The Elder Law Forum

The Elder Law Forum By Michael Myers Elderlaw and the Seven Deadly Sins

Can you name the Seven Deadly Sins? That's right! They are, in alphabetical order: Anger, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride and sloth.

Now, define each. That's right! Anger: spurning love and opting instead for fury. Envy: the desire for others' traits, abilities, status, or situation. Gluttony: an inordinate desire to consume more than one requires.

Greed: desire for material wealth or gain, ignoring the realm of the spiritual. Lust: an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body. Pride: an excessive belief in one's own abilities, also known as vanity. Sloth: the avoidance of physical or spiritual work.

Now, rank them in their capacity to impede spiritual progress. Select the one you believe presents the greatest threat to civilization and the evolution of humankind.

I present this exercise to my Elderlaw students at the beginning of a lecture addressing elder abuse and neglect. Lust ranks high in its capacity to frustrate spiritual progress, perhaps a reflection of student hormone levels. Pride and envy typically follow lust. Gluttony ranks near the bottom, along with sloth.

Greed receives the most the attention, particularly as we study cases involving the financial exploitation of the fading elderly who have assets. "Friends" appear from nowhere. Durable powers of attorney are executed. Wills are amended. Families split.

"Mother must be turning over in her grave," said a 65-year-old USD Senior Legal Helpline caller. She said her mother died two months ago, leaving behind a 260-acre farm to be sold and its proceeds divided equally among her six children. The oldest son had been appointed personal representative for the estate.

"We got along fine until this happened," said the caller. "Now he is off making decisions without talking to us and his lawyer won't talk to us either. Don't we have any rights?"

She had a number of concerns, including whether her brother was entitled to $25 per hour for services to the estate and whether he could choose an auctioneer without consulting with the family. It was the story of a family affected by greed, that deadly sin identified by my students as most threatening to human evolution.

(Pro bono legal information and advice is available to persons 55 and older through the USD Senior Legal Helpline, 1-800-747-1895; mmyers@usd.edu)

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