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Fixed Index Annuities: Magical or Unsuitable?

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Main Line start-up LodeStar Firearms aims to sell first U.S. ‘smart guns’ by 2019

JANUARY 24, 2018 — 11:31 AM EST


A Main Line Philadelphia start-up wants to manufacture America’s first-ever “smart gun,” a 9-millimeter pistol that uses radio-frequency ID technology to provide a layer of safety for police officers and eventually American consumers, the world’s biggest gun buyers.

 For the last two months, LodeStar Firearms has been seeking to raise $5 million to design and make a product that its backers say could prevent thousands of shootings a year and sharply curtail gun thefts. It aims to sell more than a million guns annually in five to seven years.

That would be a huge achievement for the fledgling firm since no one has yet sold a single smart gun on these shores. Smart guns have faced enormous blowback from the National Rifle Association, which rejects the technology as costly, unreliable, and an expansion of government control over firearms. Opponents have blocked sales of smart guns, leading other start-ups like the German weapon-locks firm Armatix to go bankrupt trying.

LodeStar CEO Gareth Glaser didn’t start out as a gun guy. The former tax lawyer and University of Pennsylvania graduate worked in corporate America for most of his career at ExxonMobil and Alcon, the eye-care unit of Novartis. But in 2017, he took part in a Harvard graduate school project, encouraging experienced executives to take on social problems, and came to believe that “smart guns” represented an untapped business opportunity.

“I did some research and found that, like auto accidents, safety with guns can be increased by technology like seat belts and air bags in cars,” Glaser said at his Radnor home, which doubles as LodeStar’s headquarters. The firm is banking on consumers’ willingness to use “smart” recognition technology in their daily lives, including phones that open to your face, cars that start to a driver’s voice, and television remotes that search for movies from simple commands.

Invited to speak on a smart-gun technology panel in 2017, Glaser met the legendary German gun designer Ernst Mauch, chief designer for Heckler & Koch. Most aficionados recognize H&K as the premier weapons maker for police and the military. Mauch developed the MP-5 submachine gun and other guns widely used by SWAT teams, federal law enforcement, customs, and border patrol.

Mauch is retired, and still keen on designing a smart gun, so he became LodeStar’s chief gun designer. “He has the design background, and I had the business experience,” Glaser said, explaining LodeStar’s birth.

Mauch and his team of German engineers are working on a 9mm prototype to exacting specifications, with the hope that they will have a Glock-style weapon for sale sometime in late 2018 or early 2019.  The price would be in the $700-to-$800 range, including two hours of training with a firearms instructor.

The firm wants to put smart-gun manufacturing in the U.S., Glaser said. “Smart guns are a small niche business right now, but there are really no competitors. If our smartphones can recognize our fingerprints or our faces, why can’t guns?”

Why? To date, traditional manufacturers have expressed distrust of the technology as have many gun owners, fearing that the guns could malfunction or fail to fire during a mud-filled confrontation.

Those views “will likely change, just as it has with Detroit and self-driving cars,” maintained Michael Farrell, a LodeStar board member and weapons trainer. Farrell founded Smart Firearms, a Tempe, Ariz.-based company training leading law enforcement agencies including the Phoenix, D.C. Metro, Boston, New York Police Departments and the New York Department of Corrections.

“When Ernst Mauch joined LodeStar, that sealed it for me,” said Farrell.

The U.S. firearms market totals $7 billion a year, or roughly 12 million guns. And Americans already own roughly 300 million out of the 650 million guns in circulation globally.

“We buy half of all the world’s guns, so the average American gun owner buys eight or nine weapons, and 40 percent of those people keep one gun loaded” in their house, said Glaser.

“We want the loaded gun to be our smart gun,” he said, describing the firm’s market. Today, a smart gun will compete with traditional handguns made by Glock, the maker of pistols used by over 65 percent of police departments in the U.S. Thirty years later, LodeStar wants to create “a safer, reliable handgun that can only be fired by the authorized user.”

Without the programmed ID token nearby, the LodeStar personalized handgun is always in the “OFF” position. When the gun and the chip are within a few inches of each other, the firearm immediately lights up green — and the gun fires. Battery life lasts up to 10 years. And the LodeStar gun promises to be hacker-proof, unlike an early prototype by Armatix.

John Diaz, former Seattle police chief, said he much prefers LodeStar’s RFID (radio frequency ID) technology, the same used on a remote car lock. He believes RFID works better than biometric or fingerprint recognition.

“Officers wear gloves, they’re down in the mud, and biometric isn’t reliable,” said Diaz, also a board member at LodeStar. “Our officers in Seattle switched to Glocks about 20 years ago, and some new calibers about seven or eight years ago. If police officers are ever to move to smart guns, their acceptance comes down to reliability.”

Accidental gun deaths are another reason why smart guns make sense for law enforcement and consumer buyers, Glaser said. With RFID technology, “as soon as the token or bracelet is out of range, the gun stops working.”

Police officers could program their weapons to be fired by their partners, if necessary, but not by anyone else, he added. So could parents with children in the house.

Smart-gun technology could also help stem the flood of stolen guns and accidental deaths: roughly 38,000 Americans are fatally shot each year, and an additional 80,000 people in accidents and suicides. Since the year 2000, “more than two million people have been shot accidentally, and 500,000 have died, more than all military killed since the Civil War.”

Glaser worked in-house as an attorney for ExxonMobil and then Alcon, which went public. “I’m the business guy,” he said. Mauch, on the other hand, is considered weapons royalty, as is Jonathan Mossberg, of the Mossberg rifle maker family, who also advises LodeStar.

LodeStar’s advisers and investors are pinning their hopes on New Jersey, where State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D., Teaneck) and Gov. Murphy have pledged support for smart guns.

In 2002, New Jersey became the first state in the nation to enact a law requiring that all handguns sold in the state be childproof once the technology became available and approved by the state. Gun lobbyists pushed back and threatened store owners,  prompting them to back off from selling smart firearms.

In 2017, the New Jersey Legislature tried to repeal the 2002 mandate and instead require each firearm retailer in New Jersey to sell a personalized handgun model once they are available. Then-Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the bill, but Murphy has signaled he will sign any new law.

In an interview, Weinberg said she expects the New Jersey mandate will be repealed and replaced this year under Murphy.

“We are all in agreement that the mandate to purchase should be rolled back, while also protecting retailers who want to offer a childproof handgun,” she said.

Mauch, for his part, said he was moved to create a smart gun after having to testify in the case of a 6-year-old California boy who shot his best friend with his father’s handgun.

But the technology didn’t exist then. That event “pushed me to make that kind of product,” Mauch said. “A pistol that only functions in the hands of the official owner to make sure that nobody else can use that instrument for misuse.”


Bond guru Kathleen Gaffney: it’s tough to find income in fixed income

There’s not a lot of income in fixed income these days, so active management of your bond portfolio is even more important, says Eaton Vance’s Kathleen Gaffney, one of Wall Street’s most astute fixed-income investors. So how are she and other active bond-fund managers generating returns?

During this week’s 70th annual CFA Institute conference, to be held Monday through Wednesday in Philadelphia, Gaffney, along with Vanguard founder John Bogle and Wharton School finance professor Jeremy Siegel, will share their thoughts on investment strategies in the current environment. (CFA, or chartered financial analyst, is considered to be one of the toughest designations to achieve. We lovingly refer to the CFA confab as a “nerdfest.”)

Eaton Vance Management’s Gaffney, a CFA charter holder, is codirector of investment-grade fixed income, and lead portfolio manager for Eaton Vance’s multisector bond strategies. She’s responsible for buy-and-sell decisions and portfolio construction. She joined Eaton Vance in 2012 after working for many years with Loomis Sayles bond guru Dan Fuss.

“It’s extremely hard to generate income now, and that’s exactly the time you don’t want to reach for yield,” Gaffney said. “That’s why active bond portfolio management becomes your most important defense in this frustrating environment.”

Sectors where yields – the income on a bond – are rising, she said, include retail companies, mall REITs, and telecommunications.

“The reason they yield so much is fundamentals are deteriorating, and investors are demanding more income. That can be a very tricky investment, because what’s the potential downside?”
Instead of Amazon or Apple, she buys bonds that have sold off sharply and offer value, such as Seagate Technology, a disk-drive manufacturer. “Seagate was a sleeper old-tech company that’s been through different cycles. We still need standard computer storage, and the more data out there, the more demand for Seagate.”

Gaffney bought the 10-year and the 30-year bonds when they were yielding 8 percent and trading around 70 cents on the dollar. “We’ve pared back,” she said, “because they’ve done very well.

“The great thing is, you have underlying asset value that minimizes the downside. To me, that total return is the way to manage fixed income,” meaning price appreciation plus a decent yield.

The Eaton Vance Multi-Sector Income Fund can hold a maximum of 35 percent of below-investment-grade bonds, as well as floating-rate bank loans and emerging-market dollar-pay corporate debt.

Interestingly, it doesn’t hold U.S. Treasuries.

“We don’t own them. The yields are low. Growth should pick up here in the U.S., but there’s tremendous uncertainty. The Fed can’t fix that, only politicians can.

“Today reminds me of the summer of 2014, as there doesn’t seem to be a lot of value. What’s different is the extremes we see in volatility,” particularly driven by politics in places such as Puerto Rico and Brazil.

“Politics are driving volatility, and the fact that expectations for economic growth and fiscal stimulus are now in doubt. I believe we will get there one way or another, but the election was tied to getting U.S. growth going,” she said, which has been sidetracked by recent White House turmoil.

Because short-term interest rates remain so low, “investors can’t earn money in the market, and yet we have this reach for yield, so every investment asset is overvalued or crowded.”

Gaffney believes bond investors plowing money into low-cost ETFs and index funds may beget disappointment because “everyone owns the same thing. When volatility picks up, a lot of funds have to reposition and sell. That can create a vicious negative feedback.”

As for Puerto Rico, “we expect a long-term workout, which is already priced into the bonds. We view the revenue bonds as more attractive.” Eaton Vance also owns Brazilian dollar-pay corporate bonds, as she believes Brazil is “turning the corner, but with a long path to where the country needs to be. Brazil is an excellent example of a country that benefited from investment-grade ratings.”

Gaffney holds such Brazilian corporate-bond names as energy giant Petrobras and JBS, a food manufacturer, which offer yields of 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent on bonds ranging from 10-year maturing in 2027 all the way out to 2043. Gaffney is also positioning for a turn in the U.S. dollar – which has been trading at a multiyear high against many currencies.

“We own the Brazilian government bonds, denominated in reals; Mexican government bonds, denominated in pesos; bonds payable in Indonesian rupiah and Indian rupees – these are countries on the path toward reforms. We’re likely to see their currencies benefit vs. the U.S. dollar,” she said.

“Our view is that the push for fiscal stimulus here means inflation, and nominal growth feels good if wages are moving up” at the same time.

Eaton Vance also expects that growth globally could lead to rising inflation in the United Kingdom, Germany, and China. “We’re likely to see a weaker yen, a stronger euro, and the U.S. dollar weaker relative to emerging markets,” Gaffney said.

Not surprisingly, Bogle will be talking about “the index revolution and what it means to professional investors, who are starting to think about asset allocation more and stock picking less. In some cases,

it’s gone too far. It used to be just stocks and bonds, and now it’s highly complex allocations based on data mining,” he said. “That’s not healthy.”

Given the flood of money into passive index funds, we asked Bogle: What happens if everyone invests using only index funds?

“There’s zero chance of that happening. Indexing represents 22 [percent] to 23 percent of the U.S. market. There’s just too much trading out there.”

For a list of CFA speakers, visit the conference website (annual.cfainstitute.org/speakers).


215-854-2808 @erinarvedlund

Phil Cannella Sells Fear –and Fixed Index Annuities — At His Free-Meal Seminars

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Retired FBI Agent Solves Arts Crimes Including a Missing Nazi Diary, Confederate Relics and Even Batmobiles

Art crimes expert Robert K. Wittman, a retired FBI agent, this year published a new book — “The Devil’s Diary: Alfred Rosenberg and the Stolen Secrets of the Third Reich” — with a Philadelphia twist.

It’s the story of Lansdowne lawyer Robert Kempner, who until his death held on to a startling secret — he’d prosecuted Nazi officers at Nuremberg, and purloined the private diary of Hitler’s favorite ideologue Alfred Rosenberg.

But that is just the latest crime he’s solved. Wittman joined the FBI as a special agent in 1988, and was drawn to art crimes not longer after starting work at the federal agency. His mentor suggested taking art appreciation classes at the Barnes Foundation when it was still located on the Main Line.

As a result of that and other specialized training in art, antiques, jewelry and gem identification, he served as the FBI’s investigative expert involving cultural property crime. During his 20-year FBI career he helped recover more than $300 million worth of stolen art and cultural property.

Wittman, in 2005, created the FBI’s rapid deployment national Art Crime Team, and represented the U.S. conducting investigations and instructing international police and museums in recovering stolen works and in security techniques.

He retired in 2008. In 2010, Wittman penned his first book — The New York Times bestselling memoir “Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures.” His second book, “The Devil’s Diary,” co-authored with journalist David Kinney, ranks also as a best seller, published in 26 languages in 30 countries.
Today, Wittman works for himself as president of Robert Wittman Inc., specializing in consulting on art matters, which include expert witness testimony, security, investigations and collection management. A Chester Springs resident, Wittman remains a huge fan of the Barnes collection — and believes the move into center city was the right one.

“I went through the Barnes training program in 1991. Then later, I worked with the then-directors of the Barnes on their security, because the windows in the old house weren’t even locked. The HV/AC needed upgrades, and the paintings needed conservation. [The collection] was made for the world, and it’s really put Philadelphia on the map.”

Wittman’s worked for clients such as the owner of a private library of 10,000 books, including first editions of Tom Sawyer, pages from an original Guttenberg bible, and manuscripts authored by Theodore Roosevelt.

“The collection hadn’t been looked at in 45 or 50 years, and we had to cut the locks off of steamer trunks just to take a look and form a complete list,” he recalls. After inventory, Wittman valued the collection “in the millions of dollars,” in part due to an original Shakespeare folio — itself worth six figures.

Spotting forgeries is the key part of Wittman’s business — as is establishing true provenance for a works of art, cars, antiques, sports memorabilia and militaria. Wittman estimates the total global art market at $200 billion — $80 billion of that in the U.S. Art crimes represent roughly $6 billion of the world total.

“Believe it or not, all four major U.S. sports markets total $26 billion and the art market $80 billion. We love our art.”

And it’s not just phony paintings he investigates. There are forged baseball cards, Confederate belt buckles, even fake replica Batmobiles. One of Wittman’s recent clients bought $300,000 worth of paintings on the Internet from a dozen or so galleries.

“We just found out the paintings were all fake. Like any investment vehicle, you have to check provenance,” or where and how the work was obtained, he warns.

When valuing art and collectibles, “it’s a three-legged stool: authenticity, legal title, and provenance. It helps to use an art advisor, and get promises of what you’re buying in writing first.”

Wittman grew up around collectors; his father and mother ran an Asian antiques store, and while they never made much money, he learned to love the trade. Favorites in his own collection? Japanese ceramics, Civil War relics, fine art prints like Miro and Dali, and some Asian art.

“My most expensive piece probably isn’t worth more than $2,000 or $3,000.”

What does he recommend for art lovers buying anything above that price?

“If you are buying art as an investment, I’d use an art advisor. Collectors in high value art want to show it off. There’s a lot of serious collectors in Philadelphia, because there’s still a lot of old money.”

Wittman still gets phone calls in the middle of the night when art thieves strike.

“I can do a lot more now that I’m not an FBI agent, because before I could only do criminal case. Now I can do civil work as well as testifying as an expert witness,” he says.

Recently, Wittman worked the case of a stolen piece of glass that was on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Originally owned by the founding family of the Wistar Institute, the piece had been stolen in the 1980s, hoarded in a storage unit, then later sold to an art dealer in New York.

The dealer resold the glass to a buyer for tens of thousands of dollars and it was put on display under consignment at the PMA.

“It took a year, but we proved it was stolen from Wistar — and now the family own it again.”

The piece is still on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art — but with the rightful owner on the label.

Why seniors, Baby Boomers are re-discovering marijuana — as medicine

Pennsylvania is to set to issue regulations on legal medicinal marijuana, and senior support is at an all-time high.


According to the Centers for Disease Control’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, seniors are the fastest-growing users of medical marijuana in the country.

The September study, among those who had tried marijuana in the last month,  showed the 55-and-older crowd was the quickest-growing demographic in the years 2002 to 2014: The number between the ages of 55 and 64 who used marijuana grew 455 percent, and the number 65 and older grew 333 percent.

Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican congressman from California, used cannabis lotion for his arthritis, time-stamping seniors’ new affinity for medicinal marijuana products.

Rohrabacher tried a topical, wax-based marijuana treatment. That night was “the first time in a year and a half that I had a decent night’s sleep because the arthritis pain was gone,” Rohrabacher said last year.

Pennsylvania is about to issue new regulations on dispensing legal medicinal marijuana, and senior support is at an all-time high.

“More than half the country has legalized medical marijuana. Now, older people who used marijuana when they were younger, perhaps in college, then entered the professional world and had families and stopped using – now that it’s legal in their state, what we’re finding [is] they’re going back to it, trying it again for health and wellness,” said Chris Walsh, editorial director and founding editor of Marijuana Business Daily in Colorado.

“Medical marijuana is now mainstream. You can walk into a heavily regulated storefront dispensary, and that prompts more people to consider it a viable medical option,” Walsh added.

In particular, many new lotions, creams, and pills an older person might use are heavy on a compound called CBD – cannabidiol, the painkiller – as opposed to THC, the chemical that gets you high.

Older people prefer traditional forms of medication, fueling growth in the industry, said Nick Kovacevich, co-founder and CEO of Kush Bottles, a medical marijuana packaging company.

“The ways you can ingest are changing. For instance, a 60-year-old might not be into smoking,” Kovacevich said. “Now, in many states, you can get pills, topicals or tinctures that you put under the tongue. Even in the last four years, the forms you can take have evolved into edibles like gummies, hot chocolate, lollipops, and lozenges.”

Heavier users, such as cancer patients, often prefer waxes or oils, skin patches, sublingual strips, creams, sprays, and lotions.

“That’s the wave of the future. The elderly like creams and sprays and rubs, because they’re used to ointments and gels for pain management and control,” Kovacevich said.


Conditions among the elderly that are listed as uses for medical marijuana include glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, spasms, epilepsy, chronic pain, backaches, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s.

Seniors campaigning for wider uses include Robert Platshorn, 73, who was born in South Philadelphia, grew up in Cherry Hill, and now lives in Florida.

“There are millions of junkie seniors taking OxyContin, fentanyl, and Darvocet,” said Platshorn, who founded TheSilverTour.org, an nonprofit and activist group of seniors lobbying for passage of medical marijuana in Florida.

“It’s a natural for physicians to prescribe medical marijuana for seniors who are in pain but who don’t want to feel loopy. And opioid addiction can be avoided,” he added.

New studies point to medical marijuana as a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s.

Gary L. Wenk, a professor of psychology, neuroscience, and molecular virology, immunology, and medical genetics at the Ohio State University and Medical Center, studies chronic brain inflammation in Alzheimer’s disease. His research into cannabinoids led him to conclude that while they are no cure, they may slow the onset of Alzheimer’s.

“Low doses of marijuana for prolonged periods of time at some point in your life, possibly when you’re middle-aged to late middle-aged, is probably going to slow the onset or development of dementia, to the point where you’ll most likely die of old age before you get Alzheimer’s,” Wenk said in a 2014 interview with Leaf Science, a Canadian marijuana-news website.

Even Philadelphia’s medical schools are getting in on the research of medical marijuana. In May, the Institute of Emerging Health Professions at Thomas Jefferson University announced the creation of the Center for Medical Cannabis Education & Research, which provides information and guidance to clinicians and patients about the medical uses of marijuana and cannabinoid-focused therapies.

With legalization, Platshorn argued, seniors “need to be part of the conversation surrounding legalizing medical marijuana, and its benefits.”




She’s a Medicare and Social Security expert and professor at Lehigh. Then her elderly mother got sick, and the academics got real.

Laura Katz Olson taught health-care policy for decades at Lehigh University and could rattle off the ins and outs of Medicare and Social Security.

Laura Katz Olson, a Lehigh University professor and author of “Elder Care Journey,” says: “I had a lot of ideas on paper. They didn´t seem real until I experienced them myself.”
But none of that prepared her for caring for her mother, Dorothy Katz, a Senior Olympics medal winner who developed Parkinson’s disease.

Thrust into a long-distance caregiving role, Olson, 71, began grueling travel between Pennsylvania and Florida. Her mother’s health failed with each passing visit.

“At first, I was convinced she could ‘age in place,’ as they say,” Olson said. After her mother fell, then nearly died in a rehab facility, Olson moved her to Pennsylvania.

What Olson discovered in assisting her frail parent was at odds with her work as an elder-care expert. She could barely navigate the byzantine web of public and private insurance and services.

“As an academic, I looked for statistics and percentages on how Medicaid affects people. I had a lot of ideas on paper,” she recalled with a rueful laugh. “They didn’t seem real until I experienced them myself.”
Olson’s two siblings had died, so her mother’s care fell to her entirely. Her work teaching at Lehigh was interrupted as Dottie Katz steadily grew incapacitated by Parkinson’s-related dementia and a gradual loss of vision.

“You can only get your parent 10 hours of in-home care a week under Medicaid. Then the gap in service becomes real. I had to fill in the gap myself,” Olson said of her visits to Florida.

“While everyone is pushing for at-home care, there’s not enough coverage under Medicaid. In order to be eligible, you have to be nursing-home eligible,” which means your elder relative’s assets have been depleted.

In 2013, she moved her mother, now 93, into Gracedale, a county-run and subsidized senior facility in Nazareth, Pa.

Finding a facility for her mother and ensuring that her benefits stayed consistent shattered Olson’s convictions and exposed irrationalities in government systems. Despite her expertise, Olson was ill-prepared to deal with the bureaucratic barriers imposed at every turn.

“I was surprised at how much every service is siloed,” she said. “It’s so burdensome as to be impossible. The VA? To deal with them [Dottie Katz’s husband was a veteran] is a nightmare.”
In Pennsylvania, the Department of Human Services threatened to cut off her mother’s benefits because of one missing piece of paper – a bank statement that Olson had already submitted. “They just wanted paperwork again and again, to reinvent the wheel at every agency,” she said.

Another office threatened to stop her mother’s Medicare.

“The paperwork, the constant paperwork, that was surprising. And she has to reapply every year for Medicaid, which is a program for the poor.”

As with any program for the poor, Olson said, “the agency assumes you’re stealing and trying to get something for nothing. You have to prove everything – even if you’re 93, blind, and have Parkinson’s! The sting of it was unfathomable.”

Olson’s new book, Elder Care Journey, speaks to elders with functional limitations and the adult children helping them. The book documents the stresses and the manifold indignities in dealing with social-welfare agencies. Elders with limited financial resources often must rely on government funds for their basic care.

“I wanted to elucidate the obstacles confronted by other families attempting to navigate the complex and sorely inadequate programs serving the low-income aged,” Olson said.
At Gracedale, Olson said, she has found a place providing decent care, so she no longer fears for her mother’s health, safety, and well-being.

After reading her story, she said, “people coping with elder-care responsibilities should feel less alone in their struggles.”

Along the way, Olson discovered that many nursing homes and elder-care facilities are owned by private equity firms or multichain conglomerates traded on public exchanges. “Their primary profit goals are at odds with the well-being of the people they are supposed to be serving.

“I wrote this book as catharsis, then I realized my experience isn’t unique. There are serious issues with our long-term-care system. We spend billions of dollars of our federal and state budgets on long-term care and aging, and why aren’t we getting better results?”

Almost half of private nursing-home revenue, 48 percent, comes from Medicaid and Medicare. About 80 percent of all home-care agency revenue also comes from those sources, said Ron Barth, CEO of LeadingAge, a consortium of nonprofits in the elder-care industry.

“The taxpayers are funding the long-term industries but aren’t getting quality of care for their elders,” Olson said.

She visits her mother every day and advocates for her.

Is that necessary?

“Yes, because I know the aides are overworked, underpaid, and overwhelmed. And even the best of them can’t do it, because they have too many patients.”


215-854-2808 @erinarvedlund

In 30 states, adult children may be on the hook for their parents’ nursing home bills…

Remember when Mom and Dad bailed you out on that overdue bill?

Now, it may be your turn.

More than half of U.S. states have so-called “filial responsibility” laws that require adult children to support their parents if they become indigent.

For example, under Pennsylvania’s 2005 statute, spouses, parents, and children are obligated to care for or financially assist destitute family members.

That means you could be held financially responsible for a parent’s nursing-home care, says Marc Jaffe, estate-planning lawyer and partner at Fromhold Jaffe & Adams in Villanova, Pa.

“A nursing home will sue an adult child to recover monies the parent didn’t pay,” Jaffe says.

“It’s not used very often. And you are not necessarily responsible for all of that person’s debts. However, you might be held responsible for that person’s food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and other similar necessities if the person did not have the funds to pay,” he notes.

Such lawsuits “may become more common, as the government in general is looking to be less generous with benefits, and if a medical provider doesn’t get paid, they may look more toward the family,” Jaffe adds.

A 2012 Pennsylvania Superior Court case, Health Care & Retirement Corp. of America v. Pittas, made it clear that under state law, if a creditor chooses, one child alone may be found completely responsible. The court upheld the nursing home’s judgment against one son for $92,000 for his mother’s care after she left the facility and moved to Greece.

The Superior Court also determined what is meant by indigent. It includes not only those who are completely destitute and helpless but also those people who have limited, but not sufficient, means to support themselves financially.

Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware all have similar “filial responsibility” laws on the books – although, again, they are rarely enforced, says Trisha Hall, partner with Connolly Gallagher in Wilmington.

In recent years, the Pennsylvania Bar Association supported a repeal of that state’s law, but it was blocked by the Department of Human Services and nursing-home lobbies, says Katherine Pearson, a professor of law at Pennsylvania State University’s Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle, Pa.

In January 2015, House Bill 242 was proposed by State Rep. Anthony DeLuca (D., Allegheny), who wrote that “current law gives the Department of Human Services authority to go after adult children to collect money for indigent parents’ care. This law is not only outdated and impractical, but it also has vast potential for abuse and to unfairly cause serious harm.”

Seldom enforced

Most of these laws are seldom enforced because federal law prevents the states from considering the financial responsibility of any individual other than a spouse in determining the eligibility of an applicant or recipient of Medicaid or other poverty programs, Pearson says.

But Pennsylvania also has little incentive to change the law.

“The state wants the statute to stand as a way to offset state liability” for indigent elderly, she adds.

What is unique about Pennsylvania is that the law has been interpreted as permitting third parties, such as nursing homes, to sue the children directly, Pearson explains.

She has been watching cases in which nursing homes are suing adult children for bills as low as $5,000 or as high as $60,000.

“Sometimes, these bills have accumulated, and then they sue the adult children retroactively – as a debt-collection tool.”

To protect themselves, Jaffe advises that adult children put their assets in protective trusts or retirement accounts, which cannot be claimed by creditors, and that they put property in joint ownership, under more than one name.

Better communication

In some cases, families could solve financial and other problems ahead of time simply by having conversations about what their elderly parents want.

“Four in 10 families don’t agree on the roles adult kids will play” as caregivers, says Suzanne Schmitt, vice president of family engagement at Fidelity Investments, based in Boston, Mass.

Start small, Schmitt advises, asking your parents where their important documents are, such as their health-care proxies and HIPAA release forms, among others. “Keep it tactical and don’t tackle the whole conversation at once.”

Don’t ask, “How much have you saved?” Instead, ask general questions, such as, “Where are your bank and savings accounts held? Do you have a trusted adviser such as an estate-planning attorney or CPA?”

Schmitt herself has had the conversation with her parents. And many elderly parents will appreciate bringing up the subject – and are encouraged to do so when families get together for holidays and other occasions.

“It’s tough,” she says, “but I started with saying I wanted to honor their wishes and not guess about what they wanted.”

Comcast scores high for transparency of campaign contributions; Urban Outfitters scored a zero!

How much money do public companies spend on politicians, and what do they disclose?

An index offers a peek at the juicy details.

For the first time, the 2015 CPA-Zicklin Index gives a breakdown of every company in the S&P 500: which policies each company maintains on political contributions; if the company even has a policy; and links to how much moolah it donates.

The index, started in 2009, shows the largest publicly held U.S. companies’ political activity in a high-spending era marked by an unprecedented flood of dark money, said Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability in Washington, which partnered with the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania to create CPA-Zicklin.

For investors, it’s a useful tool to evaluate companies’ policies and accountability.

For companies, it helps “assess whether they follow best practices for disclosure and accountability, and the extent to which they demonstrate commitment to these principles,” Freed added.

Anyone can access the index via the center’s website, PoliticalAccountability.net. For dollar amounts, the CPA-Zicklin Index links to databases such as the Federal Election Commission’s fec.gov, OpenSecrets.org, and FollowTheMoney.org.

The local communications giant Comcast, for instance, scored high on the CPA-Zicklin Index for transparency and for having a stated policy on political contributions. On its corporate website, Comcast posts a 59-page document listing donations totaling $6.5 million made in the most recent 2014 election cycle.

“Comcast’s political contributions are made from employee-funded political action committees (‘PACs’) that are sponsored by Comcast. The Comcast PACs are operated by a board of directors, chaired by the senior executive vice president. When permitted by law, political contributions are also made out of corporate funds,” the company said on its website.

Comcast’s largest 2014 donations included $367,000 to the Republican Party of Florida, $250,000 to the Democratic Governors Association, and $255,000 to the Republican Governors Association.

In Pennsylvania, Comcast donated mostly to individual candidates, including $50,000 to Tom Wolf for Governor, $10,000 to Bob Brady for Congress, $17,000 to Friends of Dominic Pileggi, $15,000 to Friends of Joe Scarnati, and $16,000 to the Mike Turzai Leadership Fund.

How did the CPA-Zicklin Index come into being?

Lawrence Zicklin, a former partner at the Wall Street firm Neuberger Berman, funded the Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research at the Wharton School. (He currently teaches ethics at Wharton and several other business schools.)

William Laufer, director of the Zicklin Center, first proposed the index in July 2009.

In the 2015 index, three companies tied for a first-place rating of 97.1 points out of 100: Becton Dickinson; CSX Corp.; and Noble Energy.

Among regional companies, Comcast scored 81.4; AmerisourceBergen scored 82, and Hershey Co. scored 90. Those with low scores included Lincoln National (17.1), PNC Financial Services (5.7), and Urban Outfitters (0.0).

The average overall score in 2015 was 72.6 for companies with some sort of disclosure agreement.

Shareholder engagement “was sharply favorable” in helping raise scores, Freed explained.

“Companies engaged by shareholders, and reaching an agreement, had significantly better disclosure and accountability policies,” he said.

More than half the S&P 500 – 52 percent, or 259 companies – had detailed policies on campaign donations. Thirty-five percent, or 176 companies, had brief or vague policies.

The majority of S&P 500 companies – 54 percent, or 270 companies – had dedicated webpages to address political spending.

Zicklin said he became interested in campaign finance nearly a decade ago, when Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship donated $3 million to a West Virginia judge who later decided a case in the company’s favor.

“I’ve also heard from many companies that they would like to get out of this game if they could,” Zicklin said. “In some cases, companies are being extorted. They’re told there’s a bill they really ought to support by some nameless politician, and they have to [donate].”

More important, he said, “Americans are very upset. They feel they have no part in how government is run – it’s all by big checkbooks.

“I can’t change Citizens United,” the Supreme Court decision on political donations by companies, “but I can at least make it transparent.”