State of the Firm

STATE OF THE FIRM

2017 – What a year!  Those of you already familiar with us already know how passionate we are about servicing our clients. We truly want to be the top elder law firm in the country and we want our employees to live an extraordinary life.  It’s a win-win:  Our clients get the best service, our professional resources are elated, and our important team members enjoy their work.  So, a quick recap of our 2017:

·      We dug in our heels in 2016 in order to excel in 2017 and beyond.  Instead of plodding along and hoping for better things in the future, Clelia and I focused on professional development, met with business mentors, and vowed to build a Super Bowl team.  A fantastic thing happened as a byproduct – we lost those employees who were unwilling to strive towards excellence and replaced them with team members who subscribe to our mission, vision, and values.

·      We added a Client Care Coordinator to our team.  While we always considered ourselves a holistic and broad-based practice, we have now taken the extra step of carving out a position specifically devoted to those client questions and concerns regarding non-legal issues.  This allows us to better serve our clients and work more closely with geriatric care managers and other allied professionals.

·      Clelia Pergola wrote the “Law Firm Revolution” and now speaks publicly about running a successful law practice while maintaining balance (even at long established law firms).

·      GLG raised $18,500 for a local VFW.  If you want to gain some insight into how an organization should run attend a GLG fundraiser. This went off without a hitch and raised money for our underserved veterans.

·      I became a Certified Elder Law Attorney “(CELA”).  Years of helping seniors, months of studying, and a devotion to my craft really paid off.

·      We won Best Law Firm in Essex County!

Anyone who knows a team member at GLG is already aware of our passion to help seniors and their families.  We combine our knowledge of the law with a keen sense of business organization and compassion to expertly serve our clients. We recognize the enormous responsibility that comes with serving the senior population and are proud to be a leader in this wonderful industry.

Our core values are:

Client Commitment

Integrity

Respect

Quality

Teamwork

Service Excellence

Employee Development

Compassion

Looking forward to great things in 2018!

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Estate Planning For Families With Disabilities

For families of children with special needs, merely navigating their daily routine can be overwhelming. Today’s issues are so time consuming and stressful that the future often takes a back seat. But, estate planning for families with a disabled child is imperative in order to make sure the child is well cared for no matter what circumstances might occur.

Last Will and Testament

Even without a special needs child in the family, a Last Will and Testament is of paramount importance.  Every individual with assets should lay out a plan for how assets are distributed upon death.  However, when there is a disabled child in the family, the parents’ Last Will and Testament serves the important role of funding a Supplemental Needs Trust (“SNT”) and assigning a trustee to administer the SNT.

While the mechanics of an SNT are beyond the scope of this article, the main purpose of the SNT is to provide assets for the disabled individual that may be used to supplement rather than supplant what government benefits provide.  It is a method for allowing a disabled individual to receive a distribution without jeopardizing means-based government benefits programs.

Powers of Attorney

If your disabled child is 18 years of age or older and has the legal capacity to sign documents, he or she should execute a Durable Power of Attorney to allow a parent or sibling to continue to make financial decisions in the event his or her capacity is ever compromised.  Durable Powers of Attorney are also effective as a convenient mechanism should the grantor feel that her agent is either more capable or might find it easier to deal with financial institutions.  Due to the importance of this document, Goldberg Law Group recommends all individuals who are 18 years of age or older execute a Durable Power of Attorney.

Health Care Power of Attorney/Living Will

If your disabled child is 18 years of age or older and has the legal capacity to sign documents, he or she should execute a Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will.  Unlike a Durable Power of Attorney, the health care representative may act only if the grantor of the power is incapable of making her own health care decisions.  A Living Will expresses the individual’s wish that should her death become imminent, she does not want artificial means used to keep her alive. Due to the importance of these documents, Goldberg Law Group recommends all individuals who are 18 years of age or older execute a Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will.

Guardianship

In the event that the disabled child is suffering from a cognitive disability, it is recommended that the caregiver (usually parents or siblings) be appointed as guardian.  Many families assume that they can continue to administer their child’s affairs even after she attains the age of 18.  Even though some financial and medical institutions may continue to take direction from a parent, they are doing so in contravention of federal and state law.

Oftentimes, we find families procrastinate important planning due to the intimidating scope of the project. At Goldberg Law Group we have developed a process to help you painlessly navigate this process. We do so much more than just draft your documents. We help our families understand how to use their planning tools to play a crucial role in the life of a special needs child.

Special Needs Trusts

Standalone Special Needs Trusts, another planning tool, will be discussed in later blog posts. As always, feel free to contact us at info@goldbergplanning.com or 973-228-1795 if you have any questions on these important components of an estate plan involving a disabled child.

 

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Feature in Huffington Post

 

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/court-appointed-guardian-system-failing-elderly_us_59d3f70be4b06226e3f44d4e#

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Feature in thirdAGE

Keeping Seniors Safe During Hurricanes and Storms

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Celebrating Our Team

Those of you who know us well recognize that we keep a hectic pace throughout the day.  Clelia and I are obsessed with taking care of clients, vetting outside professionals, and building a great team. Twelve hour days fly by and then it’s time to exercise and share experiences with family and friends.  We also spend a lot of time thinking about our team as they are an extended family and, in fact, an extension of our philosophies (teaser: see more in Clelia’s upcoming book!). This morning, I want to thank my staff publicly.

In all the years of running the elder law firm we have never had a team like this.  Passion, compassion, work ethic, comradery, support, excellence.  Fill in the blanks – they have it all.  Every single team member is devoted to his or her area of expertise and it shows.  It is rare that a prospective client doesn’t sing the praises of Marlena or Jessica.  Later, when the client is in the midst of our process, the accolades continue: “I can’t thank you enough for the consistent follow up.  We never would have accomplished the plan with everything else that is going on with mom.”  Natalie, our newest team member is a force in the world of Medicaid and public benefits and Toni has been right by our side from the start helping families distribute assets in the face of heartbreaking loss.

Then there is the travel:  Ever since we welcomed the talented Christina Candido aboard as our Client Care Coordinator, our staff has become obsessed with travel.  What’s an employer to do?  We say, “Go! See the world, explore, come back with stories and experiences.”  Recently, Marlena left for ten work days to explore France.  She had never before left the country.  How would we survive for ten full days without the team member who touches every single prospective client, active client, and professional that calls or walks through the door? Oh, and did I mention that we are busier than ever?

I’m not going to say it was easy because there is no way to minimize what Marlena does.  But, the team came together seamlessly.  Every team member grabbed a piece of Marlena’s day and executed it in an extraordinary way.  Did we feel her absence?  Were there moments of overwhelming stress?  Most definitely.  Did we accomplish our goals and grow together?  Yes!

Thursday night we celebrate our six-year mark as a law firm (our actual anniversary was September 8).  We work hard to accomplish our goal of being the best elder law firm and we know that teamwork is the key.  The last six years have been incredible.  As any business owner knows, keeping great people is imperative. I’m thankful each and every day to surround myself with this great group of leaders in our industry.

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The Danger of Old Estate Planning Documents

Where old wills are concerned, the saying, “it’s better to have something than nothing at all” doesn’t always prove true.  This year alone at least five of our clients found this out the hard way.  I highlight two below.

In the first instance, an adult child passed away unexpectedly, leaving two children that had no relationship with their elderly grandmother. She did not want to leave them an inheritance, but due to the fact that she left her estate in part to her son, “per stripes” (a term that means in the event he predeceased her his share would go to his children) she was now leaving one-half of her estate to these absentee grandchildren.  GLG re-drafted her will to exclude them in accordance with her wishes.

In another instance, a terminally ill divorcee left her entire estate to her elderly mother living in a nursing home. She had executed her will shortly after her divorce and didn’t want her minor child to receive an outright distribution. This had two potential unintended consequences: First, it effectively disinherited her only child. Second, had her estate gone to her mother, it would have been taken by the state to repay it for funds used under the Medicaid program for her mother’s care. To make matters worse, when the client discovered this she already had terminal cancer. During the drafting period, she took a turn for the worse necessitating GLG to rush her documents and move up her signing appointment so that she could make these important changes days before her death.

Reasons to review estate documents every few years:

Change in estate tax laws
Change in estate planning techniques
Family members die and are born
Family dynamics change
Financial fortunes grow and decline
Family members suffer a disability, drug addiction, financial crisis, lawsuit, or bad marriage
People move out of state
Mistakes in current documents
People change their minds

As a corollary to this, also review your beneficiary designations.

At GLG, we’re here to help make certain that you and your family receive the most effective estate planning and elder law guidance. We always strive to guide our clients in an intelligent, compassionate, creative, and efficient manner.

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The Part Where I Realized I Was My Clients’ Families

Back in my grandparents’ house, we decided to get the house ready for when grandma came home, because she was definitely coming home (We are Italian, after all!). We all chipped in, pulled up all the carpeting, threw out all the throw rugs, tossed some clutter, and hired Back Home Safely to install a new railing and to ensure the house was safe and functional.

Back at the rehab grandma was making progress. She was getting PT 2x/day, her vitals were regulated and after almost three months of me annoying her to push herself she was walking with a walker on her own and would even walk on her own holding my arm.  Yet again, my grandmother showed her strength, defying all the doctor’s predictions that she would never walk or even stand again. The good thing….

SHE MADE IT TO MY WEDDING!

Eric then started drafting estate planning documents since my grandparents, both age 82, did not know they needed them. He also went over all their financials (which took all of about 10 minutes since they had nothing) and advised us to apply for Medicaid to pay for grandma’s care at home.

Grandma was about to come home in need of care and they were in no position to pay for it nor accept it mentally. We had spoken to the rehab about requesting the PAS so that she would be covered for her stay in the rehab as well as the soon-to-be care at home. The PAS is an extremely important request often overlooked due to the overwhelming care responsibilities families have getting their loved one back into “good health”.

I started the Medicaid application, collecting all the documents and financials the County requested. As I stated in an earlier post, it should have been a simple Medicaid application since they had nothing left. Well…. SURPRISE, SURPRISE. We knew that my aunt was on all the bank accounts since she lived with my grandparents and helped them with the bills but didn’t know it would possibly cause a penalty. My aunt also deposited some of her money into these accounts to help contribute to the house that was titled in her name. My grandparents contributed to the mortgage and property taxes on a home they didn’t own and there was no rental agreement. My grandmother was also the sole beneficiary on my grandfather’s life insurance policy. As you can see, even seniors with no money have complicated lives. The trail is too intertwined and confusing for a lay person to navigate without the help of a trained professional.

I cleared up the confusion in this Medicaid story for the County caseworker and made my appointment to submit the application. I appeared on May 5, 2013 (Cinco de Mayo) and waited over an hour, aggravated after the case manager informed me that his staff was out celebrating the holiday. My caseworker finally returned from lunch, drunk, yes DRUNK. Thankfully, Eric was with me and handled the matter in an unemotional professional state and answered all the questions I had worked so hard to make clear for this individual.

I am Clelia Pergola, and even though I helped start Goldberg Law Group I realized that my most important lesson was happening in real time – a role reversal – I was just like my clients’ families.

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Rehab is a Term for the Entire Family

Back in my everyday life, I was working at an another eldercare law firm, where I was getting into work before anyone got in to ensure the work was being done, I was weeks away from my bridal shower and I had just, within that week of grandma going into ICU, moved out of my grandparents’ house living on my own for the first time ever. I NEVER missed a day of work yet NEVER missing a day with my grandmother. I would run to the hospital and sit by her bed side from 5:30 to 10:30 sometimes even later, because if I didn’t see her she would pass away (Italian Guilt). Weekends I would be there all day long, holding her hand and talking to her.

We were all so relieved to know Nonna could breathe on her own once again. Then she spoke, a bit raspy but nonetheless was communicating. But what did that communication entail but hallucinations and paranoia. Grandma called a family meeting, so I waited for the family to be there and facetimed my mom. Then she told us, the nurses and doctors were trying to kill her and stealing all her important documents that were hidden behind the bed. Although any other person outside the situation would see this as a red flag we as a loving devoted family said this must be just because she has just gone through so much and moved onto the kidneys failing as our next plan of attack.

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To further complicate matters, I began building Goldberg Law Group with Eric Goldberg. Although it was the most stressful time of my life, I recognized the good fortune that I had found a career that paralleled my life experiences and I sought to make a difference in the elder care world. Little did I know during that turbulent stage of my life, with my grandmother’s health hanging in the balance, that Eric and I had started building what many consider to be the most compassionate and process-driven eldercare law firm in the region.

Back at the hospital, grandma’s organs were all functioning but with a lot of assistance from all the medications she was now being given. The doctors were advising us to speak to the discharge planners to have her transferred to a sub-acute facility by the end of the week. They also informed us that she would never walk again or even stand up on her own. My family and I were devastated but we remained optimistic.

We looked into various options and decided on a 5 Star Medicare Rated facility. WELL… within less than one week she was already having medical complications because the facility was not following the treatment plan established in the hospital. So, back to the hospital she went. I then reached out to my contacts in the industry to guide me going forward. A week later, she was discharged once again to another sub-acute facility and this time we made sure we communicated with each department to ensure they were following the new orders. I visited her twice daily to help and encourage her to do her exercises.

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My bridal shower was that weekend and as expected she was unable to stand on her own. I dressed in my outfit and drove to the facility so she could see me, her only grandchild (and for all intents and purposes, her fourth child) and off to the “celebration” I went. The next morning, it was back to reality. My goal was to get her standing and walking in preparation for my wedding four short months away.

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My World Has Changed Forever

After six years of caring for my grandmother, and finally ready to tell my story, my Nonna has passed away. I started this blog to connect on a deeper level with those of you who are caregivers in the industry and also to share my experience with those who cannot imagine the challenges of caregiving. The struggles of a family caregiver are surreal in that the caregiver is both emotionally and physically involved with the loved one while attempting to stay afloat in the outside world.

Caregiving is not something one necessarily speaks about and sometimes one might not even admit that she has, in fact, become a caregiver. The unfortunate truth is that the people that once loved and cared for us will inevitably decline and need us to love and care for them. We need to make decisions, some of which are life altering or life threatening, on another life that we care so deeply about. Sounds simple, right? I mean we all know right from wrong. Wrong! When we are emotional, caught by surprise, multi-tasking, exhausted and then asked to make important decisions, we may choose the wrong path or simply be distracted from what needs to be done.

Over the last six years, Grandma went through so many ups and downs; from hospital visits, to rehabs, all types of therapy, dementia, to losing her best friend, her husband. We, as a family, stuck by her side always willing to do whatever it took to help but never realizing what she was going through since we couldn’t possibly experience her pain. To compound matters, after grandpa passed away, Grandma became mostly non-verbal so it was hard for her to communicate what she was feeling.

Six years ago Grandma was a hard working Italian woman; cooking, cleaning, and acting as an AMAZING caregiver to her kids (including myself). She never realized that she was the ultimate role model, teaching and touching so many people with her motherly ways.

Then, one morning while making the bed (because if the bed isn’t made then the room is a mess) BOOM!!! She fell. She was rushed to the emergency room with blood clots traveling to her lungs. Diagnosis: Pulmonary Embolism. The doctors did emergency surgery to save her life. She spent the next few months in a corner room in the ICU at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Paterson unresponsive and on a ventilator due to her collapsed lungs and kidney failure.

My family and I went every day to be by her side. We were convinced she was still thinking and hearing us as we noticed she would wiggle her toes in response to our questions. We all took various responsibilities whether it be to comfort her, tasks at home, doctors, finances and documenting each and every day and conversation. We focused on one organ at a time trying to juggle different parts of her body that were shutting down.

As she began to improve, the doctors told us that we needed to get her 100% off the vent so that they could pull it out and she could breathe on her own. So, we would “coach” and encourage her to breathe and breathe with her. But after two failed attempts the doctors began discussing a tracheotomy. We had no choice but to agree that if she failed one last time they would be forced to move forward with the procedure since they could not aggravate her esophagus any further. Grandma with a trach! Ughhhh. Well, they pulled out the tube one last time and miraculously she began to breathe. She had beat the odds, BUT at a grave expense. Grandma was changed forever.

I will continue the story in a few short weeks. While it is cathartic to me, I feel it is also important to tell the story, for if it helps one person to understand the challenges of caregiving or to recognize that it is truly a national epidemic it has been worth telling.

Thank you to all who have been following. I look forward to sharing.

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Clelia’s Caregiving Story Update

Last week, Clelia’s caregiver journey finally ended. Two weeks prior to her 87th birthday, Lidia Barone, “Ma,” took her last breath lying in bed surrounded by the people who loved her dearly. I watched as a family joined together in her last days waiting for the inevitable. The last two weeks were a gift to the Barone family. Due to her inability to swallow, Lidia stopped taking the medications prescribed to help ease her pain. As a result, she regained some of her clarity and began to enjoy her family again. The family cried and laughed together. They truly bonded over the undeniable loss of their matriarch. I listened as they told stories of the small Southern Italian town that is always at the center of their lives, Marano Principato.

Marano Principato, the town that draws them back to live, pushes them away, and then draws them back again time and time again. The residents of Marano Principato are both kind and untrustworthy. They are generous yet vicious. Fun yet cold. The town and its people have shaped the Barone family more than any typical place ever could.

As I looked at the dozens of photographs displayed around Lidia’s room it occurred to me that the woman lying in the nursing home bed had accomplished everything she set out to do. She married a fine man who needed to make a living. When there were no jobs in their small Italian town, they emigrated to France. From France, they moved to the United States. When they thought it best for their children, they moved back to that mystical town of Marano Principato. Then, once again it was time to leave and come back to the U.S., but only after their children reached adulthood and Olga had given birth to Clelia.

As I looked at a photo of a twenty-something Lidia Barone in France, I realized that her life must have felt like a fast train traveling through time – on board it feels like your destination is so far away, but the stops come faster and faster until the conductor cries, “Last stop. Everyone must disembark.”

Time moves swiftly. In our practice we see our clients’ wartime photos. Pictures of young men and women – strong and patriotic – not quite the confused elder needing our assistance to figure out how to pay for care. Those moments frozen in time must be cherished and not forgotten. For those are the people behind the mask of wrinkles and physical pain. Those are the people that once had hopes and dreams.

Every death is not only the end of a story, but the beginning of new chapters in a continuing saga. Where there was just Lidia and Domenico, now there are children, a grandchild, and great grandchildren. Lidia Barone may have had an interesting life filled with adventure and love, but in the end her family has only photos, memories, and lessons learned.

Did she live the American Dream or did she merely play her role in raising a good family, affecting some of the people she met along the way? We can only surmise her impact on the thousands of people that she touched, but her family is a testament to the power of one individual and what she can accomplish in 87 short years. Rest in peace, Ma.

-Eric R. Goldberg, Esq.

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