Cautionary Tales - Professional or "Professional" - Episode 30
Hey there, Legal Tea Listeners –This is your host, Jenny Rozelle! Today’s episode of Legal Tea is a cautionary tale, where we talk about a real-life case with real-life clients with real facts. Though, of course, names are altered for confidentiality purposes. Today, as you may have caught by the name of the episode, we’ll be discussing working with a professional or “professional” (said in air quotes) … you know what I’m talking about. The “professional” that dresses the part, acts like the part, and may even speak the part – but their PRODUCT or their SERVICE is not what they promised … or hyped you up about.
I recently met with a client that just, prior to my involvement, got yanked around so much. Let’s start at the very beginning…shall we? And let’s call them the Smith Family. We’ve got Dad and his two children – one son, one daughter.
So, I had a meeting with Dad’s son and daughter – Dad was not present. Dad was not present because he was so physically and cognitively impaired, that I was meeting with his son and daughter, who were Dad’s Power of Attorney. (Side note – kudos to Dad for equipping his children with this document. It’s so vital in these situations … without this document and when someone’s physical/mental health are at issue, usually we’re left with no other option except guardianship. So that was NOT the case here – Dad had once-prepared/executed a Power of Attorney to give his son and daughter the power to step-in and manage his financial and legal affairs for him.)
Following multiple strokes and broken hips, Dad had landed himself in a skilled nursing facility. When he got there, his son and daughter started asking questions – specifically involving how the heck Dad was going to pay for this venture. Dad had some assets; not a lot, but some. So, rightfully so, the son and daughter started wondering if there were any options to PROTECT the assets Dad did have without it ALL being spent at the nursing home. So they asked … and they thought they could trust the resource they were asking…
Somehow, someway, this son and daughter ended up getting involved with an organization that helps families navigate Medicaid … the kicker was that this organization is IN ANOTHER STATE. I will never know or understand why the resource directed this family to seek professional help from an organization in another state, but they did. The son/daughter paid this organization money, and essentially this organization did ONE PIECE of a multi-piece puzzle. Then, they stopped helping … then the family demanded money back … and they never saw a dime get returned to them.
So, what does this family do? Again, they thought they could trust the professionals around them to direct them to appropriate and qualified resources. Instead of going back to the original resource (that gave them the weird out of state referral), they went to the nursing home. I am not sure who specifically they talked to within the nursing home, but they asked this person about what their options are – and conveniently, the nursing home representative said, “Oh, Dad has too much money – he won’t qualify for Medicaid. You just need to private pay us, until the runs out, then he’ll default to going on Medicaid.”
Well, YEAH – that is an option, but that is NOT the question that the family asked. That is a very biased answer, in my personal opinion, because the facility MAKES MORE MONEY on private pay than what Medicaid pays – so they just wanted the family’s money, then they’d do the Medicaid application, and then keep getting paid by Medicaid when Dad ran out. But hey … They asked if there were options to PROTECT Dad’s assets. And this representative gave them one option – and it wasn’t an option that would PROTECT Dad’s assets. Thankfully, the son and daughter kept pushing this nursing home representative and eventually, the representative gave them an attorney.
But it doesn’t end there … the representative gave them an attorney that did estate planning. I don’t super-dooper blame them for this one because so many people don’t understand or know that talking about planning for long-term care and affording long-term care is really what elder law is. You notice that my firm name has “Estate & Elder Law” in it; it’s because we do both estate planning and elder law. Estate planning is about planning for incapacity and death by creating documents like power of attorneys, health care directives, wills, and trusts. Elder law is helping families navigate long-term care … by discussing how to qualify for benefits like Medicaid, even when you have assets in your name.
So, unfortunately, the nursing home sent this son and daughter to an attorney that does not do elder law – crazy enough, (well it’s not crazy to me because I understand WHY) but my firm has several attorneys that do estate planning refer to us for elder law issues because they don’t want to dabble in elder law. KUDOS to them for knowing this and sticking within their wheelhouse! Anyway, Dad’s son and daughter call the estate planning attorney’s office, schedule (naturally it took 2 or so weeks to meet with them), and end up finding out in the meeting that this attorney doesn’t handle elder law/Medicaid planning. What did this family lose? Time … and in these situations, time is literally money because Dad is sitting in this nursing home PRIVATE PAYING! Not to mention, the estate planning attorney charged a consultation fee … so there goes that few hundred bucks, too.
The estate planning attorney ultimately got them to my office – and again, getting into my office was not instantaneous, but nonetheless, they got in front of me. So, I hop on the meeting (it was done by Zoom) and I start talking to the son and daughter about what they’ve experienced. I just sat there in awe – that, it took them HOW LONG and HOW MUCH MONEY to finally get to me … me, someone that 1) knew exactly what to do; 2) would take good care of them; and 3) not take their money and run (like that out of state organization).
Rightfully so, the son and daughter had major trust issues. I remember being on that meeting and while I didn’t want to be remedial in explaining “what” needed to be done, the son and daughter had unfortunately heard this song and dance before – the son politely stopped me and said, “I truly don’t mean to be rude, but I know exactly what needs to be done because I’ve heard this 2x now … 3x with you … I just want someone to help us.”
That about broke my heart. I knew he wasn’t being rude. He was tired of being yanked around. Honestly, if I were in his shoes, I’d be tired of it too. Thankfully, while they had been burned in the past, they trusted me – trust yet another professional to help their Dad. Lucky for them, I’m exactly what they had been looking for. I got to throw on my superhero cape and come to the rescue!
I think this cautionary tale opens up the big ol’ issue of … how in the world do you know if the person/professional in front of you is who you should be in front of? I think “word of mouth” and “do you research” are two phrases that come to mind to answer this question. Something I often tell clients is that they are not alone – many individuals and families are in similar situations. If you’re facing an issue, like Dad’s son and daughter were, start asking around … see if you know of anyone around you that has experienced or is experiencing the same or similar thing. Even if they don’t have a resource for you, maybe they know someone that does. But don’t just take that ONE resource and move on … keep going … if you have more than one person around you that you can ask, ask all of them. You may pick up on a valuable nugget.
Heck, there are even great public online forums – I am thinking of things like the Nextdoor app, Facebook pages (like neighborhood pages), etc. that you could even throw out the situation to, to see if anyone has any good resources they have personally used. The key to all this is not just doing one thing, and picking that one resource … instead, be like a squirrel … gather the nuts and store them.
Beyond that, do your research – I can speak for the legal industry and say that a good attorney will be able to identify an issue and say “this is within my wheelhouse” or “this is NOT within my wheelhouse, but this is who, or if not who, the KIND of lawyer, you should talk to.” So, if it’s a legal issue, ask an attorney – here’s my issue; what KIND of attorney will I need? Local Bar Associations are great resources for this, too. Like, here in Indiana, there is the Indiana State Bar Association, the Indianapolis Bar Association, and even local county Bar Associations that could be resources for you – to ASK the question, “Hey, I have this issue – and I think I need a lawyer, but not sure what type.” Like with Dad’s son and daughter, the estate planning attorney they landed in front of, ultimately said, “you don’t need me – you need an elder law attorney.”
A handy little tip – I’m a firm believer in attorneys specializing in specific areas. You know that if an attorney only does XYZ law, they’re going to know XYZ law like the back of their hand. That’s what you want. So, for a lawyer, google them – see what type of practice areas they “market” themselves as … I recently had a lawyer reach out to me in a case where I’m representing the Executor of an Estate, and this lawyer is representing one of the Estate’s beneficiaries. I found this lawyer – and she advertises herself to be a CRIMINAL DEFENSE lawyer…. Ummm … what?! And you’re randomly taking a case involving probate and estates?!
I think it’s a conglomeration of all these things – ask around, ask for referrals, do your own research, and TRUST YOUR GUT. I’m always happy to be a resource for people in Indiana, at least, so if I can ever help find a referral or resource for any of my Legal Tea listeners, you know where to find me. LegalTeaPodcast@gmail.com, just shoot me an email and I’ve got your back.
Alrighty … that ends this cautionary tale episode! Next week’s topic is a current event/current trend -- something I’ve seen or run across that I think would be interesting on here. So next week, I’m going to be a little late to the #BettyWhiteChallenge party, but we’re going to talk about incorporating pets into your estate plan. I think with Betty White’s unexpected passing (well, is it unexpected if the person is 99 years old?!) and Betty’s love for animals, I’m considering this a “current event/current trend” and a total excuse to talk about animals. Because I love my doggies.
Until then, Legal Tea Listeners…be well and talk soon!