Planning for the Future
In all matters of elder law, seniors and their families rely on the expertise of The Elder Law Offices of E. Garrett Gummer III
by Bill Donahue

Consider this scenario: Your 80-year-old mother, who had been living alone, suffers a bad fall and now needs skilled care at a nursing home. Or this one: Your father is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and is slowly losing his faculties; soon he won’t be able to properly care for himself.

Either scenario can be emotionally wrenching, made worse by the stress and uncertainty over how to protect your parent’s well-being and your family’s assets. You’re not alone; millions of aging seniors and their adult children could face these and other situations that can, at best, be difficult to maneuver or, at worst, leave a family in a state of financial ruin.

But families do not have to—and, in fact, should not—risk navigating such complicated territory without the help of a qualified professional, according to E. Garrett Gummer III, a local attorney whose practice is limited to the areas of elder law and wills and estates.

“People are living longer and are going to have a long retirement,” says Mr. Gummer, whose firm has offices in Feasterville and Doylestown. “As a result, they’re going to need income and assets to support themselves longer than they ever have in the past. If and when a parent requires nursing-home care, proper planning can help the family protect their assets so they don’t have to lose their entire ‘nest egg.’ We are concerned with the individual’s care needs and how to pay for that care.

“One of the most misunderstood issues facing seniors and their families today is the reality of nursing-home admission,” he adds. “Many people believe if they require admission to a nursing home, the nursing home will take all of their assets. The nursing home does not take the resident’s assets. However, the resident does have to pay privately for their care until they have depleted their assets and can qualify for Medicaid. In most cases, we can assist the family in preparing a Medicaid plan to qualify the resident for Medicaid while simultaneously protecting a substantial portion of their assets.”

Preserving the Future
Elder law is an interdisciplinary approach to the law. “We utilize many different areas of the law, as well as several different disciplines, including finance and health care, to assist our clients,” explains Mr. Gummer. Services provided by his firm include long-term care planning; estate planning, in which he creates legal documents such as wills, powers of attorney, living wills and trusts; and estate administration for the executor in the event of a loved one’s death. In addition, the firm assists with long-term planning for disabled individuals. Mr. Gummer and his team can help families care for their loved ones, while preserving their dignity as well as their family’s future.

“Planning ahead is the ideal, but often we are contacted during a medical crisis, such as when Mom or Dad suffers a stroke,” he says. “While it depends on the situation, there are very few cases in which we cannot assist the family. A problem may occur if Mom or Dad is incapacitated and does not have the mental capacity to prepare a durable power of attorney. In that case, we usually petition the court for the appointment of a guardian for the incapacitated person, most often a family member.

“Our firm’s practice is solely devoted to elder law; we do not practice divorce, criminal or personal injury law—elder law is our sole focus,” he adds. “By focusing our practice exclusively on elder law, we have developed an expertise which we can use to benefit our clients. For example, while many laypersons and other professionals know that if gifts are made within five years of applying for Medicaid, there will be a penalty imposed which will affect the resident’s eligibility for Medicaid. However, most persons do not realize there are many exceptions to this rule, depending on the resident’s specific situation. Also, there are strategies available to enable the resident to make gifts during the five-year penalty look-back period, without substantially affecting the eligibility for Medicaid.”

As part of its practice the firm also orchestrates interactions between other integral “big picture” components such as financial planners and geriatric care managers to further aid in the decision-making process. “When you come in for the first time,” Mr. Gummer says, “we’ll normally spend two to two and a half hours discussing your specific situation, because each case is different.”

‘A Good Result’
Mr. Gummer, who received his Juris Doctor law degree from Widener University and his Master of Laws from Temple University, has been certified as an Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation—one of approximately 40 in all of Pennsylvania—and is a member of the National Association of Elder Law Attorneys. Licensed to practice in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, he has been designated a Pennsylvania “Super Lawyer” for the past four years. In addition, he currently teaches continuing education classes every semester at local schools, dealing with estate and Medicaid planning, and estate administration.

He is joined in the practice by fellow attorney Maureen L. Anderson, who earned her Juris Doctor from The University of District of Columbia School of Law. In addition, two paralegals assist with cases. A newly opened Doylestown office has enabled the firm to further expand its reach and help more people; a second office was necessary because most seniors prefer not to travel more than 30 minutes from home, according to Mr. Gummer. Both offices are “senior friendly,” he says, with ample parking, handicap accessibility and comfortable conference rooms.   

“We approach things differently than most law firms,” says Ms. Anderson, who handles primarily Medicaid and nursing-home cases. “It’s easy for family members to feel overwhelmed. Most people have never been exposed to anything like this and often are faced with something they can’t handle alone. We help them through this complex process, which would have been extremely stressful and confusing if they had attempted to do it without the benefit of counsel. We receive many calls from panicked families who don’t know what to do or where to turn. We balance the emotions, logistics and time factors in developing and managing our clients’ long-term care plans.”

The firm also provides counsel and representation in emerging areas of elder law, which will likely continue to evolve as the graying of America continues. One such area is the responsibility of adult family members for support. The Pennsylvania Filial Act permits an indigent person or any agency involved in the care of the indigent person, such as a nursing home, to make a financial claim for their care and for financial assistance against the spouse, the adult child or the parent of the indigent person. In the recent case of HCR vs. John Pittas, the Pennsylvania Superior Court found a son liable for his mother’s $93,000 nursing-home bill.

“No matter what the situation, we attempt to solve the inevitable problems,” says Ms.  Anderson. “Knowledge is key. We explain to clients what the law is and how it applies to them. Our job is to provide options that can help clients make better, more informed decisions so they can find successful resolution.

“Often,” she adds, “when family members complete the process with our assistance, they are informed and empowered and able to plan for their own future.”

Clearly, the services of The Elder Law Offices of E. Garrett Gummer III can significantly help with both immediate crises and long-term planning for families.

Elder Law Offices of E. Garrett Gummer III

1260 Bustleton Pike
Feasterville, PA 19053

220 Farm Lane, Suite 201
Doylestown, PA 18901