News

LEARNING FROM MEDICAL PARTNERS

A nurse is interviewed by Nan Hu.

A nurse is interviewed by Nan Hu.

Working with families facing illness and dementia takes sensitivity and a diplomatic approach. Our students learn from the best. Malcolm Boyd shadowed our medical colleagues in the Geriatrics Consultation Clinic at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. In particular, Drs. Kate Callahan and Rebecca Omlar demonstrated how to assess mental capacity and convey difficult news with empathy and clarity. They administered the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) screening test to a patient and talked to patients’ adult children about how to handle progressive dementia. Malcolm writes, “I thought Dr. Callahan was exceptional!”

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LOVE + $ + DRAMA = GUARDIANSHIP

Every clinic student handled a guardianship hearing in court.  They reviewed medical records, interviewed witnesses and went to people’s homes, hospital rooms and nursing facilities.  One family was in such conflict that the police had been called to a nursing facility.  In one case, Elliott Harry sided with the county agency, Adult Protective Services.  He told the court that his client, a brain-injured man, could no longer safely make his own decisions.

Elliott Harry explains a document provision.

Elliott Harry explains a document provision.

Nan Hu investigated the case of a man who had suffered a severe stroke and clearly needed a guardian to make decisions for him. Nevertheless, right before the court hearing, the nursing facility gave his relatives a power of attorney for him to sign. You might wonder whether this is proper! The court decided it was not and appointed the Public Guardian to manage the man’s assets. The clinic filed a complaint with the State Bar, asking it to determine if the facility committed unauthorized practice of law by recommending and providing the power of attorney.

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ALUMNI NEWS

Crissy Dixon (’16) has joined the local firm of Craige Jenkins Liipfert & Walker, LLP as an associate attorney for the tax, trust administration and estate planning practice area.  Two of the partners in the firm were also students in the Elder Law Clinic:
Susan Ryan (’05) in the litigation section and Aimee Smith (’02), in the elder law and estate planning section.

Congratulations to Jen Garrity (‘95) and Kim Gossage (‘98) whose firm was selected by the N.C. Bar Association to receive the 2017 Pro Bono Award for small and medium law firms.  The NCBA explains:

For the last five years, Garrity & Gossage has provided pro bono estate planning services and training for events
organized by Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont, including Wills for Seniors and Wills for Schools. Our firm
has provided pro bono estate planning services for Habitat for Humanity’s new homeowners, for Jewish Family
Services’ clients and for other Charlotte non-profits. We don’t have to ask our attorneys to do pro bono service.
They find the opportunities and bring them to us because serving our neighbors is so important to all of us.

Former clinic student Lisa Roach (’17) helped create a non-profit called Dying Right North Carolina.   Her group worked with state legislators to craft a bill entitled the “End of Life Option Act.”  House Bill 789 would allow mentally capable adults who are terminally and incurably ill to receive physician-prescribed medical-aid-in-dying drugs.  For more about this, see http://go.wfu.edu/6ty.

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A WILL AWAY

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?

Final 02

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

Cate new best

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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