By: Katie May

This is a great time of year to look back, pause and reflect on that for which we are thankful. In our personal lives, we often share these thoughts around the table at Thanksgiving. In our professional lives, a new year is a good time to reflect on the year just past, and to make plans for the year ahead.

The words “thank you” are not said often enough. We would like to dedicate this article to say “thank you” for the people and things that make our lives more fulfilling. Here are six things for which we Elder Law and Special Needs attorneys are thankful.

The Ability to Help Clients Plan Before a Crisis Happens

Elder Law and Special Needs attorneys care greatly for their senior and special needs clients and like to see things go smoothly for them, especially as difficult issues arise, such as finding and paying for long-term care. Clients who understand the need to plan early are more likely to find a smooth path into these transitions.

While typical estate planning includes planning for incapacity during one’s lifetime as well as distribution of one’s assets upon their passing, Elder Law and Special Needs attorneys have an added focus of planning with long-term care in mind. Often a traditional estate plan will have the same documents that an Elder Law and Special Needs attorney puts in place, like a Revocable Living Trust, a Pour-Over Will, a Durable Power of Attorney, a Power of Attorney for Health Care, and a HIPAA Authorization. However, the provisions within the documents vary significantly depending on the focus of the attorney drafting them. Because one focus of the Elder Law and Special Needs attorney is to help clients plan for the possibility of needing long-term care while protecting the home and other assets, our planning documents often include an irrevocable trust designed specifically for this purpose. Other documents, like the Durable Power of Attorney for Property, will include enhanced powers that allow the agent to engage in Medicaid and/or Veterans Administration (“VA”) pension planning.

Adding enhanced provisions to existing planning documents enables those trusted persons to pursue additional planning strategies if and when the time comes for the special needs individual or the senior to utilize long-term care. When the time comes for Medicaid planning or VA pension planning, it is imperative for the Trustee and/or the Agent to have the authority to take specific actions on behalf of the disabled or elderly person, like the authority to establish and fund an irrevocable trust, file a Medicaid application or prepare a VA pension application. The grant of authority must be clearly stated within the documents yet these powers are not normally found in general estate-planning documents.

Having clients in our office long before they are in need of long-term care allows Special Needs and Elder Law attorneys to successfully and efficiently assist clients when they need it. We are all thankful when we have such a client.

Other Professionals

A Special Needs and Elder Law attorney’s office is much more than a place where legal analysis is conducted or where legal documents are prepared. It is also a place where special needs clients and seniors are heard, encouraged to express all of the issues they are facing, and where connections are made.

We are thankful to have ongoing relationships with other professionals that are compassionate about the disabled and elderly. Our clients are much better off because of these other professionals. For example, many times a Placement Specialist is needed to help a client find the best facility to meet their long-term care needs. Sometimes a family needs a Care Manager for a variety of reasons including to act as an advocate or to oversee care provided to a loved one. Professional Fiduciaries can be an amazing resource for families as they can alleviate stress from family members allowing family to just “be there” for the senior. CPAs, Financial Advisors, other Estate Planning attorneys, Real Estate agents, Insurance agents and a plethora of other special needs and senior-centric professionals are invaluable to the Special Needs and Elder Law attorney devoted to his or her clients.

These relationships are not only personally fulfilling, but also allow us to comprehensively serve our clients.

Non-Profit Organizations

There are many non-profit organizations that are dedicated to making life better for the disabled individual and elderly client, and who support Special Needs and Elder Law attorneys and for that we are thankful. These organizations keep us up to date on the issues facing the special needs or elderly client, give us a heads-up on changes in the laws across the country and continue to provide new ideas on how to best serve our clientele. The National Association of Elder Law Attorneys, the Alzheimer’s Association and the National Council on Aging are a few of the organizations that Special Needs and Elder Law attorneys can connect with to better serve our clients. We are all in this together and working toward a common goal to serve our clients and their loved ones the best way possible.

Trustworthy and Committed Family Members

Although we occasionally serve a disabled or elderly client who has no family members or close friends, we are thankful when trustworthy and committed family members are available to the client.

Many of the strategies we have available to us only work when a client has trusted people to assist in the strategy. Many thanks go to adult children who are committed to their parents, brothers and sisters who are willing to help their siblings, and other family members who make themselves available to help disabled loved ones. Husbands and wives, especially, after “how-ever-many” years of marriage and who are still devoted to their ill spouses are greatly appreciated by Elder Law attorneys! Without you our work would be much more difficult. Without you, the strategies we employ would fail to work the way they are meant to work. You are vital to the health and welfare of your loved one.

It is often the family member who finds the Special Needs or Elder Law attorney for the disabled client. As technology changes, the disabled or older client sometimes has a difficult time finding the necessary resources. We are very grateful to those family members who seek out a Special Needs or Elder Law attorney and bring us together.

Our Own Support System

Advocating for someone with a disability or for a senior can be stressful for a variety of reasons. While it is one of the most fulfilling jobs we can think of, it brings with it concerns for our clients that can creep up at all hours of the night. As with any professional whose heart is a big part of their service, our support systems are essential to our well-being.

Our support systems include our family members, professional colleagues, neighbors and our friends. Without our supporters, we would be unable to continue doing what we love.

Happy New Year to all of you! Enjoy your family and friends this holiday season. If you have any clients or know of anyone who would benefit from the assistance of a Special Needs or Elder Law attorney, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are always happy to hear from you and your clients.

Our Wonderful Clients

Saving the best reason for last, we are most thankful for our wonderful clients who make our work so meaningful and provide us with the sense of fulfillment we need to continuously work through the difficult maze of government benefits and long days at the office. We are grateful for the trust placed in us and in the services we provide, and for the opportunity to challenge ourselves, the system currently in place and the society in which we live.

Our clients fuel our passion to serve the disabled population and provide us with inspiration every day of our professional lives. Each client’s unique experiences and individual challenges teach us more about what it means to live, and motivates us to be better attorneys, citizens and individuals. And for that, we are most appreciative.

Conclusion

Many of the strategies we have available to us only work when a client has trusted people available to assist in the strategy. Many thanks go to adult children who are committed to their parents, siblings and other loved ones who are committed to their disabled family members, and spouses who respect and honor their husbands and wives who need their help. Without all of you, our work would be much more difficult. Without you, the strategies we employ would fail to work in the way that they are meant to work. You are vital to the health and welfare of your loved one. And to our clients, a special thanks, for allowing us to serve you, making us all better attorneys and better people.

As a professional advisor, you are often the person that family members turn to in times of need or crisis. Our skilled and experienced Special Needs planners and Elder Law attorneys are available to guide and assist your clients through the maze of rules, regulations and laws that govern Special Needs and Elder Law issues. If we can help improve the life of one of your clients, please don’t hesitate to call on us.