Books on “Elder Law” are not rare overseas, most are published in (you have guessed it) the USA, but also other countries. They range in price from $2 to $250 and some of them date back to the 1990s. So this is not a newly discovered topic. But, up to now, there has not been a book on older people and legal issues specifically related to New Zealand.
This gap has been filled by “Elder Law in New Zealand”, edited by Kate Diesfeld and Ian McIntosh and published by Thomson Reuters, Wellington, in late 2014.
This is far from a dry legal tome. It will be useful and accessible to the general reader, despite the hefty $150 plus GST price tag (you do get over 600 pages for this). It includes chapters written by academics, activists, social scientists, health professionals and lawyers, including Age Concern’s National Advisor, Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention Services, Louise Collins.
The authors aim to “build legal expertise and alliances in preparation for the growing proportion of older people in New Zealand” and to encourage New Zealand to adopt a preventive role in avoiding the legal issues that are often associated with ageing. This might involve agencies beyond the law profession, such as the Health and Disability Commissioner and the Human Rights Commission.
The book is divided into nine parts, with themes such as Health Care and Rights; Pensions, Benefits and Accident Compensation; Residential Issues (retirement villages); Retirement, Wills and Estates. Each part contains several chapters with different authors. Many of these topics overlap; legislation is complex and policy information may be scattered across numerous agencies. In his chapter on Pensions and Benefits, Ian McIntosh (p.271) concludes by recommending:
• The amalgamation of all legislation in this area;
• The consolidation of information on benefits and pensions into a single web site, and;
• The provision of trained and free advocates to help older people find their way through application processes and to represent them in their dealings with government agencies.
What could be more sensible and helpful?
The book is clear, however, that law and law reform alone cannot resolve the challenges of population ageing. This will need responses by the health and social systems as well as cultural and attitudinal shifts. This is where the contributions of Judy McGregor, on the human rights of older people and those who care for them, and of Matthew and John Parsons and Stephen Jacobs, who look at the components of the ageing-in-place policy and the support services associated with it, are relevant and valuable.
I can’t pretend that I have read the book from cover to cover, but I can imagine myself frequently referring to it. I went straight to Chapter 23 “Grandparents who care for Grandchildren”, which is one of my current research interests. I found the clearest account of legal status and legal pathways in this area that I have ever come across. Other chapters which appealed included those on human rights, decision-making around death and dying, avoiding the risk and cost of litigation, and, of course, Louise’s valuable contribution.
In Sally Keeling’s prologue: “The need for a New Zealand-relevant elder law text”, she says “this book deserves to become a useful resource to support and inform conversations in every household, family and community in New Zealand”. It should certainly be in every organisation which provides services for or develops policies which affect older people. It should be compulsory reading for all law students, not to mention health workers, social workers and professional carers. Will we in time see elder law as a specialist and high-status branch of legal practice?
Dr Judith A. Davey
Age Concern New Zealand voluntary policy advisor
Senior Research Associate, Institute for Governance and Policy Studies, Victoria University of Wellington