defense against the unscrupulous.

In anticipation of thousands of calls from beneficiaries and medical providers as a result of this change, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services has set up a website, is sending out handbooks to all beneficiaries, and has call centers ready to field questions. More information is available at https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/New-Medicare-Card/index.html.

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Vika of the Solomon Islands

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what is a vika?

Kit Kat:  Well, it’s a giant, tree-dwelling rat that has recently been discovered in the Solomon Islands, which are located in the South Pacific Ocean, east of Papua New Guinea. Indigenous peoples had sighted it for years, but scientists could never catch a glimpse of it. That is until recently when Hikuna Judge, a ranger at the Zaira Resource Management Area on the island of Vangunu, spotted an injured, giant rat waddling away from a fallen tree. Mr. Judge joined Dr. Tyrone Lavery of the University of Queensland (Australia) in the reporting of the new species, dubbed Uromys vika. It’s been about 80 years since any new rat species have been discovered in the area.

Uromys vika is indeed quite large. It can measure up to 1.5 feet from nose to tail with a weight of nearly two pounds. It also has small ears and very wide feet, which help it navigate in the dense tropical forests of its native environment. Its tail is smooth, but it also has tiny scales, similar to an opossum’s. It is further distinguished by its preferred discarded food—ngali nuts. The vika drills a hole in the center of the nut with its teeth to extract the nut’s soft core. Then it discards the shell. Now that is known that this is the consumer of the discarded nuts, scientists will have an easier time studying it and its habits.

Researchers suspect it remained undetected for so long, because they believe there are relatively few of them. Vika is now considered critically endangered, because this particular island of Vangunu is rapidly losing rain forest to logging. The rain forest is its home. However, Dr. Lavery is hopeful. He says, ‘Now that we know it definitely exists, we can work out ways to conserve it.’ (Joanna Klein, “The Elusive Giant Coconut-Cracking Rat of the Solomon Islands,” The New York Times, Science section, Sept. 29, 2017)

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Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at mail@hooklawcenter.com or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Posted on Friday, October 13th, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.

Protecting Public Benefits from Child Support Payments

By Shannon Laymon-Pecoraro

The majority of us know that a parent has a duty to support his or her minor children, and that the law presumes that upon reaching majority, a child is capable of self-support. Very few people understand that the responsibilities of a parent may extend beyond the age of majority when the child is disabled and unable to support him or herself. In Virginia, a court order may require a parent to support an a person over that age of 18 who is “severely and permanently mentally or physically disabled,” provided the disability began before age 18 (or 19 if certain factors are met) and, as a result of such disability is unable to live independently and support himself. The affect of such an order may have a significant impact on the child if not carefully considered.

The purpose of requiring child support is to ensure a child can experience a similar standard of living as he would have if the parents lived in the same household. Virginia utilizes a guideline calculation to determine the support obligation, although the parents can voluntarily enter into their own agreement. The public benefits being received by the child may factor into what the child support payment should be.

Although many parents want to offset their support obligation by public benefit income received by the child, it is unlikely to occur if the child is receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Nearly all courts that have addressed the issue have determined that since the benefit is not a reflection on the work history of a retired or disabled parent, no offset should be made. If, however, the child receives a benefit other than SSI from the Social Security, it is likely the result of a retired or disabled parent and a support obligation may therefore be reduced.

Pursuant to the Social Security Administration and the Department of Medical Assistance Services, child support is a form of unearned income to the child. The Social Security Administration will disregard the first $20 of unearned income, and thereafter reduce an SSI benefit dollar-for-dollar. If SSI is lost, the child will lose his or her automatic entitlement to Medicaid and will need to meet the requirements of the traditional or long-term care Medicaid program.

The good new is that the Code of Virginia specifically permits the court to order child support payments be made to a special needs trust or an ABLE savings trust account. The good news is that the Social Security Administration has determined that when a court requires child support payments into a first party special needs trust, such payments will not be considered income to the child, and will therefore not detrimentally impact that child’s benefits. In contrast, although formal policy has not yet been published, it is believed that court ordered payments into an ABLE savings trust account will still be considered income to the child, and therefore cause a reduction in benefits.

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Wildlife Healers

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what can you tell us about the South Florida Wildlife Center which specializes in the rehabilitation of small animals?

Kit Kat:  Well, this is an interesting story. This particular center, which is located in Ft.Lauderdale, has developed an expertise over the last 10 years in rescuing baby opossums. Opossums are the only marsupial in the United States. At first, it was trial and error. Baby opossums have a very different digestive system, than other young mammals and young birds. However, through collaboration with researchers in Australia, which has the bulk of the world’s marsupials, techniques improved drastically. Baby opossums of 17 grams are now regularly saved and eventually re-released into the wild.

The discovery that made the critical difference was what to feed them. Regular formula for other baby animals did not work. It contained lactose, and baby opossums cannot digest that. They would do OK with it for a few days, but then diarrhea took over. Eventually, they discovered by diluting it with water, the babies could handle it. They also began giving them injections of saline which helped them not get dehydrated. In the wild, the mother opossum has antimicrobials in her pouch as well as secretions in her saliva which helped nurture them. Remember that baby opossums generally stay in the mother’s pouch for about 85 days, as they continue to develop to the point that other baby mammals are at birth—eyes fully open and moving around significantly.

So kudos to the South Florida Wildlife Center, which is HSUS-affiliated! They not only save baby opossums, but other wildlife as well, such as squirrels, birds, pelicans with ripped pouches—the list goes on. On one May day this year, 33 animals were admitted, 68 in the hospital, 165 in the nursery, and a whopping 649 were being cared for. They are an exemplar in their field!

(Karen E. Lange, “The Heart of Healing,” All Animals, September/October 2017, p.18-23)

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Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at mail@hooklawcenter.com or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Posted on Monday, October 9th, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.