Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Proposed Amendments of PA POA, Guardianship & Health Care Directive Laws

On June 14, 2011, the Pennsylvania Joint State Government Commission posted the latest report (June, 2011) of the Advisory Committee on Decedents' Estates Laws regarding proposed amendments to the Probate, Estates, and Fiduciaries Code (PEF Code), which is available here.

This latest report (June 2011; PDF, 85 pages) alters and updates a prior report (June 2010; PDF, 87 pages) of the same organization regarding the PEF Code.

The two reports are the product of Subcommittee study and drafting, Advisory Committee review and revision, and JSGC approval, for submission to the Pennsylvania Legislature:
Over the years, the Advisory Committee has formed various subcommittees to assist in reviewing specific topics and developing statutory recommendations involving the Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code for consideration by the Advisory Committee.

The Subcommittee on Guardianships and Powers of Attorney was formed to review, among other things, 20 Pa.C.S. Chapters 54 (health care), 55 (incapacitated persons) and 56 (powers of attorney).

The subcommittee consists of John F. Meck, Esq., Chair; Robert Clofine, Esq.; William R. Cooper, Esq.; The Honorable Calvin S. Drayer, Jr.; Jay C. Glickman, Esq.; Neil E. Hendershot, Esq.; The Honorable Anne E. Lazarus; John J. Lombard, Jr., Esq.; James F. Mannion, Esq.; Michael J. Mullaugh, Esq.; R. Thomas Murphy, Esq.; The Honorable Paula Francisco Ott; The Honorable Stanley R. Ott; William Campbell Ries, Esq. and Robert B. Wolf, Esq.

After reaching consensus on its legislative recommendations, the Advisory Committee presents its recommendations to the Task Force on Decedents’ Estates Laws, which is a bicameral and bipartisan panel of legislators. The Task Force authorizes the Joint State Government Commission to publish a report containing the recommendations, which serve as a basis for legislation. * * * [Paragraphs rearranged]
What is in the June 2011 Report?  Its proposed legislation would reverse one Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision (Vine, December 21, 2010) regarding financial powers of attorney, and clarify the guardianship and healthcare decision-making statutes after another Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision (D.L.H., August 17, 2011) regarding medical decision-making.
In response to the Vine [v. Commonwealth, 9 A.3d 1150 (Pa. 2010)] and [In Re] D.L.H. [2 A.3d 505 (Pa. 2010)] rulings of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the Subcommittee on Guardianships and Powers of Attorney reviewed the topics of powers of attorney and health care decision-making and presented its recommendations at the 2011 annual meeting of the Advisory Committee.
The Advisory Committee reached consensus on the recommendations, and the Subcommittee subsequently finalized specific statutory amendments to the Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code, which are contained in this report.
The major statutory amendments that form the basis of this report concern the following:
(1) Third party liability and immunity regarding powers of attorney under 20 Pa.C.S.  Chapter 56, in light of the Vine ruling.
(2) An acknowledgment by the principal and affidavits of the two witnesses for powers of attorney.
(3) Health care decision-making by guardians under 20 Pa.C.S. Chapters 54 and 55, in light of the D.L.H. ruling.
Proposed legislative reversal of the Vine holding was explained in a Memo, dated April 4, 2011, from Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf to all Pennsylvania Senators:
[The Court's opinion appears to remove the immunity third parties have had for decades in relying on facially valid power of attorney.
Third parties will now be put in a position of having to investigate the circumstances surrounding the execution of a power of attorney.

Instead of routinely relying on the validity of a power of attorney, they may have to seek the principal's ratification before acting. And, in turn, if the third party questions the power of attorney and does not comply with the instructions of the attorney-in-fact, the third party could find itself subject to liability for failing to comply with an agent's instructions. * * *
The need for remedial legislation after the Vine decision was highlighted by a Pennsylvania Bar Association Recommendation, dated April 11, 2011.  That Recommendation concluded:
These amendments are vital to restore commercial viability of Powers of Attorney following the decision in Vine v. Commonwealth, 9 A.3d 1150 (Pa. 2010), while still adopting appropriate new safeguards for potentially vulnerable principals. In expressing our support for prompt action by the Pennsylvania State Legislature, we have carefully considered the proposals by the Joint State Government Commission and we support the Commission’s approach to the necessary amendments of existing statutes.
As a means of strengthening the original execution of powers of attorney in Pennsylvania, the most recent proposal would require notarization of the maker's signature and affidavits by two witnesses, which requirements parallel those of a self-proving last will.  Other amendments would allow for use of facsimile copies of documents.

The other proposal in the June 2011 Report would clarify points made in the D.L.H. case, where the PA Supreme Court considered, "[W]hether plenary guardians can refuse life-preserving medical treatment on behalf of a person who lacks -- and has always lacked -- the capacity to make personal healthcare decisions, where the person is neither suffering from an end-stage medical condition nor permanently unconscious."

Careful study of that decision revealed areas of the Guardianship statute and the Health Care Decision Making statute that should address long-term and end-of-life medical decision making by a court-appointed guardian.  The result would be these amendments:
  • § 5521. Subsection (d.1)(1) is added to provide that a guardian of the person for an incapacitated person shall have the same authority to make health care decisions on behalf of the incapacitated person as a health care representative, and a decision shall be effective without court approval, subject to (1) any limitations and conditions set forth in the order of appointment; (2) the same health care decision-making process as prescribed in the statutory provisions regarding the authority of a health care agent in making health care decisions; (3) the same limitations regarding pregnancy and regarding the duties of an attending physician and health care provider under Chapter 54; (4) the statutory provisions regarding powers and duties only granted by the court and regarding powers and duties not granted to a guardian; and (5) any other provision regarding health care representatives as set forth in Chapter 54, except the statutory provisions regarding who may act as a health care representative.
  • Subsection (d.1)(2) is added to specify that, to the extent practicable, a guardian of the person must consult with close family members of the incapacitated person in making a health care decision, particularly one involving end-of-life decision-making.
  • Subsection (d.1)(3) is added to require that a petition that is filed for the appointment of a guardian of the person on or after the effective date of the act must state whether it is proposed that the guardian of the person shall have the power to make health care decisions and, if so, whether the guardian shall have all the powers of a health care representative to make such decisions, and any limitation of those powers.
  • Subsection (d.1)(4) is added to require that the notice of a petition or hearing must contain the information under the previous paragraph.
  • Subsection (d.1)(5) is added to require that an order of appointment of a guardian of the person that is issued on or after the effective date of the act must specify whether the guardian of the person shall have the power to make health care decisions and, if so, whether the guardian shall have all the powers of a health care representative to make such decisions, and any limitation of those powers.
  • Subsection (d.1)(6) is added to specify that a guardian of the person appointed before the effective date of the act shall have the same powers as a health care representative unless (1) a prior court order has limited the power of the guardian to make health care decisions or (2) a health care representative is available and assumes authority to act by agreement between the health care representative and the guardian, in which case the guardian thereafter has no health care decision-making powers.
I serve as a Guardianship/POA Subcommittee member and as an Advisory Committee member, and I worked on the reports and recommendations.

I strongly advocate for the Legislature's adoption of the recommendations contained in the June 2010 Report, as modified by the June 2011 Report.

Update:  10/27/11:

In searching bill information on the website of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, I do not find any legislation pending that derives from the two reports.

However, a guardianship-related bill, House Bill 1720, was introduced recently and finds support.  See: PA EE&F Law Blog posting "Granny Snatching" Prohibition Pending in PA (10/25/11).