GPSolo Magazine - July/August 2006
Longevity Law: My Six Steps to a New Practice Area
Of every person who ever lived past the age of 65 from the beginning of recorded history, two-thirds are on the planet today.” I was browsing through a financial planning brochure when those words hit me like a thunderbolt. The brochure astonished further by reporting that those over the age of 85 are our fastest-growing demographic.
Then I looked in the mirror. I was in my mid-50s at the time, and sure enough, parts of me were still good! But what would life really be like for me in 30 years? Would I be independent? Institutionalized? Still relevant to the world? What could I do for myself and everyone else so we could all have a great old age?
That questioning was the genesis of a practice area that I now call “longevity law.” While some may dismiss it as merely old wine in new bottles, I think longevity law is something unique—truly a new practice area. It is based on the insight that something is missing in the delivery of legal services to the baby boom age group. Nothing speaks to the grandness of old age and the potential for our lifelong thriving.
Certainly our legal documents, wills, powers of attorney, and health care proxies are focused on tax savings, death planning, and incapacity. Although “pull-the-plug” directives have become routine, death planning is different from life planning. Lifelong independence, partial incapacities, medication management, and long-term care at home, alongside creative leisure, are what concern us as we age.
As a longtime “serial entrepreneur,” it wasn’t long before I was committed to carving out a new practice area. Here are the six steps I took to do so. I believe they are generally applicable to any new area of law that strikes your fancy.
Step one: Insight . On my path toward this new practice area, my first step was to formulate a clear idea of the service I wanted to deliver. In my case, it was a way to ensure lifelong independence through the right legal documents, financial planning, and family environment.
Step two: Testing my idea. I started on this next step inadvertently. Most sole practitioners are idea machines. But ideas mean nothing if they don’t connect with your audience, in this case potential clients. By speaking and writing as often as I could, wherever I could, on the challenges of longevity, I found an astonishing wealth of ideas from the audience. What my readers and attendees wanted was freedom to choose the life they would lead. They wanted the money, the health care, the family unity, and the vision to craft a great old age. If there were any legal documents that could ensure this, they would stand in line to sign (and to pay).
And most importantly, they needed to streamline the legal and financial process. Baby boomers and current seniors are busy. What if, all under one roof, clients could document their wishes about heath care and where and how they wanted to live throughout longevity, select fiduciaries that would carry out those wishes, and consult with a consortium of tax, geriatric, and financial professionals? It sounded wonderful, except that I suspected if I started such an interdisciplinary company, I might get disbarred. Which led to my next step.
Step three: Joining with colleagues. For me, the Elder Law Committee of the New Jersey Bar Association was a perfect choice. It is a think tank of caring, active attorneys devoted to making a difference. Only in community is there a chance to push the envelope. I also reestablished old ties with the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, which I helped organize in 1987. I believe that, with enough colleague support, I will one day be able to offer both the legal and financial counseling that clients seek.
Step four: Incubating the practice model. Here I got lucky. Andrew J. Stamelman and Sandra Sherman, leading trusts and estates partners with Riker Danzig Scherer Hyland & Perretti, LLP, a major law firm in Morristown ( New Jersey), New York City, and London, saw the potential for longevity law as an extension of trusts and estates services.
The practice area took shape as a combination of traditional elder law, with Medicaid and health benefits planning, as well as conservatorship and guardianship aspects. But the centerpiece was the original drafting of explicit directives for aging in place, hospice, and charitable trusts to maintain relevance. Bankers and other professional trustees welcomed directives that avoided conflict between income beneficiaries and those who would eventually inherit the trust principal. Fiduciaries, both family members and professionals, want to provide the best at-home or in-facility health care, but they are thrown by the high cost of custodial care. By being a repository of information on assisted technology and geriatric care management, I was getting closer to the type of services that gave meaning to legal directives.
Then reality struck.
Step five: Making a business plan. In my nearly 35 years as a serial entrepreneur, I had never made a business plan. My philosophy was: “Will the people planning to do something please get out of the way of the people actually doing it?” Nevertheless, a time comes when the numbers must make sense. In a large law firm it was too tough to make the nut that small cases needed to generate. So I left the firm, with much appreciation to Riker for my opportunity to incubate. I moved to a new space in the same building, adjacent to Headquarters Financial Group, specialists in long-term care insurance and income stream management. And I took the next step.
Step six: Heavy networking. I developed training courses on the baby boom and senior markets for financial professionals and CPAs, as well as health care personnel. The courses come with continuing education credits. I was chosen as the national keynote speaker on retirement for USA Today. That gave me a platform to tell the country about aging in place, longevity trusts, and how to cultivate lifelong independence.
I networked with architects interested in universal design, financial companies designing life stage products, long-term care insurance professionals, actuaries, and accountants. I spoke in front of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers and added realtors specializing in senior relocation and home organizers to my list of strategic contacts.
These days, I make presentations with caregivers, centenarians, nursing home owners, and directors of adult care facilities. I hold my training sessions at least twice a month, and my attendance is at capacity. Once in a while a client shows up, and I fulfill the original passion, that everyone can have a great old age. Often my clients comprise at least two generations: baby boomers seeking longevity planning and their senior parents seeking government assistance.
Of course, there is a step seven; I just don’t know what it is yet.
Adriane G. Berg is a longevity law attorney, the national keynote speaker for USA Today’s retirement seminars, and the creator of seminars for financial, legal, and health care professionals on longevity. She is the author of 13 books on personal finance, including How Not to Go Broke at 102: Achieving Everlasting Wealth (John Wiley & Son, 2005). She can be reached via www.adrianeberg.com.