Noah Garrett helped a couple originally from Italy.  Besides owning a home here, they had some land in Italy.  Noah did some research into the International Convention on Wills, because the U.S. will would not control who inherits the property back in Italy.  His clients may need to hire an Italian attorney to complete their estate plan.

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Noah Garrett and his client met with nursing home staff.

Noah Garrett and his client met with nursing home staff.

Your Life A Mess? So Bad That Courts Should Step In?

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Casey Fidler discusses a case with Tyler McQueen, M.D.

Our students handled nine guardianship cases this semester.   Each student wrote a brief to the court, after many interviews and gathering evidence from physicians, social workers, neighbors and family members.  They thought about what it should take before society, through the courts, should step in.

Monica Berry was court-appointed to represent a retired woman who was living alone in an apartment.  The woman’s daughter said that her mother’s mental illness had progressed and that she wasn’t eating well.  There were no recent medical records to examine, but the woman’s relatives testified about her declining hygiene and physical health.  The court adopted Monica’s recommendation to appoint a guardian to make decisions for the woman.

Reva Singh is getting a Masters in Bioethics, in addition to a law degree, which she found useful in her guardianship case.  She writes: “Just because someone is weird, does that make them incompetent?  When  I asked my client’s family why he may need a guardian, they said  ‘He thinks he’s God,’ or ‘He thinks he can ask any woman to marry him if she smiles at him.’  While these details were worth considering, they did not determine his ability to take care of himself.  If outlandish behavior was all I’d found, I would be troubled, but not certain of his incompetence.”

Reva used both sides of her education to focus on the facts of the case and help the court decide what was best for her client.

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NCBA 21st Annual Elder & Special Needs Law Symposium

Elder Law Clinic alumni met at the NCBA 21st Annual Elder & Special Needs Law Symposium in Pinehurst, NC.  From left:  Mark Edwards (’97), David McLean (’99), Aimee Smith (’02), Jonathan Williams (’11), Professor Kate Mewhinney, Natalie P. Miller (’04), Kathleen R. Rodberg (’12), Ben Limehouse (’14).

Elder Law Clinic alumni met at the NCBA 21st Annual Elder & Special Needs Law Symposium in Pinehurst, NC. From left: Mark Edwards (’97), David McLean (’99), Aimee Smith (’02), Jonathan Williams (’11), Professor Kate Mewhinney, Natalie P. Miller (’04), Kathleen R. Rodberg (’12), Ben Limehouse (’14).

Natalie P. Miller (’04) is the Chair of the Elder Law and Special Needs Section of the N.C. Bar Association, which has over 500 members.  Kathleen R. Rodberg (’12), Aimee Smith (’02) and Mark Edwards (’97) are on the Council.

‘Ask Sam’ Features the Elder Law Clinic

The Elder Law Clinic at Wake Forest University was featured in the Winston-Salem Journal’s popular “Ask Sam” advice column here on Friday, January 27, 2017.

The Real Deal

Fall 2016 group photo - web

Fall 2016 Elder Law Clinic
Maria Collins, Rebecca Daddino, Casey Fidler, Monica Berry,
Dan Choyce, Cara Van Dorn, Lisa Roach, Cate Berenato, Reva Singh

“Nothing ever becomes real ‘til it is experienced.” - John Keats

In the Elder Law Clinic, law students gained hands-on legal experience with actual clients, under the supervision of Professor Kate Mewhinney.  The students prepared wills and powers of attorney, handled guardianship hearings, tackled consumer law issues and answered health law questions.  Below are some stories, with details changed to protect confidentiality.

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Stress from the IRS

Cartoon - hand in marriage floor

Michael Maslin/The New Yorker Collection/The Cartoon Bank

$870 per month from Social Security is not much to live on.  But Cate Berenato’s client was also anxious and depressed about an IRS debt.  Cate represented her client by filing an “Offer in Compromise” with the IRS, asking to reduce the debt.  She obtained a statement from the client’s doctor confirming that the IRS debt was negatively impacting the client’s mental health.

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A Bad Deed

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Cate Berenato answers her client’s questions.

Dan Choyce helped a retired cafeteria worker who wanted a will to leave her house to her only daughter.  The only problem was that the house was still in the names of both the client and her husband, though they had been separated for over twenty years!

Because of how the deed was written, the client’s will could not control who got the house.  Instead, the deed would control it if the husband was alive when the client died and the husband would inherit the house.  Dan suggested that the client offer the husband some money to deed the house to her.

The husband refused her offer.  Because the client did not want to file for divorce, Dan prepared a will and the client understood that her daughter would not inherit the house if the husband was still alive when she died.

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The Right to Die

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Going over the details with Lisa Roach.

The right of terminally ill patients to end their lives through legal means is now the law in six states.  Lisa Roach is taking the lead to advance this initiative in North Carolina.  The non-profit organization Dying Right North Carolina is devoted to honoring life by allowing it to end with dignity and without suffering.

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Special Thanks

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A mother and daughter consult with Monica Berry.

Thanks to Parkway United Church of Christ for making a donation to help the Clinic do community service.  Also, thanks to several local experts who gave their time to teach our students about long term-care insurance options: Ellen Atkins, Gerry Malmo and Ernie Osborn.  They are each Certified in Long-Term Care.

 Our Medical Teaching Partners: 

To better understand the needs of older clients, our students learned about medical issues such as mental capacity assessment, caregiver support programs, ECT and hospice and palliative care.  The clinic’s medical teaching partners, who generously share their time and expertise with the clinic students, are:

  • William Hazzard, M.D., Professor of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine
  • Predrag Gligorovic, M.D., Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine
  • Mark Corbett, M.D., Associate Medical Director, Hospice and Palliative CareCenter
  • Edward Shaw, M.D., M.A., Sticht Center for Healthy Aging, Caregiver Support Group.

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The Art of the Interview

Cara best home visit

Cara Van Dorn makes a home visit.

In this course, students get a lot of experience with interviewing clients, their family members and witnesses.  From the opening chitchat to the final summary, students learn how to conduct a thorough interview.

Maria Collins had some particularly challenging interviews.  She worked with a client who had had a stroke a few years ago and tended to get off track. Maria found it hard not to be overly deferential and to keep the discussion on the legal tasks at hand.  It helped, she found, to be direct about the time constraints and to not follow up when the client brought up new topics.

Interviewing requires getting and giving information while also clarifying misunderstandings, all while being empathetic.  It can sometimes be tough!

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