SEPTEMBER 27, 1999 VOLUME 7, NUMBER 13
Non-lawyers are sometimes surprised when lawyers acknowledge that the legal system is not well-suited to some kinds of problems. That surprise will probably turn to astonishment at the suggestion of two elder law practitioners in a new book published this week:
- We begin, however, with this short cautionary chapter, with a warning of the dangers of using lawyers and the law to solve family problems. Mediation and counseling promise much better results for you and for your family.
- The law isn’t good at resolving family conflicts. Lawyers work best in a world of strangers, where they can snarl questions, point fingers, and stamp feet. When the dust settles, strangers pay up and go home. Scars mend or are forgotten.
- Kin never walk away; kin are for the long haul.
This short excerpt from Fifty and Beyond: The Law You and Your Parents Need to Know is typical. The new book on elder law is lively, entertaining, informative, thought-provoking and filled with a surprising amount of detail about the legal issues faced by the rapidly growing community of older Americans.
Elder Law Issues is not much given to book reviews. In fact, in six years of weekly newsletters, we have never devoted an entire issue to a single book. This book, however, is truly useful and readily understandable.
Written by University of Arizona law professor Kenney Hegland and fellow Tucson elder law attorney (and friendly competitor) Allan Bogutz, Fifty and Beyond neatly avoids one of the problems so often faced in legal writing for a general audience. Although much depends on local or state laws, much is also common among different states Hegland and Bogutz have generalized where necessary, but never at the expense of useful and detailed information.
The range of topics covered is also impressive. From pension plans and Social Security, through grandparents’ visitation rights and age discrimination, and all the way to estate planning, nursing homes and the “right to die,” the authors have managed to provide details on a wide range of legal issues.
Most importantly, however, Fifty and Beyond is fun to read. The lively sense of humor never condescends or trivializes, but always contributes to understanding of the legal issue under discussion. For example, while discussing age discrimination the authors note that it is unlikely that an employer will call an older employee an “old goat” just before firing him; they then manage to work in an interesting reference to a Winston Churchill speech, and finish with: “Alas, most lawyers are historical illiterates and most employers are too cagey to call you an old goat. (This awkward construction in no way suggests that we are calling you an old goat.)”
In 34 chapters and less than 300 pages, Hegland and Bogutz have provided truly useful and understandable information. Here you can find advice on living trusts (don’t buy them from traveling salespersons—see a lawyer), nursing home admissions (don’t sign as “responsible party” for your family member’s nursing home admission), divorce (it’s usually appropriate for older couples only if one spouse wants to remarry, or if one spouse is institutionalized and the community spouse’s assets need to be protected from nursing home costs). You can learn about door-to-door sales (the three-day “cooling off” period only applies to in-home sales), the importance (and danger) of durable powers of attorney and how to make decisions for an incapacitated spouse or parent. And you can actually enjoy the process of learning about all of these issues, thanks to the lively writing, the wry sense of humor and the easy-going approach to problems of great magnitude. Fifty and Beyond, published by Carolina Academic Press, retails for $22.95 at Barnes & Noble andAmazon.com.