News

Moving to the Beach

LaRita Dingle & Aimee Smith

LaRita Dingle talks with her client and attorney Aimee Smith (’02) before court.

It’s not just the rich who dream of moving to the sunny coast after retiring.  Alina Buccella’s client heard that housing for low-income seniors can also be found near the beach, with reduced rents.  So, she got on the waiting list and is ready to move if an opening comes up.

There is one problem, though: moving may cause her to break her lease in Winston-Salem.  She is worried about being sued for a few months of rent and about her $1,250 monthly income being taken if she does this.  She is also afraid of losing her thirteen-year-old car if she is sued by her landlord one day.

Alina reassured her that Social Security income is protected from creditors and that her car is safe under state laws.  Also, Alina explained that the landlord has a duty to try to re-rent her unit, so this would lower the amount owed.  Now, it’s time to wait for a phone call from the coast!

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The Helicopter Daughter

Mario Ramsey - web

Mario Ramsey reviews documents with a client.

Some parents hover like helicopters over their young children. Similarly, adult children can be overprotective towards their older parents. It sure isn’t easy to find the right balance between independence and protection. Fortunately, older people are entitled to a court hearing before their children can make decisions for them.

LaRita Dingle handled a case in which she determined that the older gentleman should not lose decision making rights. The man she was court-appointed to represent was well oriented and socially appropriate. However, his daughter didn’t like his choice of an assisted living facility and thought his memory lapses were grounds to declare him incompetent.

Fortunately, LaRita found that medical testing showed her client was doing well. Family dynamics were causing a bit of a power struggle and this gentleman was caught in the middle! The case was dismissed and the man gets to continue making his own decisions.

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Clinic Students Look Back

  • Every client meeting that I walked into, I knew one thing for sure: nothing was for sure!  Often there were one or two issues that a client mentioned on an intake form but after just a few minutes of conversation, three or four issues percolated to the surface.  What once appeared to be an urgent problem became a non-issue; a single question about insurance turned into a conversation about Medicare and Medicaid. It was always interesting.
  • I improved how I handled and managed interviews. I use the term “manage” because I learned in clinic that the attorney might have to take charge of the interview and help the client stay focused. I also learned to connect clients to outside resources to address their non-legal needs.
  • The traditional classroom setting does not give you many ways to immediately cement and test your understanding of the law.  In the Elder Law Clinic, while learning about the law or soon after learning about the law, I was able to work on cases with clients who had those issues. This enabled me to issue spot in practice and to see how the law impacts a client’s life in a very practical way.
students in class w glasses (3)

Cataracts, arthritis, and hearing impairments—what do they feel like? Our students learned how these conditions can make life challenging—from medicine bottles to complex legal documents!

  • Since taking this clinic, I have become more comfortable discussing personal and sometimes sensitive topics with clients.  I also got better at looking at the big picture and thinking long-term: a client may have come in wanting one thing, and I am now able to help the client see if that is what he really needs or what else will enable him to fulfill his wishes.  Perhaps most importantly, I can now help my family members plan for their own long-term care.
  • This semester has definitely increased my desire to practice law.  Dealing with a client and having a name, face and story to associate with a case made me realize that every action you take, or decide not to take, can impact the life of that client.
  • I had to become comfortable with not having an answer to every question that clients asked.  It is okay to undertake research after the interview in order to follow up with the client about a very narrow or unique legal issue.  In fact, offering to research an issue further is not a sign of weakness or lack of knowledge. Rather, it shows that you have taken a genuine interest in the client’s case and that you are willing to go the extra mile to find a solution.

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Alumni News

cartoon for website articleJesse Hynes (’14) practices with WanderPolo & Siegel in New Jersey. He writes:  The craziest things that I deal with are contested guardianships and contested estates.  For example, we handled a guardianship where a son had used his mother’s power of attorney to steal her money and put her in a nursing home against her will.  She is now incapacitated. He also got a reverse mortgage on her property and spent all the proceeds.

Jonathan Williams (’11) has changed firms, joining Walker Lambe in Durham. He handles elder law, estate planning, and administration cases.

Katie Hatcher Muhlenkamp (’13) has joined the Chapel Hill firm of Trust Counsel, PA, which also has offices in Florida and New York.

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Clinic News

Professor Kate Mewhinney gave two presentations at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, sponsored by the Bioethics Committee:

“The Closet Door is Open: How Are You Caring for LGBT Patients and Families?”  Her co-presenters were Kaycee Sink, MD, MAS, and Jennifer Harriss, a long-term care ombudsman with the regional Area Agency on Aging.

“Grappling With Guardianship: Ethical Dilemmas.”  Her co-presenter was Linda Childers, MSW, LCSW, ACM, who is a Manager of Care Coordination at the medical center.

McKay, Hannah - headshot (3)

Hannah McKay (left) is the clinic’s new Client Coordinator.  She is at mckayhm@wfu.edu.

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Student’s Advocacy Goes National

 Erin McKee organized a voter education program last fall.  Taking this work to the next level, she created a website that lists the voter ID requirements, including exceptions for older and disabled voters, for all fifty states.  Visit the website at www.voteridhelp.org.  The American Society on Aging recognized the importance of this effort by inviting Erin to attend its annual meeting in Chicago, where she gave a poster presentation about these voting rights issues.

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A Peek Into the Criminal Side

Crissy Dixon will continue to learn in the Elder Law Clinic by working there half-time this summer. The rest of the time, she will work with the Forsyth County District Attorney’s office, focusing on cases of elder abuse, exploitation, and neglect.

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Wake Forest Elder Law Clinic to participate in free Advanced Healthcare Planning workshop on Wednesday, April 15

Kate MeWhinney - Elderlaw clinicProfessor Kate Mewhinney

Wake Forest Law Professor Kate Mewhinney, director of the Elder Law Clinic, and two law students, LaRita Dingle (’15) and Crissy Dixon (’16), will participate in a free Advanced Healthcare Planning workshop from 1-4 p.m. on Wednesday, April 15, at Senior Services in Winston-Salem, N.C.  Presented by the North Carolina Bar Association, the workshop is one of 55 offered during the month of April, which has been designated National Healthcare Decisions Month, as part of the Community Partnership for Compassionate Care coalition’s  “Got Plans?” campaign.

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Congratulations Fall 2014 Elder Law Clinic

Group - webGelila Selassie, Ben Winikoff, Heidi Muller
Erin McKee, Colton Sexton

This fall, the Elder Law Clinic moved into a spacious suite on the ground floor of the law school.  The space was completely renovated and specifically designed to meet the needs of clients and students.  Reserved client parking is directly in front of the building.  Come visit sometime soon!

Unfazed by the changes going on around them, this semester’s “associates” worked on a variety of cases.  Each of them handled a guardianship matter and prepared several wills.  They advised some clients about debtor-creditor laws and others about health care laws that cover long-term care.

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Voting Rights Program

Erin McKee led the clinic’s involvement in a program that focused on voting rights.  Its goal was to ensure voting access for older and disabled voters.  We were honored to collaborate with several organizations.  Shown below, L to R:  Charmaine Fuller Cooper (AARP of N.C.),  Erin McKee, Professor Kate Mewhinney, Ann Fesmire (League of Women Voters of the Piedmont), Brent Laurenz (N.C. Center for Voter Education), Marlene Pratto (LWV of the Piedmont), and Linda Sutton (Democracy N.C.).

Resources on voting rights can be found on the Elder Law Clinic website. Erin also wrote a piece about voting access laws for the N.C. Bar Association’s Elder Law Section newsletter.

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