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As Elder Law attorneys we are keenly aware of the many serious issues that impact the senior citizen population. We take great pride in being advocates for our senior clients and strive to educate our clients and the general population on these issues.
Time and time again, our senior citizens and their families face issues related to quality and cost of long term care, threats to a reduction or elimination of government entitlements, issues of mental and physical capacity and substituted judgment, and elder abuse – just to name a few.
Unfortunately the issues that afflict our senior citizen population don’t always get the kind of attention in the media that they deserve. However, recently the topic of Guardianship and Elder Abuse appeared as the main story on the HBO television show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
John Oliver, who is a comedian and host of the program, discussed some of the extremely troublesome flaws of the guardianship system. Although Oliver admitted that guardianship is an important and effective tool to help protect individuals who lack mental and/or physical capacity, he also detailed how court-appointed guardians can abuse their power while charged with the responsibility of assisting people with mental or physical disabilities, particularly the elderly.
Oliver explained there are 49.2 million Americans aged 65 or older living in the United States, and 1.3 million active guardianship cases throughout the U.S. with most cases involving senior citizens. These numbers will rise significantly in the near future as our nation faces a surge in its senior citizen population, which has been referred to as the “Silver Tsunami”.
John Oliver also explained that you can potentially avoid the need for a guardianship proceeding by undertaking elder care planning and execute advance directives, such as a health care proxy and durable power of attorney. Oliver’s explanation was reinforced by a star-studded public service announcement that featured senior celebrities such as Cloris Leachman, Lily Tomlin, William Shatner, Fred Willard, and Rita Moreno.
The public service announcement, which humorously digressed from its main topic of elder care at times, ended with all the celebrities recommending that everyone name Tom Hanks as agent under their health care proxy because he’s “such a nice boy.”
The segment on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver not only combined humor with an insightful look at serious issues faced by senior citizens, it brought an awareness of these issues to a broad audience of viewers from multiple generations. The issues themselves are not funny at all, but they need to be discussed and sometimes the best way to break the ice on a tough subject is with a laugh.
Although it is not recommended that you name a celebrity, like Tom Hanks, as your agent under your health care proxy or durable power of attorney, it is important to name someone you trust would carry out your wishes. It is equally as important that you discuss your wishes with the named agents and inform them of your health care proxy and durable power of attorney.
Despite the humorous digressions, the important underlying message of the public service announcement made by the senior celebrities was that you should “start planning for the future now!”
As advocates for senior citizens and individuals with special needs, we are grateful to John Oliver, Cloris Leachman, Fred Willard, Lily Tomlin, Rita Moreno, and William Shatner for bringing the issues of Guardianship and Elder Abuse to our cultural mainstream.