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Questions You May Have

We understand that you may have some questions regarding elder law. We have created this list of common topics and questions.  If you are unable to find the information your were looking for, please contact us!  We’d be happy to give you more information.

Do I really need an attorney to create a will? What is probate? Can an Elder Law attorney help with your healthcare? How do I build an individualized plan? How do I choose the right advisers? Why are the holidays a good time to discuss estate planning? What is estate tax? What is elder abuse? What is guardianship? Why should I have a will? Who is Lori A. Leu? What is a CELA? Why do I need a CELA?

Do I really need an attorney to create a will?

One of the things we hear most often when providing education about Wills and other legal documents is: “Why do I need an attorney? Attorneys cost too much.” While we understand the desire to save money, we know that the do-it-yourself approach can end up costing you more.
           
Everyone over the age of 18 needs the following legal documents in place to ensure maximum control and protection over their assets and their future:

Will - The primary purpose of a Will is to declare your intentions regarding the distribution of your property after your death. The type of Will that you need and the way in which your property should be distributed all depends upon your particular circumstances and desires.

Durable Power of Attorney - A statutory durable power of attorney is used to appoint an agent to act in your place regarding financial transactions. Texas law regarding durable powers of attorney changed in 1993, so if you signed one prior to 1993, you may need a new one that complies with current law.
Medical Power of Attorney – A medical power of attorney enables another person to make health care decisions that you would otherwise make, if you were able. A doctor must declare you to be incapacitated before this authority becomes effective.

Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates (Living Will) - A living will provides direction regarding your desires to administer, withhold, or withdraw life-sustaining treatment if you have an irreversible or terminal condition.

Authorization to Release Medical Information - In 2003, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) took effect. HIPAA contains medical privacy rules that restrict disclosure of certain health information by health care providers and plans. A HIPAA Authorization will allow the individuals that you specify to have access to your health information so they can assist in decisions that may need to be made regarding your care.

Declaration of Guardian - In the event that your durable power of attorney or medical power of attorney is not effective, you can further protect your interests by declaring the individuals that you would like to be appointed as guardian over you and your estate (as well as individuals who should not be appointed).

An experienced attorney who practices in this area of the law understands each of these documents thoroughly and how they should be developed to fit your particular circumstances, wishes, and family dynamics. Each person and situation is unique and you should not rely on a generic form to guide these important decisions.

Advice on these documents, as well as other legal issues, such as eligibility for long-term care Medicaid benefits, should be provided by an attorney who works in this area on a daily basis. There is a reason that professionals like attorneys and doctors are licensed – they are providing important services and are required to meet certain standards. Such licensing is intended to provide protection to the public. That protection is lost, though, when unlicensed, and unauthorized persons provide advice on the same matters. Many people do not hesitate to pay non-attorneys for legal services – often paying more for services that are inadequate, performed by someone who is engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. Sometimes those documents may work, but many times they will not. The result is often the need to later pay an attorney more to fix the problems caused by trying to save money.

If you truly cannot afford to pay an attorney, free legal services, provided by attorneys, are available through legal service organizations for individuals who meet certain income and asset guidelines. Don’t settle for discount services provided by non-attorney “specialists” who profit at your expense.

Read about why you need a certified elder law attorney from the National Academy of Elder Law Association.

Do you have questions or comments? Contact us!

What is probate?

Have you ever heard someone ask whether a Will or an estate has been "probated," and wondered, "What is probate?" The term "probate" refers to the judicial procedure wherein a Will is proven to be valid. Over time, the term "probate" has evolved to refer to the legal process in which the estate (everything owned at the time of death) of a deceased person, called the “decedent” is administered, whether or not the person had a Will.

A common misconception is that probate is difficult and expensive. In most Texas counties, if there is a Will, the probate process is relatively simple and quick. Simple probates can be completed in a matter of weeks, requiring only a short hearing and the filing of a couple of documents with the Court. If there is a dispute about the validity of the Will, then the probate court hears the dispute and makes a determination. If there is no Will, the administration of the decedent’s estate will probably take longer and be more costly.

No one likes to talk about death or what happens after someone dies. There are many misconceptions about how to handle a decedent’s estate, merely due to lack of information. For example, many people believe that the existence of a Will prevents the need for probate, but that is incorrect. In order for any inheritance to be transferred, the Will must be admitted to probate and proven to be valid. Many people think probating the Will is unnecessary since the Will distributes the estate. Legally, nothing can be distributed based on a Will until a court has determined that the Will is valid and has appointed a personal representative ("executor" if named in the Will, "administrator" if not).

Sometimes surviving spouses fail to probate the Will of the deceased spouse, based on a common misconception that the asset passes directly to the surviving spouse, without the need for probate. Later, the surviving spouse may discover that he or she cannot sell the home or transfer title to some other asset until the estate of the deceased spouse is probated. And, if more than four years have passed since the death of the spouse, the Will can no longer be admitted to probate. At that point, the estate must be probated as if no Will existed.

Some people believe that once a loved one dies, they are authorized to distribute the estate if they are the named executor in the Will. In order to have authority to act, an executor must be appointed by a probate court and issued a document indicating the executor’s authority, called "Letters Testamentary." To be appointed executor of an estate, the person named in the Will must be qualified under the laws of the State of Texas. An executor is not qualified to serve if he has been convicted of a felony, is a non-resident of the State of Texas, is a corporation, or is otherwise unsuitable. Letters Testamentary are issued by the probate court to the executor once the executor is appointed, takes an oath, and posts a bond. An executor must post a bond, unless expressly waived in the Will. This helps protect the estate from dishonest executors.

Once Letters Testamentary are issued, the executor can exercise control over and maintain the assets of the estate. The decedent’s estate remains responsible for paying creditors, if the creditors file acceptable claims with the probate court, and if there are sufficient assets in the estate. The executor will be held responsible for paying creditors, so it is recommended that the money for the decedent’s debts is paid or set aside prior to distributing the estate.

Unfortunately, dealing with the probate of a loved one’s estate falls right at the time when people are grieving. Because the probate rules require the involvement of an attorney, it is advisable to seek legal counsel as soon as possible following the death of a loved one. Let your attorney handle the details related to the estate so you can spend time with your family, celebrating the life of your loved one.

Do you have questions or comments? Contact us!

Can an Elder Law attorney help with your healthcare?

People are often unclear about the role of an Elder Law attorney, and how it is different from what an Estate Planning attorney offers. You may be surprised to know that Elder Law attorneys assist clients with housing options, financial issues, and even healthcare choices. If you didn’t realize that an Elder Law attorney could help ensure you will have access to affordable healthcare, this may be of some interest to you.

The recent political battles around the United States debt ceiling have resulted in new legislation that will almost certainly affect Medicare and Medicaid. The problem is that no one knows yet exactly what the impact will be. We know that spending cuts must be made, but we do not know which programs will be reduced or by how much. Healthcare in the United States is currently one of the most uncertain issues we face. If you have private insurance that covers medical expenses or long-term care, you need to know whether changing laws and regulations will affect your coverage. If you rely on Medicare and additional Medicare supplement plans, what will happen if these programs are affected by the budget cuts or new eligibility requirements?

If you will need skilled nursing care someday, whether in your own home or at a residential facility, you should ensure that you will have a number of funding options open to you. Your plan should cover all the bases, and factor in the possibility that the government may reduce Medicaid benefits. An Elder Law attorney can help with this delicate balancing act and preserve your ability to make your own choices and decisions. Of course, no one can predict the future, but your attorney should be able to help reduce your risk of being caught off guard by new developments.

Many veterans are eligible for additional government programs to cover their medical expenses. Elder Law covers these issues, too, and helps integrate your available government benefits into your overall strategy.

Finally, an Elder Law attorney can help you outline your wishes for health-related decisions through a power of attorney and advance directives. If your loved ones have to make important healthcare decisions for you, they will appreciate clear direction from you. Legal documentation of your preferences will reduce their stress and let them focus on helping you get the kind of care you desire.

If you think you would benefit from a review of your options in any of these categories, consult a qualified Elder Law attorney.

Do you have questions or comments? Contact us!

How do I build an individualized plan?

Have you ever noticed that "one size fits all" doesn't really fit anyone perfectly? It might be easier and less time-consuming to create, but does it really work? It certainly does not work in the area of estate planning and elder law. When you are creating your Will and other important planning documents, there are many factors to consider. Every person's situation is unique and your individual circumstances will dictate how your estate plan should be customized to meet your needs.

Here are some of the most common circumstances that can affect a person's planning and the need for individualized counsel:

Financial Status - Your savings and other assets are a major factor to consider when creating your long-term care plans. If you have limited financial resources, you may need to qualify for Medicaid in order to pay for long-term care. Certain types of trusts can create issues with your Medicaid qualification. For example, revocable living trusts (the "quick fix" offered by many "asset protection planners") will need to be unwound and terminated, and irrevocable trusts could prevent you from obtaining Medicaid benefits for several years. It's important for your attorney to understand all aspects of your finances and assets, as well as available long-term care planning options, to help you make the right plans for the future.

Family Dynamics - If your adult children or other family members are in disagreement about how your future should be managed, that can create significant problems when it comes time to make decisions about your care, your assets, or the probate of your estate. The right legal documents can help smooth the process and avoid disputes between your children. Your attorney should be able to help you anticipate the possible challenges and choose the best approach to keep the peace.

Veteran Status - Many Veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces are unaware of the full range of benefits available to them after age 65, including benefits to help with home health care, assisted living, and skilled nursing expenses. However, it is vital that Veterans understand that some of the planning options available to them in preparation for applying for benefits could negatively impact their ability to obtain Medicaid, which has the potential to pay a greater amount of skilled nursing expenses. A Veteran must consider a variety of factors, as well as the possible ramifications, both long-term and short-term, before deciding to pursue available Veteran benefits.

Out of State Property - If you own real estate in another state, there are trust options that will make the probating of your estate less complicated. However, those same trust options can impact your ability to qualify for public benefits to help finance long-term care. Be sure to weigh all aspects of this situation before deciding which way to go. It's also a good idea to periodically review your estate plan with an attorney to see if anything has changed that might require updates to your documents.

Health - If you have health issues or have been diagnosed with a serious medical condition, you must be especially cautious with your estate plans, as your need for long-term care may be more imminent. Even if you are in good health, you need to be aware of how your options can affect your ability to pay for assisted living or skilled nursing care down the road.

If any of these examples apply to you, be sure to have your Will and other long-term care planning documents developed for your specific situation by a qualified attorney. Your future is too important to accept a "one size fits all" solution.

Do you have questions or comments? Contact us!

How do I choose the right advisers?

It is an unfortunate reality that there are many out there ready to prey on older people. The elderly have always been a prime target for those looking to exploit someone for financial gain, and the numbers are on the rise. According to one report, Texas has one of the highest numbers of elder abuse cases each year, along with California, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania. One of the most unreported forms of elder abuse is financial exploitation.

Sometimes the perpetrator claims to be a "professional" providing a "service." Professional service providers pose a unique threat to the elderly, because many of the services offered are legitimate and needed, such as investments, insurance products, and financial or legal advice. The key is determining who is truly qualified and capable of providing the service with honesty and integrity. Choosing an unqualified person or someone with illicit motives creates the risk of financial loss or other disastrous outcome for the elderly person involved. Here are some important indicators to put your advisors to the test:

References - Can the professional service provider give you names and phone numbers of satisfied clients who will provide a reference? If they don't have several clients willing to give a positive reference, they may not have the experience or integrity to handle your issues. For attorneys, you can also check with the State Bar of Texas to ensure that the attorney is licensed to practice and in good standing with the Bar.

Personal Attention - Investments, insurance, and legal documents all require a qualified professional to prepare and review in consultation with you, to ensure that your unique circumstances are considered. Never give your information to someone you have not met with in person, preferably at their office. Also ask if anyone outside of their business will be handling any of your needs. An insurance provider may subcontract legal issues to an attorney, and you should be aware of everyone who may access your file.

Compensation - Make sure you know the full range of compensation to be received by the service provider. Rarely does anyone provide professional advice or assistance for free. If they offer something to you for free, find out how they are really being paid.

Complexity - Financial and legal matters are complex and require specific detail. Anyone who offers you a "quick fix" or "one size fit all" solution is probably not meeting your needs. Be wary of anything that seems too simple or too good to be true - it probably is.

Read about how to choose a certified elder law attorney from the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.

Do you have questions or comments? Contact us!

Why are the holidays a good time to discuss estate planning?

The holidays are a time for family and traditions. Sometimes it’s the meal your family has always enjoyed, or returning every year to the house where you grew up. For some, the women in the kitchen and the men around the TV connects us to memories of our childhood. Whatever your holiday traditions are, we all enjoy the idea that "some things never change."

But sometimes these family gatherings are a time to realize that things do change. As you notice the signs of aging in the older generations of your family, it may be time to start planning for the future. Most of us do not like change, especially at the holidays. Discussions about the future can be difficult, because they necessarily involve the fears we all have about growing older and losing control.

Help get the discussion started with this checklist. All adults, regardless of age, should have the following documents in place to ensure that their interests are protected.

Will - The primary purpose of a Will is to declare your intentions regarding the distribution of your property after your death. The type of Will that you need and the way in which your property should be distributed all depends upon your particular circumstances and desires.

Durable Power of Attorney - A statutory durable power of attorney is used to appoint an agent to act in your place regarding financial transactions. Texas law regarding durable powers of attorney changed in 1993, so if you signed one prior to 1993, you may need a new one that complies with current law.

Medical Power of Attorney - A medical power of attorney enables another person to make health care decisions that you would otherwise make, if you were able. A doctor must declare you to be incapacitated before this authority becomes effective.

Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates (Living Will) - A living will provides direction regarding your desires to administer, withhold, or withdraw life-sustaining treatment if you have an irreversible or terminal condition.

Authorization to Release Medical Information - In 2003, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) took effect. HIPAA contains medical privacy rules that restrict disclosure of certain health information by health care providers and plans. A HIPAA Authorization will allow the individuals that you specify to have access to your health information so they can assist in decisions that may need to be made regarding your care.

Declaration of Guardian - In the event that your durable power of attorney or medical power of attorney is not effective, you can further protect your interests by declaring the individuals that you would like to be appointed as guardian over you and your estate (as well as individuals who should not be appointed).

Another item to consider discussing is long-term care insurance. Americans are living longer than ever before, and the cost of care in the final years of life has risen dramatically. A long-term care insurance plan can help ensure that you have good options for quality care, when the time comes. Don’t wait until your family member needs assistance with daily life to start the conversation; advance planning will alleviate much of the stress that can occur when care issues turn into a crisis.

As a wife, a mother, a daughter, and an elder law attorney, I am privileged to wear many care-giving hats. In all of these roles, I find that preparation is the key to ensuring good results. Make sure you and everyone you love is prepared for the future – then you can relax and enjoy all of your unique family traditions this holiday season.

Do you have questions or comments? Contact us!

What is estate tax?

The federal Estate Tax was originally enacted in 1916 and some version of this tax has been in effect since then – until recently when Congress allowed a ten-year tax reduction strategy to come to an end without being able to agree on a new plan. Contact us to learn how this may affect you."

Political battles in Washington have delayed resolution of the issue and created this unique situation where there is no federal tax for this one year. But this unplanned gap has some costly consequences for the average American, as well as some rich benefits – if you’re the heir of a billionaire like George Steinbrenner. The recently deceased owner of the New York Yankees left behind an estate with an estimated value of more than $1 billion, and his heirs will pay nothing in federal estate tax on the entire inheritance. If Steinbrenner had died in 2009 or 2011, estate taxes could have been anywhere from $500 to $700 million dollars.

What does all this mean for those of us who aren’t billionaires? It means more federal budget deficit, for one thing. The IRS will miss collecting as much as $15 billion in funds this year as a result of the estate tax gap. On a more personal level, many individuals could pay higher capital gains taxes on assets inherited this year. There may also be an issue with wills that were written with ‘formula clauses’ that reference the estate tax. If the formula is calculated while the estate tax is at zero percent, the outcome could be very different than what was intended. To be on the safe side, check with the attorney who drafted your will to ensure your documents address these estate tax issues.

Do you have questions or comments? Contact us!

What is elder abuse?

What a shame that in the United States, in the twenty-first century, we must affirmatively state in legislation that all people who are 60 years of age or older have the right to be free from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Shouldn’t that be a given for all people, regardless of age, ethnicity, or station in life? Unfortunately, abuse of the elderly is on the rise, but we now have a legislative act that is bringing the problem to the forefront.

Few people realize that the recent health care reform legislation included a bill called the "Elder Justice Act of 2009." This bill had been introduced unsuccessfully in the past, but finally passed into law as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Elder Justice Act, or EJA, defines anyone 60 years of age or over as an "elder" and formally acknowledges the rights of these older adults. Elder abuse includes physical, emotional, sexual, or financial abuse, exploitation, abandonment, neglect, and self-neglect. Some reports indicate that 42% of victims are over 80 years old, and the majority of abuse occurs in private homes. According to current estimates, over 50% of elder abuse is perpetrated by family members. Other common abusers include caregivers, financial services providers or other professionals in positions of trust, neighbors, and acquaintances. These cases have been tough to prosecute, in part because seniors are reluctant to report these crimes and can make poor witnesses when they do pursue justice.

Implementation of the EJA will focus more attention and funding on solutions to elder abuse. An important EJA component is a new Advisory Board on Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation, which will be composed of 27 volunteer members from the general public who have the experience and expertise to address the key issues in elder abuse. They will recommend solutions for prevention, detection, treatment, intervention, and prosecution, and propose improvements in the quality of long-term care, much needed changes in federal and state laws, and more effective ways to coordinate between state and national programs.

What can you do to help with this process? Recognize that the elderly are vulnerable and call the Abuse Hotline (800-252-5400) if you believe you have knowledge of any abuse. Look for ways to serve the elderly in your community. Much of elder abuse stems from loneliness, which can cause a senior adult to trust the wrong person. Reach out to others and be a positive influence. That small step might prevent untold amounts of abuse and exploitation.

Do you have questions or comments? Contact us!

What is guardianship?

Long-term care planning involves many important decisions, and nothing is tougher than deciding how to involve your adult children in the process. They will always be your children, no matter how old they get. You remember all their childhood mistakes too clearly – that baseball through the window, the hassles over chores and homework – then the teen years brought a whole new set of parenting challenges. It may be hard to view your children now as responsible adults that you can trust with your care, your money, and your future, no matter how much they have grown and matured.

And if there are other problems in your relationship, the issue can become even more complex. If you are embarrassed about financial mistakes you have made, or have a strained relationship, it can be hard to ask for help. But even if your family is more like “All in the Family" than "Leave it to Beaver," your adult children may still be best suited to care for you as you get older.

So what are the options to consider, and what factors should be weighed in making these critical decisions? First, and most important, is this: Who do you feel you can trust to look out for your best interests? If you reach a point when you cannot make decisions for yourself, who should you designate as your agent in financial and health care matters? If that person is one of your children, then there are several other considerations.

If you have more than one child, you must decide which child to name as your agent. Will you choose based on birth order, location, family status, ability, lifestyle, or other things? If you are worried about hurt feelings, explain it to them lovingly, but don’t feel guilty. It is your life and your decision.

Do your adult children still disagree over everything? Then, just as you did when they were young, take charge. Put everything in writing. Assign the responsibilities. Let everyone know your wishes. And, tell them that if they love you, they will not fight over your care.

On the other hand, if you do not fully trust your adult children, then by all means, do not give them a power of attorney or name them as executor in your Will. Designate someone you do trust. You are not obligated to choose a family member over any other person. You have complete control when selecting who will make decisions for you, both when you are living and after you are gone. Take advantage of that enormous opportunity, because if you don’t, the courts will make decisions for you.

Texas law provides that if you have not designated an agent to make medical decisions for you while you are incapacitated, the medical staff should look first to your spouse, and then to your adult children. And, many skilled nursing facilities will turn to your adult children for decisions, as the “surrogate decision maker." Creating a durable power of attorney for an agent outside of your family is extremely important if you want your health care providers to bypass your adult children and rely on your agent for medical decisions.

More importantly, if someone believes you are not competent to make decisions on your own, they may seek guardianship over you. Most courts favor appointment of adult children as the guardian. The best evidence that your adult child should not be your guardian would be your prior designation of someone else to take that role. Otherwise, the court is likely to give your adult child this responsibility to make all decisions on your behalf, in spite of your preferences. Get it in writing now, before the issue arises. If you wait until your competence is in question, it may be too late to have your wishes honored.

Every one of us is aging. It is inevitable. Control what you can by choosing who will act on your behalf while you are living, and carry out your wishes after you are gone. If you trust your adult children, give them the gift of granting them that authority. If you do not, then name the people you do trust. The worst thing you can do is nothing. As an Elder Law attorney, I help clients sort through these issues every day. If you need help with your long-term care plans, please contact my office for a consultation.

Do you have questions or comments? Contact us!

Why should I have a will?

Contemplating your own mortality and potentially declining health can be difficult. It is much easier to ignore it and pretend it may never happen. But, as Benjamin Franklin said, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."

It is so easy to put off meeting with a lawyer and preparing these documents. There will always be time for that later, right? Maybe not. What happens if you have an accident and are no longer able to sign a durable power of attorney to appoint someone to handle your financial affairs? Your family may have no choice but to go to court and seek a guardianship over your estate to pay for your care. Which means a lot of time and potentially significant cost – all of which could have been avoided by advance planning.

For your own peace of mind, you should ensure that, at a minimum, you have the following documents in place:

Will - The primary purpose of a Will is to declare your intentions regarding the distribution of your property after your death. The type of Will that you need and the way in which your property should be distributed all depends upon your particular circumstances and desires.

Durable Power of Attorney - A statutory durable power of attorney is used to appoint an agent to act in your place regarding financial transactions. Texas law regarding durable powers of attorney changed in 1993, so if you signed one prior to 1993, you may need a new one that complies with current law.

Medical Power of Attorney - A medical power of attorney enables another person to make health care decisions that you would otherwise make, if you were able. A doctor must declare you to be incapacitated before this authority becomes effective.

Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates (Living Will) - A living will provides direction regarding your desires to administer, withhold, or withdraw life-sustaining treatment if you have an irreversible or terminal condition.

Authorization to Release Medical Information - In 2003, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) took effect. HIPAA contains medical privacy rules that restrict disclosure of certain health information by health care providers and plans. A HIPAA Authorization will allow the individuals that you specify to have access to your health information so they can assist in decisions that may need to be made regarding your care.

Declaration of Guardian - In the event that your durable power of attorney or medical power of attorney is not effective, you can further protect your interests by declaring the individuals that you would like to be appointed as guardian over you and your estate (as well as individuals who should not be appointed).

Yes, there will be a financial cost to the advance planning that you need. But it will not begin to match the financial and emotional cost that your family may endure if such planning has not been done in advance. Making sure you have the appropriate documents in place that set forth your wishes can be one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and your family. The peace of mind that everyone will have if you plan in advance... priceless.

Do you have questions or comments? Contact us!

Who is Lori A. Leu?

Living Well Magazine, Fall 2013

When you walk into the offices of Leu & Peirce, it doesn’t feel like a law firm. There is an inviting warmth about the place that instantly makes visitors feel like a welcome guest in someone’s home. But that’s only a small part of why clients feel comfortable bringing their family concerns to Lori Leu for help. Lori simply radiates compassion for her elderly clients and her concern for their well-being is genuine and apparent in every interaction. You can hear the passion in her voice when she talks about the needs of the older generation and how many of them suffer because they weren’t fully prepared for the hardships of aging, “Getting old is harder than it used to be – families live farther apart and aren’t always able to care for each other the way they did in the past.” Lori believes the needs of the elderly are a growing concern. “People are living longer these days, and providing quality care for them is getting tougher,” says Lori. “There are a lot of us in the ‘sandwich generation’ – trying to raise our kids and take care of our parents at the same time.” Lori is a wife and mother raising two teenagers herself, so it’s easy for her to relate to the real-life family situations her clients face every day.


Lori grew up in a small town in Kansas. Her close-knit family was heavily involved in every aspect of the community from municipal governance to education. Lori credits her concern for others and her work ethic to the examples set by her parents and her grandparents, who worked tirelessly supporting their families and their community. “My community was an extension of my family. Not only did I know that others were watching out for me, but I felt a sense of responsibility to them,” says Lori. “My parents taught me by their example to give your time to the community and care for other people. Everyone is doing the best they can at any given time, based on their circumstances and opportunities. It is our responsibility to care for others, be fair, and always do the right thing.” Lori went to college at Kansas State University and earned her undergraduate degree, with an honors degree in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, summa cum laude, in 1984. Then she made a bold move. “I decided to go to Harvard Law School in Massachusetts. It was quite a shock, but I gained a much bigger perspective on the world,” she says. As Lori became increasingly aware of the many social inequalities and injustices across the U.S., she knew she wanted to pursue a career that would let her make a difference for people. “I love that our legal system endeavors to provide justice for all. The ability to use the law to serve those who really need help has always appealed to me.”


Lori started her career practicing commercial litigation in Kansas City for two years and then moved to Texas. Her work ethic and small-town integrity helped her achieve success early on. Lori thrived in representing her corporate clients and was known as a hard worker who would stop at nothing to represent her clients’ best interests. In spite of her achievements and love for the law, though, Lori felt like she was not serving her community as much as she had wanted, and not fully dedicating herself to the values of community service she learned at a young age. After starting and leading an adult Sunday School class at her church for several years, and raising two small children, Lori’s focus shifted. She began attending seminary, while continuing to practice law, and seriously considered changing her career from law to full-time ministry. But after much soul searching, Lori decided to find a way to combine her love of the law with her passion for service. “I discovered my true mission when I opened my Elder Law practice. I could see the unmet needs of the aging population in North Texas, and I knew I could make a difference in the lives of so many people.”


So what exactly is Elder Law? This relatively new type of law practice encompasses a variety of legal challenges, including some of the more complex issues such as guardianships for people who have become incapacitated and can no longer care for or protect themselves and long-term care planning to ensure that families are not facing financial ruin when caring for their loved ones. In a lot of cases, the options are limited by finances or family circumstances, but Lori is committed to serving the unique needs of each client. “Seniors are often overlooked and unheard, but not here. We care deeply about finding the best possible solution for everyone we represent,” says Lori.
Lori shares stories of older women and men who were manipulated by someone they thought they could trust: a son, a daughter, a family friend, a teller at a bank, or even a caregiver. “These people each befriended an elderly person and then abused their position to exploit them, almost always in ways that were financial or material, as if the elderly person no longer mattered,” recounts Lori. “Finally, the families became suspicious and approached me for help.” Lori was able to help them obtain guardianships over their loved ones and protect each one’s well-being and financial security.


A judge can appoint a legal guardian for someone who is suffering from dementia or any other disability that impairs judgment and decision-making. The appointed guardian will typically oversee personal affairs and finances. “Guardianships can be difficult, but are sometimes necessary to protect a loved one from exploitation by unscrupulous or misguided people,” says Lori. “It can be a sad reality of the world we live in – there are people who will take advantage of the weakest members of our society, and it can be very hard to know who to trust. Getting old is hard enough; it’s just wrong to exploit those who are the most vulnerable.” Lori’s advice to anyone concerned about the future and their ability to maintain control? “Medical and Durable powers of attorney to designate agents to assist with medical decisions and financial matters are vital to avoiding the need for guardianships. However, sometimes even these documents are not sufficient to protect an individual who has become incapacitated. In those cases, a guardianship may be necessary, although it is always our last option,” says Lori. “One of the only ways to ensure you have some control in the selection of a guardian is to sign a Declaration of Guardian while you have capacity. A Declaration of Guardian allows you to choose who you do, or do not, want appointed as your guardian, if the time ever comes when that’s necessary,” she explains. “A little advance planning can make things a lot easier down the road. Letting your wishes be known ahead of time can prevent a lot of heartache and fighting.”


Long-term care planning is another area where Lori and her team get involved in situations that can be really hard on everyone involved. Every week, Lori helps families who are faced with the challenges of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. “Many of our clients have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and are facing difficult obstacles, whether they are in their early fifties or late eighties. Each is a husband, father, wife, mother, or spouse. Their families have depended on them for so much and are devastated and terrified of what the future holds.” These situations are usually the kind of worst-case scenario that can leave a family in financial ruin due to lost income, medical expenses, and nursing care costs. Lori empathizes with the fear these families face, “Sometimes, life just hits you hard and you don’t have a lot of options.” She adds, “It’s impossible to plan for every unexpected circumstance that could arise in the future, but having your estate planning documents in order as soon as possible will definitely help.”


According to Lori, there’s another important way to prepare for aging: get the facts on your health care coverage and available public benefits. Lori is frustrated by how many people don’t know what private health insurance and Medicare will and will not cover, “People are often shocked to find out that Medicare or their health insurance will not pay for long-term skilled nursing or assisted living care, which can cost thousands of dollars a month.” Lori can help clients qualify for other government benefits, such as Medicaid or Veterans’ benefits, but not everyone can qualify for these public programs, “If you have the advantage of time to plan in advance, long-term care insurance, or its equivalent, can make all the difference.” When Lori discovers that clients with debilitating illnesses are covered by long-term care insurance, she is relieved to know they will be able to afford to get the care they need. Havingone less thing to worry about during these ordeals can be a blessing for the whole family, but not everyone has the same option. “Most families will do whatever it takes to care for their loved one, including exhausting themselves and their financial resources,” says Lori. “You’re doing your family a huge favor when you put a plan in place well before you need it.”


Elder Law is also about traditional estate planning and probate. Lori and her team have helped countless clients prepare Wills and a variety of other planning documents, to help communicate their wishes and preferences to their family and heirs. She also helps family grieve through the probate process, both in simple and contested matters, after a loved one passes. One piece of advice she offers to parents creating a Will, based on her years of first-hand experience, “Try to be as fair and equal as you can when deciding what to leave your children. If they feel like they were slighted in your Will, they will fight over everything and no one wins in that battle.” Parents sometimes think they should reward the child who is fulfilling the job of caregiver. Other times, they want to keep money out of the hands of a child who has been financially irresponsible or been in other kinds of trouble. While these good intentions are understandable, the outcome can be ugly. It is nearly impossible to separate an inheritance from emotion. “I’ve seen too many children drain an entire estate on attorneys’ fees while fighting each other in court.” Good communication is the key to avoiding this kind of dispute, and Lori counsels her clients to make sure their wishes are clear and explained in a way that their families can understand and accept. Lori understands that no one in a fighting family ever wins. Lori and her sister jokingly “pinky swear” every few months that they will never fight over their parents. For many families, bringing up the topic of estate planning is the hardest part. “I think people believe that they can avoid dying just by refusing to think about it,” says Lori with a smile. “It’s going to happen to all of us eventually, so let’s approach the future with the security and peace of mind that comes from careful planning.”


Growing up in her small town, Lori was raised to respect her elders for their wisdom and life experience. Now, when she sees seniors in her community neglected, ignored, or exploited, she is glad to have a role in protecting and serving them. To our seniors, it can feel like there are so many things working against them and it has become Lori’s mission to fight for them and their rights. Lori reflects, “I couldn’t ask for a better way to spend my days.” Her passion for helping others is the foundation of her practice. She has the profound sense of purpose that comes from knowing, “This is where I am supposed to be.”


Her team agrees. Legal assistant Melanie Simmons says, “Working for Lori has been a life changing experience. Lori’s compassion for everything she does, including her family, her clients and the work environment at the office, inspires me. Everyone at Leu & Peirce is always working for one common purpose – serving our clients.” As a group, they feel a lot of pressure to find the best solution as quickly as possible. “Time is not always on your side when dealing with an elderly client. On most occasions, we have to work fast to ensure that our clients have more time with their loved ones. Feeling like you have made a difference in people’s lives is the reason why we all do this,” adds Melanie.


Associate attorney Erin Peirce emulate Lori’s careful balance of compassion and readiness. “People are always saying that Lori is not a ‘typical attorney’ because of her gentle approach with our clients, but she can battle in court with the best of them. I think her opponents often underestimate her because of her caring nature,” says Melissa. “But it makes perfect sense to me: she cares so much about her clients, and that drives both her kindness to them and her tireless work for them.”


One client said, “I have worked with many attorneys, and Lori is one of the best I have known. In my recent family dispute, she brought all the right experience and knowledge, but it was her compassionate approach that really made her stand out to me.” Lori not only serves her clients with her knowledge and experience – she is committed to educating senior adults and their families throughout her community. Lori is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, educating and standing up for elder issues in the legal community. She is active in her church and her community, serving as an ethics investigator for the City of Plano and volunteering at a variety of non-profit organizations with her son as part of the Young Men’s Service League philanthropic outreach. Lori enjoys presenting free seminars on Elder Law issues at retirement communities, assisted living homes, and churches across Collin County and North Texas, appreciating the opportunity to provide education on topics that are so often misunderstood. She also supports the efforts to make advances in the fight against some of the most debilitating diseases that affect the elderly today. Lori and her staff will have a team walking in the Alzheimer’s Memory Walk this Fall, to raise funds and awareness in the fight against this terrible disease that affects the lives of so many people. Lori’s firm is also actively involved with the Parkinson Voice Project, which provides intensive therapy and ongoing support to improve quality of life for those afflicted with Parkinson’s disease.


Lori truly found her calling when she entered the field of Elder Law. She has combined her values and passions with her education and experience to help secure a future for seniors here in North Texas. Lori is an inspiration and a role model, using her time and talents to serve the people who need her help the most.


Read about why you should use a certified elder law attorney from the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.

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What is a CELA?

CELA stands for Certified Elder Law Attorney which is a designation for an attorney with enhanced knowledge, skills and experience to be identified to the public as a Certified Elder Law Attorney.  The lawyer must successfully complete a rigorous full-day exam and demonstrate that the law practice is actually focused on elder law.  The attorney must also had to undergo a peer review to confirm her competence and qualifications in elder law.

In fact, Lori is one of three CELA’s in the DFW Metroplex and one of twenty-five in Texas. The National Elder Law Foundation is the only national certifying program for elder law and special needs attorneys. Beginning in 1994, NELF certified its first batch of examinees and now there are only a little over 400 CELA’s in the nation.

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Why do I need a CELA?

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Areas of Focus

Areas of Focus

We focus on a variety of legal issues affecting seniors and individuals with disabilities.

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Resources

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"When my mother passed away, Lori helped me figure out what needed to be done with her estate. I have already recommended Leu & Peirce to several friends, and will continue to refer others to the firm."

Charlene - Client