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What I Learned This Summer

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What I learned

I don’t know about you, but I spent my summer in one continuing legal education program after another. Here’s some of what I learned this summer.

What I learned in Alaska

OK — I really went to Alaska to see the bears. And they were incredible, and worth the trip. But while I was there, I attended a continuing education program that was almost as wonderful.

One program focused on posthumously conceived children. With advances in reproductive technology, the issue has become more significant over time.

The early cases testing the boundaries of the developing science were about Social Security benefits. A series of court cases addressed whether a child conceived using frozen sperm some years after the father’s death would be entitled to survivor’s benefits under Social Security. One 2004 case, arising out of Arizona, had held that they should receive benefits. Other cases, from Iowa and Virginia, held the opposite way.

Then, in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court settled the question. In its ruling (in Astrue v. Capato), the high court held that a child conceived after its father’s death must be entitled to inherit under the relevant state law in order to qualify. In most states, that would rule out Social Security benefits for posthumously conceived children.

But that’s not the end of the story. That ruling has been the spur for a number of proposed changes in the law in various states. So far, those changes have not included Arizona, but other states have explicitly allowed posthumously conceived children to inherit from their deceased father, at least in limited circumstances.

Alzheimer’s and dementia in KC

One notable addition to what I learned this summer came in a trip to Kansas City. Dr. Jeffrey Burns, Co-Director of the KU Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, spoke about dementia diagnosis and treatment.

While I already knew about much of what Dr. Burns described, it was very interesting to get an update on the research and science.  Some of his key points:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease accounts for about 60% of all dementia diagnoses. The next-leading dementing conditions are vascular dementia and Lewy Body dementia, at about 15% each. Of course, some people might have more than one condition leading to dementia.
  • About one in ten people over age 65 may have Alzheimer’s Disease. For those over age 85, frequency rises to about one in three. But remember: not all people with Alzheimer’s will show symptoms of dementia at the same pace. And the frequency increases very rapidly with age over the mid-60s; less than 5% of individuals in their early 70’s demonstrate any evidence of dementia.
  • While the strongest risk factors for dementia might be age and genetics, there are a host of factors you can actually modify. Education, alcohol abuse, smoking, hypertension, obesity, physical inactivity and others all contribute to the likelihood of dementia. Even hearing loss and social isolation can add to your risk.
  • The incidence of dementia is actually decreasing over time, though the incidence of Alzheimer’s Disease may not be decreasing. While it’s difficult to compare different generations at the same time, one 20-year study showed that those born after 1929 had a significant reduction in dementia compared to older cohorts.

What I taught in Michigan

Inspired by Dr. Burns, I prepared for a presentation in Michigan on the future of elder law. It gave me a chance to make several points I particularly like to emphasize with my continuing education audiences. And it also gave me a chance to talk about what I learned earlier in the summer.

To my audience of elder law practitioners in Michigan, I emphasized the often over-estimated incidence of dementia among the elderly. Since I turned 70 earlier this year, I posed the question to my audience (composed entirely of experienced elder law attorneys): what are the odds of a 70-year-old demonstrating evidence of dementia? In other words, what percent of people of that age are showing signs of diminishing mental capacity.

As is almost always the case, my audience responded with enthusiasm — and with too-large numbers. “20%,” shouted the first person. Then I heard “30%” and “40%”. Almost all the shouters were in the 20-40% range until one person (I’d like to think it was someone who had attended an earlier presentation of mine) shouted “5%”. That was the winner, though actually the number is slightly lower than even that figure.

Dementia does increase rapidly in one’s 80’s and 90’s. One expert has suggested that the frequency about doubles every five years or so thereafter. But even with steep increases by age, only about 30% of people over age 90 will show evidence of dementia.

One Response

  1. Thanks for another interesting newsletter! Also loved the bears photo.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

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Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.