Our law firm focuses on helping older and disabled persons with their legal needs. This could include assistance with paying for skilled care, ensuring their wishes are honored, protecting assets through a special needs trust or other type of trust, protecting existing government benefits if ongoing benefit coverage is threatened, and other issues related to aging, illness, and family planning. In addition, we help people of all ages with estate planning and tax planning issues for passing wealth after death without the need for probate and planning for the possibility of future incapacity.
Our law firm understands there is no easy button to push to fix your serious concerns. Our goal is to serve families and their loved ones in the St. Louis area with dignity and respect. We are not interested in dumbing-down or over-simplifying your issues. We are not into gimmicks. Our legal team understands the complexities and risks of your decisions. We believe in walking this journey together with an education-based, client-centered approach.
We know that legal planning in the areas of long-term care planning, estate planning, and asset preservation can be confusing and unfamiliar for many people. Whether it is learning to navigate the Medicaid system, understanding laws that effect you or a disabled or elderly family member, or understanding documents we have prepared for you, personal attention to your case matters. You should feel comfortable with the options, the approach, and be an active part of the solution.
Elder law is a subspecialty of law that includes estate planning (including trusts, wills and powers of attorney), as well as additional services, including preparing our clients to deal with long-term care costs, retirement benefits, and issues related to their changing health as they age, such as the many challenges dementia presents and incapacity or diminished capacity issues. Elder law attorneys take clients over the age of 18 that are disabled and often need government benefits planning. Elder law attorneys have knowledge about government benefits programs, such as SSI, Medicaid, Medicare and SSDI as well as specialized trust planning to help maintain those benefits. We also help to establish guardianships, prepare annual settlements in conservatorships and guide clients through the probate process for decedent estates. We provide clients and their families with a more holistic approach because we spend a lot of time learning about their needs and wants. We often work with a team that includes financial planners, accountants, geriatric care managers or social workers, and other professionals to design and implement an appropriate plan for each client.
There really is no right or wrong age. Sometimes our clients are younger but have a disability. And, every person over the age of 18 should consider basic documents, such as a Last Will and Testament and powers of attorney. However, by the age 60 as retirement is on the horizon, you should start the planning process and determine your goals for retirement and how your estate will be carried out eventually. Starting early helps you know the pros and cons of your planning options, and allows you to make informed decisions before it is too late because you find yourself in a critical, acute health situation that might limit planning options. We also recommend that our clients consider multigenerational planning and talk with their own children about estate planning to ensure their children and grandchildren are also protected.
As a client, you will have to prepare enough information in order for us to help you. This means we will ask you for detailed personal, financial and health information. We will verify titling on your assets, and we will want to know whether you are receiving or possibly eligible for benefits, such as Veterans benefits, Medicare or Medicaid. We ask about everything from pets to guns to retirement plans. And, we will want to know what is important to you. For example, is it more important to you that your children have control over inheritance you might leave to them or that they use the money for their education or travel? Do you want to establish a pet trust to make sure your furry friend finds a good home when you are gone? In order to help walk you through the planning process, we need more than basic information. If we only take basic information, you might not get what you want or need. Although you might call us for a “simple Will,” it is our job to determine whether that simple Will adequately protects you or will create more harm than good.
There is no more important discussion than how you help your children and loved ones. That discussion is even more crucial if you have a child (adult or minor) that needs or might need government benefits in the future as a result of incapacity or disability, or might need assistance by others to care for them and provide for their needs throughout their lifetime. It’s important to protect the inheritance you might leave them, but it is also critical to consider who will help them and what resources they will need as they get older to ensure their protection after you are no longer there to personally protect them.
There are a variety of ways to avoid probate. In some cases, a trust should be used to protect your estate, and in other cases, simple beneficiary designations on accounts and life insurance, and beneficiary deeds for real estate will suffice. However, it is not true that a Will (that is, a Last Will and Testament) avoids probate. A Will instructs the judge how to order the distribution of your estate after a careful, statutory process is followed (probate). Signing a will in and of itself does not avoid probate at all as it is often believed to do.
While many of our documents are designed to protect assets and to ensure the efficient transfer of your estate to your beneficiaries, healthcare documents are some of the most crucial and inexpensive documents you can prepare. A Will or a trust are useful but it is much more important to assign those agents, through a healthcare power of attorney, that will make key medical and personal decisions for you when you cannot. Missouri does not have a next of kin statute that allows a family member to make decisions for you without these documents signed before you lose capacity or without court intervention. This means that without a healthcare power of attorney, it is often the case that next of kin must file for guardianship through the courts in order to be able to help you through the aging process or the dying process if you lose capacity. Further, the Living Will (or advance directives) tells your agents and your physicians your end of life decisions in the event you lose capacity and cannot communicate those directions yourself so they can make decisions you would have made if you .
We help clients and their families with a wide-range of long-term care issues, including Medicaid, Veteran’s Benefits, other government programs, tax and estate planning, asset protection and Special Needs Trusts, and Probate matters. We represent clients in Medicaid and VA eligibility cases as well as matters involving the Missouri Department of Social Services, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), other Social Security Administration programs, and Veterans Administration. Our VA-accreditation authorizes us to represent clients in initial claims and appeals for Veteran Benefits.
In light of new mandates from the government regarding COVID-19 and social distancing, our firm is implementing virtual consultations in an effort to protect our often elderly and/or immunocompromised clients. Until further notice, Zoom conferences will be our default meeting platform unless there are circumstances that require an in-person meeting. We can also accommodate other platforms such as Face Time. Zoom is an easy to use video conferencing system that works on a tablet, smart phone or computer. Our Intake Coordinator, Kim Smith, will outline in detail how your first conference with our office will be conducted via Zoom.
Rest assured that whether you are comfortable with video conferencing technology or not, our team is working hard to ensure the legal needs’ of our clients and their families are met in the safest and most efficient way possible.
Thank you for your understanding and patience in these unprecedented times.
~ Melissa Q. Leavy, Owner/Attorney, The Elder Care Law Practice, LLC