Need to get started planning for Long Term Care? Here’s an easy way to start thinking about it. Listen to my recent guest stint on WINA 1070 AM and 98.9 FM with Jeanne McCusker and her Saturday a.m. program “A Graceful Life”
I drive a little Mini-Cooper, – its bright red with black racing stripes I’ve added to it two round, black, red and white, magnetic signs on either side that say in- large print: “ELDER LAW” – and below that “Attorney.” My reasoning is, if you’re going to drive an eyecatching little sports car, you should use it to good effect.
The other day, I had someone roll down her windows at a stoplight and take a picture of the side of my car. She waved and shouted out to me that she’d be calling me and added, I’m a “sandwich generation member.” I’d venture a guess that she knows exactly what elder law is. She is one of the growing population who is simultaneously caring for her own children (probably teens or starting college) and her own aging parents or other relative.
Thanks to the signs on my car, people often ask me, “What’s Elder Law?” My answer is that if it involves seniors (55+ includes most children of elders) and something legal or government related, its probably Elder Law.
If they think of it at all, most people will relate to the bread & butter issues of my practice: Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney and Advanced Medical Directives. And in truth, that is the work that pretty much pays my bills. But there is far more. Most people have not given a thought to how they will be cared for when they are no longer able to do it themselves. And more critically, how will they pay for that care on their now fixed income and resources? Long Term Care planning is something that is vital to all of us as something on the order of 70% of us will spend our final days in some kind of care facility.
Many of the clients I deal with have issues related to an elder person’s ability – or inability – to make decisions and care for themselves. That includes decisions about their care and well being as well as decisions about their property and finances. Typically people come to me believing they need to seek guardianship or conservatorship. The former gives the control over the person – healthcare treatment, living arrangement and the like and the latter give one control over the person’s property and finances. I’m always happy to try to find a non-judicial way to avoid that as it is a long, expensive, court procedure which may be completely necessary. And when it is necessary, I can take care of the proceedings from start to finish.
One of the most troublesome areas that my clients deal with is the labyrinthine halls of Medicare and Medicaid. Both are extremely complex, government or government regulated areas that can overwhelm people who work in the field all the time. Connected with these agencies is dealing with local social services departments. All have reams of manuals, rules, regulations and eligibility hoops to jump through. This too is Elder Law.
In variably, dealing with these issues means dealing with family members. That is often a minefield. Many adult siblings have what I call “sandbox issues” which go back to childhood and teen years and have nothing to do with the present decisions that need to be made. Nevertheless, these long simmering issues often rear their ugly heads and must be dealt with in order to ensure that Mom or Dad get the care and assistance they need to remain comfortable and dignified right up to the end. Counseling and mediating with Adult Children is a big part of what I do as a part of my elder law practice. Sometimes it means litigating as a last resort.
All of this is done while walking a balance beam that means never forgetting that my client is Mom or Dad and everything must work in their interest no matter who may be paying the bills. Often the very toughest part of my job!
I am shocked and appalled at the position of some law firms who believe they can bill outrageous firm billing rates for guardian and conservatorship work. In Virginia, the law very clearly states that billing for such services must be “reasonable” and the Judges of Virginia have even published very distinct guidelines as to what “reasonable” means. Typically not more than 5% of the estate being “conserved” over a period of time (starting at 1% in the first year, .75 the next and so on).
I often get discouraged when my professional colleagues pull stunts like this one in Northern Virginia – it makes a bad name for all of us. Personally the “reasonable” fees are quite sufficient for me and I am in no way “chilled” by the ruling in Northern Virginia.