Aging Well: legal handbook sums up what Hawaii's kupuna and their families should consider
Manoa, HAWAII -
Do you have your legal affairs in order? Do you have a will? What about health care forms, in case you get sick and can't make decisions for yourself? There's a free book that lists all the things Hawaii's elderly need to consider, in this Aging Well.
93-year-old Princess Abigail Kawananakoa is currently in a messy court battle over who can control her $215 million trust- her wife, or board members of her foundation?
100-year-old Florence Puana was recently in the headlines because granddaughter Katherine Kealoha talked Florence into taking a reverse mortgage on her house. It came out in trial that Kealoha didn't repay the loan, and instead spent the money; Puana was forced to sell her house.
These are two high profile cases of Hawaii seniors fighting over estates and money. While most family squabbles do not make headlines, they do seem to be on the rise, according to University of Hawaii Elder Law Program (UHELP) law professor Jim Pietsch. That's why he puts out a legal handbook, co-written with Dr. Lenora Lee, hoping to help people avoid this.
"'Deciding What Matters and What To Do' is the latest in our series of handbooks in which we provide information to older persons, caregivers, families, everybody- about important planning ahead for the future," describes Pietsch. The book is published using a grant from the Hawaii Justice Foundation.
The newly revised book, due by January 2020, recaps general advice, like what legal affairs you need to take care of (informed consent and informed refusal; surrogate decision-making; advance directives, including individual instructions for healthcare and durable powers of attorney for health care; and Provider Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) and for the first time, takes a deep dive into elder fraud. Pietsch offers a few examples: "They have unfortunate decisions made about them. They're no longer in their homes. They want to go home but the homes are no longer there."
For instance, if someone has a caregiver who is abusive and controlling, how can they complain in a group setting? "[If] somebody is taking advantage and you're really afraid of them, we have some key phrases in there that you could use. 'Everything's all right, isn't it, Grandpa? Yes, it is.' But if there's a key phrase when others come visit, then they know: Dig deeper," Pietsch says.
The book also talks about giving someone full legal control over their affairs. "Some people can see some of the documents- powers of attorney- as a license to steal," he says.
Pietsch suggests you can hire your own attorney, and/or write a condition like this into your legal documents: "Every six months I want you share this with your brothers and sisters."
UHELP's motto is "Plan for the worst so you can expect the best." Pietsch is hoping this book will help more people do just that.
UHELP periodically offers public seminars on elder law issues. Check its website for updates on when those might be: https://www.hawaii.edu/uhelp/home.html.
It no longer offers free public legal services, but the following groups do:
Legal Aid Society of Hawaii (especially for older residents of neighbor islands)
Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii
Elderly Affairs Division, City and County of Honolulu, Hawaii