Q. Do you mind if I ask how you got started working with seniors and doing the kind of long-term care estate planning that you do?
A. Not at all. In a word, I owe it all to my grandmother.
After my grandfather died in the 1960s, my grandmother, Lena Ponsky, became the head of our family in spiritual and religious matters, and I suppose we always thought that she would assume that role forever.
Just to provide a bit of background: my grandmother had always been a very strong and independent woman, always undertaking leadership positions in her volunteer organizations and charitable work. Although she did not drive, she would walk or take the bus all over the East Bay to run errands and go to meetings, and I recall her doing so well into her 80’s. How independent was she? Well, on one occasion she needed to have a number of teeth extracted. Rather than calling any of her adult children or grandchildren for help going to and from the dentist, 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 back home. In fact, we only learned of her visit to the dentist later that evening when she telephoned to chat about the events of the day.
However, as she approached 90 years of age, we noticed signs that she needed assistance. It appeared that she was not getting adequate nutrition, was not leaving 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. As we began to deal with her care, we found that we had many questions, not just about providing for her needs, but also about how to deal with her finances, pay for the cost of care, protect her estate and many others. However, we found the answers very difficult to come by, as very few people had the information that we needed. Indeed, we had to search far and wide for limited information.
Suddenly, a kind of light bulb flashed in my mind! And here’s what it was:
Until then, I – along with my attorney colleagues – had practiced traditional estate planning, centered on what I call “death planning.”, i.e. planning designed to pass on one’s assets to heirs and beneficiaries at death. However, I had long felt that there was something missing from this approach, but in my early years as an attorney I could not quite put my finger on it.
Suddenly, while working to help my Grandmother, I 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, but live on and need long-term care?”
And, right then and there, my current focus in Elder Law was born. As a result of that flash of insight inspired by my Grandmother, I have been serving the planning needs of seniors and those who love them by focusing on the legal and financial challenges of longevity, including the ever-present question of how to pay for the cost of long-term care.
And now you know the “back story”.