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November 14, 2021

The Commission on Law and Aging: Year-End Notes, and Looking Ahead

by Robyn Shapiro, Chair, Commission on Law and Aging

The PDF in which this article appears can be found in Bifocal Vol. 43 Issue 2.

As 2021 draws to a close, we look back at the Commission’s significant accomplishments during the year amid pandemic-induced changes in projects and programming, as well as in interactions among staff and with funders, project collaborators, the ABA, and the broader community.  Those accomplishments include the following:

  • The ABA House of Delegates overwhelmingly passed a resolution authored by the Commission urging Congress to make private rooms and bathrooms, along with other small-home touches, a prerequisite for nursing homes to receive Medicare and Medicaid funding.
  • We undertook several projects relating to guardianship and capacity issues, including:  Fourth National Guardianship Summit, funded by the State Justice Institute and the Borchard Foundation Center on Law and Aging; development of educational items on guardianships and capacity, including the  second edition of “Assessment of Older Adults with Diminished Capacities: A Handbook for Lawyers”; and support of the Working Interdisciplinary Networks of Guardianship Stakeholders (WINGS) groups across the country.
  • We launched the Dementia and Criminal Justice Project, funded by the Retirement Research Foundation, which seeks to identify resources and collaborations to enable law enforcement, the courts, and corrections facilities to deal appropriately with adults with dementia.
  • We concluded the fifth year of our subcontract from Justice in Aging under its award from the National Center on Law and Elder Rights; we provided six webinars on capacity, guardianship, elder abuse, advance planning, and other topics, as well as case consultations in response to requests for assistance from professionals in law and aging.
  • We sponsored the 2021 National Aging and Law Conference.

In the coming year, the Commission’s work on aging issues through research, policy development, advocacy, education, and training will continue to strengthen the rights, dignity, and quality of life of older adults—and the need for our work has never been greater.  The number of older individuals facing challenges relating to medical treatment decision making, guardianship, probate and wills, real estate, tax, special needs, domestic violence, and discrimination issues (among others) has skyrocketed due to factors such as the aging of baby boomers, growing sophistication in methods used to financially exploit older adults, and growing numbers of older adults who are raising their grandchildren. Projects we will pursue include:

Guardianship and conservatorship reform:   This issue has recently been catapulted into the policy spotlight thanks to celebrity cases.  Nonetheless, this is not a new priority for the Commission, as we have labored for reform for nearly four decades.  The coming year brings new hope that we will finally see meaningful action by Congress, as well as renewed efforts by state legislatures, courts, and aging and disability advocates to forge meaningful alternatives to guardianship; ensure guardianships are limited, monitored, and held accountable; and to facilitate the termination of guardianships promptly whenever appropriate. 

Improving delivery of legal assistance to older adults:  We will continue our partnership with Justice in Aging as part of the National Center on Law and Elder Rights (NCLER) to facilitate delivery of legal assistance to elders while leveling the health, economic, and housing disparities that pervade our society.  NCLER provides free education, consultation, and technical assistance to the advocacy community.  

Education for legal services providers and other advocates in aging:  We will again organize the annual National Aging and Law Conference, to assist legal services providers and other advocates who serve socially or economically isolated and vulnerable older persons and persons with disabilities.  

The following article will provide more in-depth reporting on the 2021 projects of the Commission on Law and Aging.

Finally, the Commission will operate under a new director as of February 1, 2022.  Charlie Sabatino, who has served as served as Commission Director for [insert] years, will retire and turn over the reins to David Godfrey.  Charlie has impressed countless individuals and groups with his vision, wisdom, professionalism, commitment, leadership, and accomplishments.  The Commission, the ABA, and the older adult community, as well as the attorneys who serve them, owe Charlie a debt of gratitude for his contributions over the years, and we will miss him.  David is currently Senior Attorney at the Commission and will be the third director in the Commission’s 42 year-history.  We are confident that the Commission will be in excellent hands with David at the helm.