I've been working with Maggie for just over a year. My role is as her conservator of the estate, court protection deemed necessary due to ongoing instances of elder financial abuse.
Where did it all begin?
Here's what we know: Maggie found love later in life. Her spouse was the gregarious partner, forming and maintaining friendships, planting and maintaining the garden, planning their wonderful vacations. When the spouse fell ill, Maggie became the dedicated caregiver and support. Once the spouse passed there was a huge hole in Maggie's life.
Then she found online gaming! Over the course of a couple of years, Maggie racked up daily winnings of modest but consistent amounts in the $35-60 range. When it came time to cash out guess what, they required that she pay a fee. And that fee would unlock not just her game winnings but much more! After all this game was tied to one of the big national prize award organizations. Millions of dollars were there to be grabbed, always just one more fee standing in the way. Her new friend David, at this organization guided her through every step. Get $1500 in cash, take it to Fed Ex and mail it to some random address in some random state, then the prize will be yours.
More to come.
The pandemic has certainly made the tasks that come with this career more interesting. Zoom court, Virtual Educational Conferences, virtual settlement conferences and depositions, trying to develop Covid Protocols on the fly. Very strange but now familiar.
More impactful is the restricted access to clients. I was not able to see one of my longest-term clients for the last six months of his life as he traveled from hospital to facility to facility. He was on a vent (not covid related) for much of that span and so telephone conversations were not a good option. His family and I tried to send him a steady dribble of letters, photos and music. One of his friends sent him a fully loaded i-Pod. The staff at all of his stops did their best to help us keep his spirits up.
The isolation this pandemic requires can lead to depression and despair. Every effort must be made to try to maintain some level of contact. My 92 year old retired doctor has responded wonderfully to a service we were able to hire that meet with her once a week through the window or virtually to guide her through the creation of a memory book. Dr. Sally also speaks with her daughter at least once a week by phone.
Many lack the resources to engage such a service. In those instances it takes an effort by the entire circle of family, friends and service staff to beat back the loneliness. Cards, letters, phone calls and flower deliveries (if allowed) are all vital to keeping these dear people connected.
One of my clients was lifted up by recorded hymns from friends at her church. I was fortunate to be able to enter her care home just long enough to load the recordings on her Kindle and watch her spirits rise as she listened for the first time.
Carol and I fretted for months regarding her parents. They are in an assisted living facility at the other end of the state. Virtual happy hours via FaceTime and phone calls were good but we really needed to be socially distant from them. Their facility has offered their patio for family meetings. Great, how do we get there safely?
We rented a 19' Motorhome and made the drive, giving ourselves the luxury of driving the coastal route and enough time to keep things relaxed. We and the dogs jumped into our rolling bubble and headed out for Highway 1, spending the first night along a river in Big Sur.
We eventually arrived down South and had a very lovely set of visits with John and Ernestine over the course of several days. The pups were perfectly behaved and a big hit. It was very satisfying.
It has been interesting to observe how clever many people have been tackling the challenges of the pandemic. And how generous many have been in offering aid and support to those most affected. We were touched when one of our local restaurants shut down for a day to prepare and deliver food to food insecure families right here in Cloverdale. El Milagro rocks!
Back to our elderly and disabled population. As in other areas we can be creative, reach out to others to find out how they've brought their presence, their concern and love to those staying safe behind closed doors. We can be together while apart. Good for them, good for you.
Way back, during one of my winery gigs, we received training in one of the popular time management systems of the day. Doesn't matter which one.
The concept that really stuck with me was the emotional bank account. In our lives, we make deposits to that account when we give of ourselves to our families, our communities and to the world in general. We also make withdrawals. Face it, we do. There are times when we act solely in our own interests despite potential fallout.
The hope is that there is always a positive balance in that account. I hear that the overdraft charges are way unreasonable.
What's weighing on my brain today is what happens when one of the "good" activities that is undertaken to make those deposits turns out to be costly. When it becomes a downer that affects individual, family, job and maybe even health.
The answer, on the surface, appears so very obvious. If only it were that easy.
Abandoning the activity, in this instance (yes, I'm talking about something that I do in my community), leaves behind 7 years of attempting to gain the trust of a group of people. I believe that I have been somewhat successful in that. Bummer is that forces beyond my control make it hard for me to continue to deliver them anything.
I've made my decision. Thanks for your help!
Like most Americans, my family tree has many roots and branches including several that once grew in Oklahoma. This is the source on my Inner Okie.
What's an Inner Okie you ask? I'm sure that it varies considerably but with me it's the peacefulness that descends upon me when I'm with my dogs in a pick-up truck, wearing my blue jeans and boots.
My Inner Okie also wishes to be fed. Legend has it that the consumption of black-eyed peas on New Years Day satisfies that hunger and grants good fortune for the whole dag-goned year.
Of course I've also pretty well Californicated so those beans require some dressing up. Our 2012 version included soy-chorizo, organic vegetable stock and fresh herbs including thyme and cilantro. Delicious!
So now well fed and with good fortune in the bank just let me say:
Y'all have yourselves a stupendous 2012!
The deacon at our church keeps telling me that fiduciary work is a wonderful ministry. There may be something to that.
I stumbled upon a training opportunity over a year ago that examined some of the challenges of life for elderly and disabled folks who happen to be found under the umbrella of LGBT.
When presented with the possibility of a new client, a fiduciary should/must ask of themselves, can I effectively advocate for this person?
I walked away from that training thinking, not yet.
Fortunately, there have been more opportunities to learn and I have made the commitment that I can approach a LGBT Client opportunity focusing on the person, not the person's sexual orientation. I am hoping to become one very small part of a core of committed professionals in Sonoma County that can work together to serve these folks with tremendous professionalism.
Recently, I was offered the opportunity to jump into a conservatorship for a gay client whose geography and finances suggest that a poor business decision was made.
Leap of faith? I jump tomorrow!
In my gropings to fine tune my business, it was suggested by wiser folks that I identify my ideal client.
Nice exercise. Goes back to the question of why would anybody think that I am worthy to dive into their personal affairs?
I concluded that perhaps some claim of special knowledge of ranch and winery operations might be a start and quickly declared that my ideal clients have vineyard or orchard operations. Maybe even a small business related to those industries. Fabulous.
But the world has it's own way of getting the job done. Whilst flogging about developing a master networking campaign aimed at the gatekeepers of those potential clients, something happened.
For over a year, one of my sad little brochures sat on the corner of an attorney's desk. He was trying to figure out how to find someone to help one of his clients and BOOOOM!!!!
There is this wonderful family in one of the rural coastal zones of the region with timber, cattle, vineyard and orchard. And I get to help!
I'll get after those gatekeepers and key masters real soon, right after I figure out how to read those darned log grading reports.
It may not be obvious when you look at him but our Indie Dog has a problem. He tends to be very aggressive around other dogs.
My wife has engaged the assistance of one of our neighbors, a breeder of lovely Australian Shepherds. The preferred method is click & treat which relies on the dog being more motivated by praise and food than by the flavor of the passing Yorkie.
Pretty simple stuff, when the dog exhibits a desirable behavior, the click is an immediate promise of reward. So ignore the dachshund, click and treat. Sit at the street crossing, click & treat.
It's important that the treat tastes better than boxer. We blend something like hot dogs (nitrite free of course) with kibble (current selection herring and sweet potato)
Logistically, at least for me, its a bit of a challenge. The leash needs to occupy both hands, looped around one wrist and controlled/tensioned by the other. The clicker has to go somewhere and one hand must hold a ready supply of the promised reward.
So here's Cloverdale's most excellent fiduciary being dragged down 3rd Street, reeking of Olson's Deli and desperately trying to maintain the rhythm of click-treat. Very nice.
Surprisingly, despite my limited abilitiesit seems to work. Indie is, thankfully, very food oriented and hasn't tasted dog flesh in many months. Still not ready for prime time but better.
Find myself wondering about a possible application in my client work. Maybe a click and tasty treat could get Olivia to finally sign that release. Or maybe Montgomery will turn over the rest of the contested family treasures with the promise of something yummy. Or .......
In these days of continued economic hard times, few of us can afford to overlook any opportunity to tap benefits that can make a real difference.
An associate of mine recently forwarded to me an article entitled America's Best Kept Secret? It describes the Veterans Administration Aid and Attendance Benefit that offer assistance of up to $2580/month to help with home care services, assisted living, and nursing home costs. I have one client that receives $1644/month, the maximum for a single veteran. It's a tremendous help for anyone who qualifies.
Obviously, you must be a veteran and your income and assets must fall below certain thresholds.
You can find out if you qualify by going to the VA Web site or take advantage of local options. Here in Sonoma County we have the Sonoma County Veterans Service Office: http://www.scvets.org/
In addition, there is a group called Sonoma County Vet Connect: http://www.sonomacountyvetconnect.org They have their volunteers at various locations throughout the county every week. The web site gives the schedule.
So, Calling all veterans and the children, families and friends of veterans! Help make this a secret no longer.
One of those noticed arrived in the mail. My number was really high, 1727 to be exact. No chance of having to make the drive.
My attendance was requested on a Friday along with ~120 other good citizens of Sonoma County. It became obvious that something different was pending when the judge addressed us all in the assembly room.
This was the sanity phase of a criminal trial and our task was to determine if the young man in question was sane at time of the event. He had been found guilty of a series of actions that culminated in a shootout with local law enforcement that had suicide-by-cop implications.
It was fascinating to hear the police describe their high anxiety as they eventually subdued their foe. Four psychological experts attempted to dissect 22 years of a young man's life and turn key events into a diagnosis.
I found myself consumed with sadness. The many parallels with clients and family members were too numerous to set aside. This young man's family appeared to have been very involved with attempting to assist their son with his ongoing depression and substance abuse. He appeared to have received medical supervision from qualified professionals. I'm not certain that anyone in his life really failed him.
When the jury finally gathered to make our decision, almost all of us found some connection to our personal lives. The conversation was reasonably focused and we came to our decision only after very animated discussion of several key issues.
We were not experts. We were not required to be 100% certain and we definitely were not. We shared a genuine concern to do the right thing. This is why the jury thing works!
Maybe we called it right.
I am fond of calling myself an advocate. When I speak for a client, their voice is heard.
There are people in this community that speak for others in their own voice, part of a plan of isolation and manipulation.
One of my disabled clients has been under my umbrella for more than a year and a half. At this juncture I have to honestly admit that I know him not at all.
The family members and paid caregiver that share living space with this client contribute to an atmosphere of high emotion and confrontation.
My ability to assist is hampered by the amount of funds available, the genuine risk of loss of public benefits if money is improperly expended, actions of previous trustees that established perceived precedents and the lack of cooperation from the client/circle to establish meaningful distribution goals.
When the client calls, I can hear an "advocate" in the background, coaching each word.
My responsibilities are clear, my desire to provide assistance is genuine. My concern for the well being of this person is well-founded.
Is that enough?
Don the Trustee
When my mother passed very suddenly some 16 years ago, I worked as a trustee for the first time. Her trust contained walnut orchards, peach orchards and a small vineyard. One of the properties was within the sphere of influence of the adjacent city and I dove in with the neighbors and started working on annexation. Loved this work back then and still find it very satisfying today.