Working on a Wire

Posted on: Thursday, December 20th, 2012

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My legal practice has become consumed with litigation. Litigation involving the resources of one (older) generation and the expectations and overreaching of the next (younger, but not young) generation. I have come to think of the work I do as being the work that arises as a result of the tension on a wire that is strung between and separates these two generations.

Over the past few years one part of my legal practice has exploded. Every day I find myself dealing with the issues that arise along the thin wire that separates our most senior generation from the generation just behind them.

At one side of the wire are what I would call the elders – 75 years or older. Typically, they worked all their lives, lived modestly, and have something to show for it. Their homes are paid off, and they have some savings.

Their children are what are commonly referred to as “baby boomers.” In many cases they have not planned for their futures, they are coming to the end of their working years, but have little to show for it, having spent most or all of whatever they earned. Many are burdened with debt, even as they enter their retirement years.

The elders fear that they will outlive their money, that their care costs will deplete their savings, or that the “government” will take what they have saved. They are vulnerable to, and targeted by, unscrupulous salesman and women who put on “free seminars” promising to share secret strategies for “protecting assets.”

The boomers meanwhile, or at least some significant portion of them, look at their parents’ resources as an answer to their financial challenges – one last shot at something to get them out of debt, provide for some future security, or at least extend the time until financial reality comes crashing down.

It all adds up to a tension, with elders confused and afraid about what to do with their resources, and boomers anticipating their parents’ demise and fearful that if their parents live too long, the money they expect to inherit may be lost on paying for their parents’ care.

Add to this the specter of the dementing illnesses that are epidemic among the elders and things get ugly fast.

Resources are being passed from one generation to the next under all sorts of unseemly circumstances. Children are grabbing resources that belong to parents. Children and bad actors of all sorts are pressuring parents to transfer property on the premise that doing so is somehow necessary to “protect” their estates or avoid some other vague undoing. Siblings turn their parents against other siblings in a frantic effort to secure a bigger piece of the dwindling pie.

Those “good” children, who want to protect their parents, face difficult choices. Should they drag their parents into court and take away their rights (and dignity) for their own protection? Sue their own siblings? How much will it cost? Will they win? And what will it do to their family relationships?

The tension on this wire is intense. The legal issues that it generates are difficult. Politicians pat themselves on the back as they pass new laws purportedly designed to cut down on the financial exploitation of vulnerable adult, which laws, although well-meaning, provide little promise to alter the current course of affairs. Meanwhile funding for adult protective services, the people who actually serve on the front lines of these battles, are being cut.

Houston….. we have a problem

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