I am sometimes asked how I got started working with seniors and doing the kind of long-term care planning that we do. I actually appreciate when clients ask this question.
I owe it all to my grandmother. After my grandfather died in the 1960s, my grandmother became the head of the family in spiritual and religious matters, and I suppose we always thought that she would assume that role forever.
Just to give you a bit of background: my grandmother had always been a very strong and independent woman. She always assumed leadership positions in her volunteer organizations and charitable work, and even well into her 80s would walk or take the bus all over the East Bay to run errands, go to meetings, etc. She was very independent. How independent was she? On one occasion she needed to have a number of teeth extracted. Rather than calling any of her adult children or grandchildren for transportation to and from the dentist’s office, she said nothing to anyone and took herself back and forth to the dentist’s office by bus, holding a cold compress to her jaw all the way home. In fact, she only notified the rest of the family that evening when she telephoned to report the events of the day.
However, as she approached 90 years of age, we gradually noticed that she began to exhibit some signs that she needed assistance. It appeared that she was not getting adequate nutrition, she did not leave her apartment very often, and it seemed that her eyesight was failing. To address these concerns, we ultimately found other living arrangements for her, including assisted living and later skilled nursing care. And as we began to deal with her care needs and life transition, we found that we had many questions, not just about providing for her care and determining how to pay for it, but also about how to deal with her finances, pay for the cost of care, protect her estate and many more. However, we found the answers very difficult to come by. Very few people had the information that we needed, and we had to search far and wide for limited information.
A kind of light bulb went off.
Until then, I had practiced in the field of conventional estate planning, centered on what I call “death planning.” I had long felt that there was something missing from this approach, but I could not quite put my finger on it. I suddenly realized what was missing. My grandmother’s circumstances essentially showed me a different way of thinking about seniors and elders in declining health. The question for them was not “What happens when I die?” but rather “What happens if I don’t die and need long-term care?”
Right then and there, my current focus was born and I have been practicing elder law ever since—and hope to continue to do so for many years to come. All of this happened around 1990, and for the past two decades our firm has been serving the planning needs of seniors and those who love them, and helping them address the challenges of longevity with dignity, including the ever-present question of how to pay for the cost of long-term care.