By Bernard A. Krooks, Certified Elder Law Attorney
As many of you know, our firm practices in the areas of elder law and special needs law. I had previously assumed that most, if not all, people know what that means. However, I was recently at a networking event and I told someone what I do for a living and I received a blank stare in return. That got me thinking that it might not be so obvious to everyone what an elder law and special needs attorney does; thus, this article.
To state it succinctly: our practice is focused on legal problems faced by individuals as they age and individuals with special needs. However, in many instances our actual clients are family members (and loved ones) of seniors and individuals with special needs who seek our representation on behalf of their loved one.
Here’s a sample of some of the types of matters that we handle for our clients:
Estate planning: Many of our clients come to us for help in preparing their own estate plans. That usually includes a last will and testament, a health care proxy, a living will and a durable power of attorney — at least. An increasing number of clients are opting for a living trust due to their desire to avoid probate, keep their affairs private and provide for a smooth transition for the management of their assets in the event they become incapacitated. Some clients also need more sophisticated estate tax planning; however, with the enhanced federal and New York state estate tax exemptions. Estate planning is not about forms and documents; it’s about making sure that your wishes are carried out upon incapacity or death.
Trust administration: If you have created a trust or are the trustee of a trust, you may have ongoing responsibilities to the trust beneficiaries. Our firm can help you manage these duties and ensure that you are in compliance with all legal and tax requirements.
Special needs planning: Our special needs planning practice focuses on assisting individuals with special needs and their families achieve the highest quality of life possible. We advocate to ensure that our clients have access to all appropriate government benefits that they are entitled to. We also assist clients with special needs trusts to help protect their assets for their loved ones and with guardianship for people who cannot manage their own affairs.
Probate: While New York’s probate process is not complex, it can still be overwhelming for many. Our firm helps executors of estates carry out their legal duties to ensure that the decedent’s final affairs are settled properly. Assets owned by the decedent at the time of death must be distributed to those mentioned in the will or, if no will, according to the laws of intestacy. The will covers only those assets in the name of the decedent at the time of death. Any account held jointly or in trust for someone else passes outside of probate directly to the named beneficiary.
Long-term care and Medicaid planning: About 70% of all Americans will need long-term care at home, in an assisted living facility or in a nursing home. The cost of long-term care in the New York metropolitan area is approximately $200,000 a year. Failure to plan in advance can result in the loss of significant personal assets. By planning in advance you can take the necessary steps to ensure that your choices regarding who will manage your finances and health care are followed in the event you become incapacitated. Moreover, with proper planning, you can minimize your out-of-pocket costs for long-term care. Our firm can help explain the available options to you and help you make the right choices for you and your family.
Special education advocacy: Every child with a disability is entitled to a free and appropriate public education. Our lawyers represent individuals and their families to ensure that school districts are held accountable and provide the type of education that the law requires, regardless of disability. Our firm takes a collaborative approach and works with the school district representatives to make sure the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) meets the child’s individual needs; however, we are prepared to go to court, if necessary, to protect our client’s interests.
Bernard A. Krooks, Esq., is a founding partner of Littman Krooks LLP and has been honored as one of the “Best Lawyers” in America for each of the last seven year, past President of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), past President of the New York Chapter of NAELA and also served as chair of the Elder Law Section of the New York State Bar Association. He has been selected as a “New York Super Lawyer” since 2006. Call 914-684-2100 or visit elderlawnewyork.com.