Friday, July 16, 2021
Are conservatorships really that Toxic? Britney Spears is using her voice to show what a Circus it has been for her.
Q: What is #FreeBritney?
A: #FreeBritney is a hashtag that has been used to garner attention regarding Britney Spears and the conservatorship she is under. This movement has been going on for quite some time, but has gained much more popularity in recent months as Spears has expressed to the court that she wants to regain control of her own life.
Q: What is a conservatorship?
A: Guardianships and conservatorships are governed by state law, so the definitions can vary by state. In West Virginia, a guardian is a person appointed by the Circuit Court who is responsible for the personal and medical decisions of a “protected person” (someone who doesn’t have the capacity to take care of themselves). A conservator is a person appointed by the court who is responsible for managing the financial affairs of a protected person. The same person can fill both roles or the court can assign the roles to two different individuals. Sometimes only one or the other is necessary to be appointed. Read the entire state statute here.
Q: Why is Spears under a conservatorship?
A: Beginning in 2007, Britney experienced erratic behavior in public that resulted in her mental stability to be questioned, not only by those close to her, but by her fans and the general public. In 2008, Britney’s father, James Spears, successfully petitioned a California court to appoint him as her conservator, which under California law meant Britney no longer had the legal right to make her own personal, medical, and financial decisions. Because the court granted his petition, James Spears controlled Britney’s personal and medical decisions (who she had contact with, where she lived, when she visited her children, and, most infamously, decisions about her birth control) while he shared control of her finances with a court appointed co-conservator, attorney Andrew Wallet. In 2018 the conservatorship was modified, and from that time until the present, James Spears shares control of Britney’s finances with Bessemer Trust, an estate management firm, while a court appointed professional, Jodi Montgomery, controls her personal and medical decisions.
Q: Will the conservatorship last forever?
A: Conservatorships in most states are usually ordered to be permanent, though the protected person or another individual can later petition for termination or change if the circumstances that led to the conservatorship have changed. Only a court can determine the answer to this. Beginning in 2007, Britney experienced erratic behavior in public that resulted in her mental stability to be questioned, not only by those close to her, but by her fans and the general public. In 2008, Britney’s father, James Spears, successfully petitioned a California court to appoint him as her conservator, which under California law meant Britney no longer had the legal right to make her own personal, medical, and financial decisions. Because the court granted his petition, James Spears controlled Britney’s personal and medical decisions (who she had contact with, where she lived, when she visited her children, and, most infamously, decisions about her birth control) while he shared control of her finances with a court appointed co-conservator, attorney Andrew Wallet. In 2018 the conservatorship was modified, and from that time until the present, James Spears shares control of Britney’s finances with Bessemer Trust, an estate management firm, while a court appointed professional, Jodi Montgomery, controls her personal and medical decisions. uested a hearing regarding her conservatorship. During a California probate court hearing in June, Spears was able to directly address the judge via telephone. Spears told Los Angeles probate judge Brenda Penny she is “not happy” and “traumatized.” (Full transcript here). In July, the court ruled Spears has the right to hire her own attorney in the case. Depending on what the court decides, it could go on Until the World Ends. But it sounds like Spears will seek an attorney to help achieve her goal of ending the conservatorship.
Q: Are guardianships/conservatorships always a bad thing?
A: No. For an adult who is not capable of managing money, medical, or personal decisions well enough to maintain a safe life a good guardian or a conservator can provide that help. But a guardianship or conservatorship should be the last resort imposed by a court only if lesser restrictive options cannot adequately protect the person. Sometimes an informal team of friends, family, and others is all that is needed to help a person maintain independence safely. Supported decision making can avoid the need for guardianship and conservatorship for many people.
If you are at least 60 yrs old and a West Virginia resident and have questions, you can talk to an attorney for free at WV Senior Legal Aid, 1.800.229.5068.
contributed by Alexis Schneider, Public Interest Law Fellow at WVSLA
Wednesday, June 16, 2021
Many of us never learned in school about Juneteenth. We may have learned about General Lee's surrender at Appomattox or President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation as the end of slavery in America, but for many African Americans it would actually be two and half years that they were freed.
In Galveston, TX on June 19, 1865 federal troops arrived to take over Texas and impose General Gordon Granger's order No. 3 that all slaves were free and had equal rights.
This day has been celebrated as Jubilee Day or Freedome Day in various places since then, but now nationwide we celebrate it as Juneteenth.
No matter what the law says, if you don't know you have rights you don't really have rights.
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice has enacted a proclamation making Juneteenth a paid holiday for state workers, to be celebrated this year on Friday, June 18. https://governor.wv.gov/Documents/2021%20Proclamations/Juneteenth-%2006-17-21.pdf
At West Virginia Senior Legal Aid we celebrate liberty and justice on Juneteenth, and everyday we strive to continue the fight for racial equity in our state and across the country and the world.
Tuesday, June 15, 2021
According to the World Health Organization at least 1 in 6 people age 60 or older experienced abuse in the past year.
Elder abuse can take many forms, including physical violence, neglect, financial exploitation, sexual abuse, or psychological abuse.
If we truly respect our elders we cannot allow this to continue. Today is a day dedicated to raising awareness about elder abuse so we can stand up and take action to protect every older person from any form of abuse.
You can learn about elder abuse here. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/elder-abuse
A small action that you can take to prevent elder abuse is to talk about it and help raise awareness. You can check on an older neighbor and let him or her know you are available to help and can be trusted. You can tell your legislators that elder abuse is an important concern in our commmunity.
Monday, June 14, 2021
Planning for aging as an LGBTQ+ senior. According to SAGE and the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, LGBT older people are 2x as likely to be single and live alone as well as 4x less likely to have children. While this is not a bad thing, it does pose some unique considerations for LGBT persons as they age. Some of these considerations include deciding who you would like to allow in a hospital or care facility with you, who can assist you in making financial decisions, and what will happen to your assets when you die. Laws frequently assume biological families will be there for the aging process, but the laws are not necessarily built for families of choice. By doing some legal planning in preparation for the aging process, you can help ensure you have the people you want by your side.
All of these issues are particularly true in West Virginia, especially in our more rural communities. It can be harder to rely on support built through social networks in more isolated areas, making planning that much more important. There are various planning steps you can take depending on your unique wants and needs. Advanced medical directives, Transfer on Death Deeds, and supported decision making clauses in Powers of Attorney are just a few of the potential tools for helping you plan for aging. WVSLA can help with these and more! WVSLA celebrates LGBTQ+ senior West Virginians, and seeks to serve your legal needs. If you are at least 60 years old and a West Virginian you can talk to an attorney for free by calling 1.800.229.5068
contributed by Alexis Schneider, Public Interest Law Fellow at WVSLA
Thursday, June 03, 2021
Mountaineers Aging with Pride series: Landmark US Supreme Court decision protects rights of LGBTQ employees
What does it mean for WV?
Landmark Supreme Court decision protects rights of LGBTQ employees. On June 15th, 2020, The Supreme Court of the United States made a landmark decision in Bostock v. Clayton County Board of Commissioners.The Court heard a combination of three cases regarding employees being fired; two for their sexual orientation and one for their gender identity. The Court ruled that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employees were protected from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Act prohibits employers from “discriminat[ing] against any individual . . . because of because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin . . . .” It was decided that although gender and sexual orientation are not equivalent to sex, discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation cannot be done without a reliance on sex-based discrimination. Sexual orientation and gender identity do not have to be the only reason an employee is fired, they need only be part of the employer’s decision in order for the employer to have violated Title VII.
What does this mean for West Virginians? This decision may have wide ranging impacts for LGBTQ+ people, including those who call the Mountain State home. This particular provision applies to more than just firing employees. It prevents discrimination in hiring, compenation, terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. Now, employers with over 15 employees can be sued for discriminating against applicants and employees because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity. LGBTQ+ employees in West Virginia are protected from discrimination based on their gender and sexual orientation in cases where Title VII applies. So while our state human rights code does not explicitly list sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes, these are now considered federally protected classes in employment.
contributed by Alexis Schneider, Public Interest Law Fellow at WVSLA
Thursday, April 29, 2021
Wednesday, April 14, 2021
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has announced a program offering funeral assistance for COVID-19 deaths in the United States since January 20, 2020.
Who is eligible to apply?
Those who paid for funeral expenses since January 20, 2020 for an individual whose death in the United States was caused by or likely caused by COVID-19.
If someone else helped you pay for funeral expenses can they also apply for COVID-19 Funeral Assistance?
FEMA will generally only provide COVID-19 Funeral Assistance to one applicant per deceased individual.
How do you apply?
Unfortunately there is no paper application or online application available. The only way to apply at this time is by calling FEMA's COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Line Number, 1-844-684-6333 TTY: 1-800-462-7585 Monday through Friday between 9am and 9pm Eastern Time. Callers will be asked questions to get registered for the rest of the application process. You'll probably get a busy signal many times so you might have to keep on trying to get through.
What information will you need to give when you call to apply/register?
The applicant responsible for COVID-19 funeral expenses will need to provide the following information below when they call FEMA to register for assistance. We recommend gathering this information now as we prepare to open the application process.
- Social Security number for the applicant and the deceased individual
- Date of birth for the applicant and the deceased individual
- Current mailing address for the applicant
- Current telephone number for the applicant
- Location or address where the deceased individual passed away
- Information about burial or funeral insurance policies
- Information about other funeral assistance received, such as donations
- CARES Act grants and assistance from voluntary organizations
- Routing and account number of the applicant’s checking or savings account (for direct deposit, if requested)
After your registration call you will have to submit documentation which can be done online or by mail.
What documentation is required to submit after registration?
You must provide
- a copy of the death certificate,
- proof of funeral expenses incurred, and
- proof of assistance received from any other source.
The death certificate must indicate the death was caused by, “may have been caused by” or “was likely a result of” COVID-19 or COVID-19-like symptoms. Similar phrases that indicate a high likelihood of COVID-19 are considered sufficient attribution. Documentation for expenses (receipts, funeral home contract, etc.) must include the applicant’s name as the person responsible for the expense, the deceased individual’s name, the amount of funeral expenses, and that funeral expenses were incurred after January 20, 2020.
The applicant must also provide FEMA with proof of funds received from other sources specifically used for funeral costs. COVID-19 Funeral Assistance may not duplicate benefits received from burial or funeral insurance or financial assistance received from voluntary agencies, government programs or agencies, or other sources. COVID-19 Funeral Assistance will be reduced by the amount of other assistance the applicant received for the same expenses.
What if you received life insurance benefits or expect you might receive life insurance benefits?
Funeral expenses that were paid for with pre-paid funeral insurance are considered to be a duplication. So are funeral expenses that have already been paid for with burial or funeral insurance. But life insurance proceeds are not generally considered a duplication of benefits.
What funeral expenses are covered?
COVID-19 Funeral Assistance will assist with expenses for funeral services and interment or cremation. Any receipts received for expenses that are not related to funeral services will not be determined eligible expenses. Expenses for funeral services and interment or cremation typically include, but are not limited to:
- Transportation for up to two individuals to identify the deceased individual
- Transfer of remains
- Casket or urn
- Burial plot or cremation niche
- Marker or headstone
- Clergy or officiant services
- Arrangement of the funeral ceremony
- Use of funeral home equipment or staff
- Cremation or interment costs
- Costs associated with producing and certifying multiple death certificates
- Additional expenses mandated by any applicable local or state government laws or ordinances
For more information about this new FEMA benefit see www.fema.gov/disasters/coronavirus/economic/funeral-assistance/faq
If you personally are at least 60 years old and a West Virginia resident with questions about this or other legal issues, you can talk to an attorney for free at West Virginia Senior Legal Aid 1-800-229-5068.
Monday, April 12, 2021
You may have been a victim of unemployment benefits fraud and not even known about it. Until you get a 1099-g in the mail you know nothing about.
If you get any suspicious tax documents in the mail that don't make sense to you, or if you tried to file your tax return and it got rejected by the IRS because they say your taxes have already been filed, you might be a victim of identity theft.
Ignoring it won't make it go away, and eventually it might cause you a problem. It is likely to be easier to resolve the quicker you start to take action.
West Virginia seniors age 60 and over can talk to a lawyer for free about these and other legal problems by calling West Virginia Senior Legal Aid at 1-800-229-5068.
Tuesday, April 06, 2021
If you receive Social Security, SSI, or Social Security Disability income by direct deposit or Direct Express card and don't file federal tax returns you may receive your 3rd stimulus payment as early as tomorrow.
The Social Security Administration sent updated beneficiary contact and bank account information to the IRS in late March, and we have been waiting for the IRS to publish information about when and how the third stimulus payments would be received. The IRS online Get My Payment tool has been showing Status Unavailable for so many folks trying to find out when they should expect their payments.
However you receive your monthly benefits from Social Security Administration is how you should expect to receive this payment from the IRS, which for most folks is either by direct deposit or Direct Express card.
The income limit to be eligible for the full payment of $1400 is $75,000/yr. If you have qualifying dependents you may be eligible to receive $1400 payments for each of them, too, including dependents who are over the age of 17. If you receive your stimulus payment, but you have a qualifying dependent that should make you eligible for additional money, you may have to file a tax return next year for 2021 to get a tax credit for the amount you were eligible for but did not receive.
This third stimulus payment is not generally subject to government debt garnishment, so if you owe child support or back taxes you should still be able to receive this payment.
If you are a West Virginian age 60 or over and have questions or concerns about your stimulus payments, or other legal questions or problems you can call WV Senior Legal Aid and talk to an attorney for free at 1-800-229-5068.
Tuesday, March 30, 2021
We still don't know. According to a statement from Social Security Administration (SSA) Commissioner Andrew Saul published Friday, March 26, the SSA has turned over updated contact and bank account information for SS, SSDI, and SSI beneficiaries to the IRS for the purpose of getting payments to beneficiaries who did not file 2019 or 2020 federal tax returns. The IRS actually issues the payments. Of course, many low-income beneficiaries do not normally file federal tax returns because they aren't required to. Many of these low-income folks really need this stimulus money as soon as possible, and the delays and uncertainty are a burden for them.
The American Rescue Plan (ARP), the federal legislation that authorized the 3rd stimulus payments, has different criteria and limits than the first two stimulus payments. Generally eligible individuals should receive $1400 each, and payments at the full $1400 for each of their dependents of any age, as well.
Low-income seniors and people with disabilities make up the pool of people still waiting for payments and answers. Many are grandparents raising grandchildren or senior caregivers with adult dependents who can really use this money and would likely spend it back into the economy quickly.
For beneficiaries who have not filed taxes we still don't know if the IRS will provide a way to report your dependents so you get the correct amount of stimulus payment. For the first 2 rounds of stimulus payments the IRS had an online tool available to do that, especially helpful for folks who do not otherwise need to file taxes. The IRS has not announced whether that tool, or something like it, will be available for this third round. If these low-income beneficiaries with dependents have to file taxes it will require a huge amount of resources to make tax assistance to all these people quickly, and many will miss out on the additional dependent payments.
As soon as the IRS announces more information how and when low-income SS, SSDI, and SSI beneficiaries can get their 3rd stimulus payments we will publish it here. Every American needs to know with certainty from credible sources when and how to expect the stimulus payments so they can protect themselves financial exploitation and scams.
Any West Virginia senior age 60 or over with a legal problem or question can contact West Virginia Senior Legal Aid to talk to a lawyer for free at 1-800-229-5068.