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Soft Landings

Victoria Blachly speaks for those who can’t speak for themselves

Published in 2021 Oregon Super Lawyers magazine

Victoria Blachly doesn’t bring people back from the dead. Just nearly. 

Blachly is a fiduciary litigator focusing on matters affecting the elderly. Many of her clients are experiencing memory loss while trying to navigate complex end-of-life legal issues.

“It is definitely a challenge, working with clients with memory loss,” says the Samuels Yoelin Kantor partner. “I’m often dealing with families fighting about wills and trusts, or capacity cases, undue influence, financial elder abuse. There’s a lot of drama involved and unfortunately it’s not even focused on what is currently happening. A lot of times it’s about family dynamics.”

The key witness, too, could be dead or incapacitated. “They need to rely on others, often their children, to speak for them,” she says.

In such situations, Blachly often acts as an investigator, conducting interviews and collecting personal and financial records, and essentially stitching the person back together. “You bring them back to life,” she says. “You create a narrative so that the judge, or whoever’s presiding, can get a real human sense of this person and what they would have wanted.”

Becoming a caretaker for an aging parent can be taxing, Blachly knows. You’re trying to communicate with someone who can no longer retain information, doesn’t recognize you, or whose personality may change completely. It can lead to burnout, which can lead to justifying that Mom should pay for both her lunch and yours. Next, she’s paying for your groceries—or buying you a car.

“You think, ‘I deserve this. I’m working really hard. I’m going to inherit this anyway,’” says Blachly. “That slope is definitely slippery. People start out with good intentions and then greed just takes over.”

Blachly says that while an elder may glean that a family member is taking advantage of or abusing them, they are often reluctant to seek help. “There’s such shame,” she says. “You give birth to someone, raise them, love them for their entire lives, and they abuse you. How do you overcome that?”

Blachly has served on the board of the Oregon Alzheimer’s Association since 2016. She worries that our increasingly digital world leaves the elderly isolated—not simply because new technology may leave them behind, but because tech is making certain forms of human contact obsolete. 

“We need to have eyes on people,” she says. “The bank is a perfect example. When your world is pretty small, going to the bank is a big deal, ‘I’m going to go to the bank and get my hundred dollars this week,’ says the little 88-year-old woman. She goes there every week. She chats with the teller. And then one day she shows up with a nephew that nobody’s ever seen and wants to withdraw a hundred thousand dollars. Well, the teller’s going to go, ‘Wait a minute … ’ Those are the frontline people able to keep an eye on these vulnerable populations, and that’s going away.” 

One recent case involved an elderly man in an abusive situation, for whom Blachly secured conservatorship.

“He was put into a facility, where he was happy, he was healthy, he was clean, he was engaged,” she says. “When he passed away, I thought: We gave him the best possible gift, which is a soft landing on the other side.”

By the Numbers

  • 1 in 3: The number of seniors who die with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia
  • 145%: How much death by Alzheimer’s has increased between 2000 and 2019
  • 6 million: The number of Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s
  • 11 million: The number of unpaid caretakers for those with dementia
  • $355 billion: What Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia will cost the country in 2011

Source: Alzheimer’s Association

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