Podcast: What is an Elder Law Attorney and When do You Need One?

Hi Friends,

As we get older and as we are taking care of loved ones, there are many legal issues that come up. In this episode, we are interviewing an Elder Law expert, to help answer many questions and discuss general situations that come up and how to prepare.

What is an elder law attorney? When is the best time to start working with an Elder Law attorney? Other than an Elder Law attorney, what are five key people and advisors everyone should have in place as they age?

Meredith Williamson owns NW Estate Law, LLC, a boutique law firm in Portland, Oregon. She has a very hands-on approach with each of your clients and their families, to make sure all of their unique needs are taken care of in estate planning, elder law, and small business.

We hope you enjoy the podcast, please share with your loved ones, caretakers and friends. We are all on this journey together.

Meredith Williamson, Attorney

Meredith Williamson owns NW Estate Law, LLC, a boutique law firm in Portland, Oregon. Meredith is a client-focused attorney specializing in estate planning, elder law, and small business transactions.

She provides an environment where clients can ask questions and engage in the legal process. She believes this helps each client feel connected with their legal planning. Meredith offers flat-rate services while providing a unique plan based on each clients family situation, current needs, and future goals. In addition to her legal practice, Meredith is a board member with the Senior Provider Information Network.

Transcript of Episode 06 with Guest Meredith Williamson

Heather: Welcome to Your Best Years Begin Here podcast brought to you by Your Best Years focuses on bringing you interviews with experts and educators to live a fun, free, and fulfilled life as a mature adult. I'm your host, Heather Havenwood. So let's have some fun and get started.

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Heather: Hi everyone, this is Heather Havenwood and welcome to another edition of The Senior List. Welcome to Your Best Years Begin Here sponsored by The Senior List. We are here to help boomers, 50 and plus and their caregivers with the best resources to create an amazing life.

Heather: And today I'm super excited to talk to you about someone who is an amazing woman, but also is going to be helping you as you age. You and your loved ones and you age into different things that you have to deal with. And unfortunately we're going to have to deal with some things that's called elder law.

And so we're going to talk about that today. What actually is elder law and what does that mean? And there's a lot of confusion out there in the marketplace. And so we're here today to really give you a great resource and some guidance that you can take into your life, your caregivers or yourself and your family members.

Heather: So I want to introduce you to our guest today, Meredith Williamson. Meredith, are you there?

Meredith: Yes I am.

Heather: Awesome. Thanks for being here.

Meredith: My pleasure.

Heather: So I'm going to tell you a little bit of who Meredith is first. Meredith Williamson owns NW Estate Law LC, a boutique law firm in Portland, Oregon. And Meredith is a client-focused attorney specializing in estate planning, elder law, and small business transactions. She provides an environment where clients can ask questions and engage in the legal process. She believes this helps each client feel connected with their legal planning.

Heather: Meredith offers flat-rate services while providing a unique plan based on each client's family situation, their current needs, and future goals. In addition to her legal practice, Meredith is a board member with a senior provider information network. You can find her at NWestatelaw[dot]com.

Heather: So Meredith, thanks for being here. This is super exciting.

Meredith: Yes. I'm super excited too.

Heather: Yeah and I know we are super excited to talk about elder law.  And the reason why I said it's exciting is because I know for myself, who I've had to take care of my elder parent. It's just confusing. You know? It's just a lot and most people who are taking care of their elder parents didn't go to law school and they probably don't have someone in their family that they can ask questions about. And when we're moving into that particular age or we have someone in our life or ourselves, there's a lot you have to deal with.

Heather: In fact, I recently just read that Aretha Franklin who's no longer here with us passed away I believe at the age of over 70 and I read the article that she did not have a will.

Meredith: Oh goodness.

Heather: You would think, right?

Meredith: Right. There's so many celebrities. Yeah.

Heather: And this is someone who obviously had advisors and counselors and people around her, accountants and whatnot. And very wealthy from what I understand. And still she wasn't structured and set up and we're not even talking about just a will, but I'm just giving an example that it doesn't matter who you are, there's just a lot of nuances when we're dealing with aging and whatnot. So let's talk about that today.

Meredith: Okay.

Heather: So let's just talk some basics because people do feel like when they move into, what they call getting older or their family, the first thing they think about is a will and a trust. But there's way more than that. And so, let's talk about elder law. What exactly is an elder law attorney?

Meredith: Yeah so an elder law attorney really is somebody who specializes in that aging population. So that can be anything from estate planning to planning for long-term care or Medicaid. Kind of any of those things that can happen as we move forward through the aging process whether we've planned either sufficiently with a will, power of attorney, advanced directive, or on the flip side, maybe somebody hasn't planned and then has now found themselves in a situation that they didn't plan or prepare for such as a guardianship or a conservatorship.

Meredith: So that's kind of the spectrum of what an elder law attorney really does.

Heather: Okay. So there's a huge spectrum there.

Meredith: It is a huge a spectrum, yeah.

Heather: So it's more than just wills and trusts and-

Meredith: It is. That plays a key role and a lot of times that's how people are initially coming to us, but that's just one aspect of what we can do on the spectrum of aging and the issues that can come up.

Heather: Now you are certified with the board, I apologize. Board certified. And in Oregon.

Meredith: Correct.

Heather: Would you say the elder law is very different across different states? Of course if that they're elderly parents is in one state and the caretakers and kids live in another state. Do they need to make sure that they are advising with a attorney in the state of which the caregivers live or the parents live?

Meredith: Generally you want to go with the state that the parent is in because that's who the law will cover, right? So if I'm here in Oregon and I have an issue or an estate in Oregon, it's Oregon law that's going to cover me. So it's important that the kids work with an attorney in the state that their parent or loved one is in. They can always advice on their end from a local attorney in the state they're in, but primarily we want to work with the senior related attorney in the state that that senior's in.

Heather: Okay. Great. Well that's good to know, all right. Let's move into what's really the most important part that elder law covers? What is that most important piece?

Meredith: So I think so many times in life we really look forward to planning something and working towards a goal. A lot of what we do is things that people haven't maybe planned for ahead of time or have thought about. Nobody wants to think about their estate planning and what it means after we pass away, right? That's something that it takes a lot of effort and time and thought for somebody to come in.

Meredith: However, if we don't do some of that planning, it can be a big mess for those around us, for ourselves. And so the key piece of elder law is really trying to hone in on getting people to make a plan so that their needs are met, their desires are met, and they communicate with their loved ones on exactly what they want out of their plan.

Meredith: And when they don't, there's options as well, but it's not going to serve that person as greatly as it could if we did a pre-plan.

Heather: Pre-plan. Pre-plan is key, correct?

Meredith: It is, yeah.

Heather: Okay. Okay so why use elder law versus someone who just does wills and whatnot and there's a distinction? And then I kind of want to ask the question about if the adult or the elderly parent has any issues with their nursing home.

Meredith: Okay.

Heather: Like that. You know, do they go to an elderly law attorney or is it going to be other kinds of attorney's are going to help them with that?

Meredith: Yeah, good question. So to answer the second question first, having an elder law attorney or an attorney that you trust really can make a difference in referring you out. If you were having an issue with the nursing home or a place, a caregiver or any of that, it's likely a different type of attorney who would handle the litigation side.

So that's more of a tort or a medical malpractice or something attorney. But we have loads of references for you. So if you have a relationship already with an elder law attorney, you can turn to them first and ask for a referral out.

Meredith: But I don't sue people. I don't do that piece. So that's not something we would handle, but be able to refer out to most definitely. And having an attorney who focuses primarily on elder law, I think is important because there's just so many things that come up as we age.

That might be different as you know, we're young and maybe you have a new baby and you're wanting an estate plan around a guardian in case you pass away when the baby's young. Now on the flip side, our kids are grownup and we're looking possibly at the potential of long-term care and what does that look like in regards to our estate plan?

And most specifically, if we become incapacitated, what plans do we have in place for somebody to make decisions on our behalf and what do we want those decisions to be?

Meredith: That's why as we age, seeing an elder law attorney can really make a difference rather than a different type of attorney who made do with state planning.

Heather: What I hear is that elder law is really like a general practitioner when you're at that stage. Right?

Meredith: Sort of. Yeah. I mean we don't do criminal, we don't do tort which is suing somebody. We can be a hub, I guess of sorts.

Heather: Like a hub, yeah. You're like, “I go to you first and then if I have a particular issue, who could you refer?” Because you already know our situation, what's going on. [crosstalk 00:10:24]

Meredith: Hopefully we're really familiar with your family, you at that point and can help you navigate the various things that may come up as you age.

Heather: So what's the earliest, I mean if someone's just a great planner, what is the earliest someone can come to an elder law attorney and say, “Let's do this. Let's set our family up and make sure we're taken care of.”? What's the earliest?

Meredith: So the sooner, the better on all kinds of reasons. Right? If we're looking at planning for long-term care, the healthier and younger we are, we have more options available to us than maybe as the spectrum goes and you are ill already or something. Also everybody needs to have a power of attorney and an advanced directive in place no matter our age. So seeing either an elder law attorney or a general estate planning attorney, I think it's key whether we're 20 or 120. Really getting those two documents in place is huge.

Heather: It's huge. Okay. Yeah. Okay. My mom's passed away only four years ago and we didn't have anything in place and luckily it just worked out, right? But yeah. It definitely can be a burden. What about probate? Do you deal with probate owner law?

Meredith: So with the estate planning side, yes. Probate is the process that occurs after somebody passes away if they don't have a trust in place. The property needs to go through probate, the court then makes sure all the bills are paid, cuts off creditor rights and then distributes the money out. That's something that happens A, if somebody does not have an estate plan or has only a will in place.

Heather: Okay. Okay great. All right so let's move into something we were talking about earlier, the green room I want to call it, the fun room. The green room. That when we are moving through that stage of feeling older and making sure we're getting things in place, you mentioned that there's five key people and advisors, I say people and advisors because they're both, that everyone should have in place as they age. What are those people?

Meredith: So those people, the five I think are key are; the agent under the power of attorney is the first. And that person will make financial decisions for you if you can't make them yourself. So it's important that that person may be decent with money, at least knows how to balance their own checkbook and is willing to take over your financial matters if you can't do it yourself.

Heather: Okay.

Meredith: The second is the healthcare agent. And depending on the state, that person may be called healthcare agent under your advanced directive or healthcare power of attorney. That person, if you can't mentally make decisions for yourself regarding placement in a memory care facility or end of life decisions, that's the person who will make those decisions on your behalf.

Heather: I'm going to ask you for a second, let's talk for a second. Because it had to be one person on both or can it be, if there's like two or three or four or five siblings, can it be more than one sibling or-

Meredith: Yeah. So it depends on your needs, right? We want to always make sure we have backups as well. So we have the agent and then the successor backup agents for each of those. They can either be the same person as primary and secondary or you can have one person do one thing and another person do the other.

In a large family, I think it's important that each person takes on their role. We don't burden one person with every single duty.

Heather: Right.

Meredith: So if you have more than one person willing to step up for you, I suggest putting each person in their particular strong suit. If you don't have more than one person, it can definitely be the same person that fills both those roles.

Heather: So I've been watching this show called Succession on HBO and it's about that. I don't know if you watch the show at all.

It's basically about an elderly parent who is extremely wealthy and he's got four kids, I believe four kids. And it's all the fighting. Just all the drama. He got sick and then at one point, we didn't know if he was going to come back out of the coma and it was like, “Who's a good person?” Went on for a couple episodes, you know, and then he came back and then he's not 100%. So they're like, “How is he still able?” You know?

Heather: So it's all this stuff and I think the piece of the show that was so, obviously there was human drama and it's a show and whatnot, but I think that what's so profound is that the kids, you know they have this huge respect for their father and they see him as this icon not doing well when he came out of the second, I think it was a heart attack.

He's not at the 100% of who they know he is. And so there's all these questions and dealing with his healthcare and the money and running the company and just all these things. And everyone's not knowing what to do because they're four kids and they're caught in silly bickering because they're kids.

Meredith: Right.

Heather: By the way, the kids are in their 40s and 50s, but still they're kids, you know? And so it's an interesting dynamic and I think that that show kind of just shows all these problems and issues that come up and everyone's constantly asking who's-

Meredith: It is so hard. I think, too, if you don't have a plan in place, it would leave all four kids in this kind of, “Who should be in control?” And different opinions on what's in your best interest. And in my opinion, I know what I want. I don't want to leave that to somebody else to decide. I want to put it in writing and put people in place to make sure that's buried out. And that's why those two documents are just so important.

Meredith: And it should reduce fighting. It's not going to take it all away, but it should reduce it to some degree and two, your plan should actually come into fruition, right? At least a version of it as opposed to just leaving it all to chance or to kids who are going to fight.

Heather: Yeah. The show's very interesting because it's all about the kids, I mean they're in their 40s fighting. Acting like they're 10. You know? So okay. So that's number, that's the second person. Who's the third, fourth, and fifth?

Meredith: Yeah so number three, a trusted advisor. Whether that's an elder law attorney, an accountant, the banker, somebody that you can go to that will active that kind of hub that we talked about earlier. Somebody that would have referrals to you for any number of things that may come out. And somebody that you can trust. Hopefully somebody that's maybe even outside the family in case the family dynamic starts to get a little tricky.

Heather: Yeah.

Meredith: But just that trusted professional. And even if you don't have a lot of money, you can still find a trusted professional out there that's just maybe outside the family.

Heather: Okay. All right you said number one, number two, number three, a trusted advisor. And then number four.

Meredith: So number four is a good neighbor. So even if you live in the city or way out in the country, you need that one person who you check on them every once in a while and they check on you every once in a while.

So many times accidents or injuries occur in the house and it's a long time before the kids figure it out of somebody figures it out. So if we have that neighbor that maybe we just check in with every once in a while, that could make a big difference if something bad does happen that we have that person kind of right there.

Heather: Absolutely. And The Senior List works with MobileHelp. Yeah, love that company. The watches and the different things you can do just in case, but I agree. Just a having a device doesn't always mean calling 9-1-1.

Meredith: And even if so, a lot of times those devices will, if there's somebody near that can come check on you.

Heather: Yeah. They're far away.

Meredith: Just having one person in addition to all the-

Heather: I agree.

Meredith: Yeah.

Heather: More than just a device. You need a friend. You need a neighbor and like, “Hey, I need your help here. I can't open the jar.”

Meredith: Right.

Heather: I've had that. So okay great. A friendly neighbor which is awesome. Okay, number five.

Meredith: Number five is somebody you go have fun with.

Heather: Oh yeah.

Meredith: So we are social creatures by nature and as we age sometimes we start to stay home more, maybe our cars, we don't drive as much. Just somebody that can come in and either take us out or we go out together, somebody that keeps us connected to the outside world.

Just that fun person that doesn't have responsibilities for you if you can't make medical decisions. But they're just there to kind of take us out and have a good time. Art class or a play, a walk. Something like that.

Heather: Yeah, I love that. That's actually a really great list. Okay so just real quickly, what are the five real quick?

Meredith: Okay so financial power of attorney, the healthcare power of attorney, the trusted advisor, the good neighbor, and the good friend.

Heather: You know I love that because … first of all I highly agree with you and I think they should be five different people. You know, versus the one son or the one daughter does everything.

Meredith: Right. Ideally, right.

Heather: Because that's just a lot. It's a lot of heavy burden on one person, but also it allows everyone to kind of just have their and as a community, help each other out. It's a big piece.

Heather: I know that here where I'm at, Austin, my mom, we always had the person that would pick her up and take her to her health appointments and her doctors appointments.

Meredith: Oh yeah.

Heather: There's that one, right?

Meredith: Yeah.

Heather: And some people use Uber, but-

Meredith: Right.

Heather: That's the best thing, but I think that having that neighbor that you can call and say, “Hey, can you come pick me up? I need someone to bring me home from the doctor.” I mean I've had that, right? So.

Meredith: Yeah. Any age. We all need it.

Heather: Right. Right. I had to call my neighbor a few months ago. Like, “I'm going to be kind of sedated. Do you mind coming getting me? I don't want to go to a Uber.” So she's like, “Sure.”

Heather: So I think that's really good. It's really good. I love that. I think that it's a really important piece to talk about elder law. It's one of those things, again, I feel like people put off and put off versus dealing with now.

Especially when kids are dealing with their older parents and they're in their 30s and 40s and they're just trying to figure out what they want in their life, they're trying to figure out how to survive or thrive with their own families and build their families and now they're having to figure this whole other world called elder law.

I mean it's a lot and so I just highly suggest people listening to please consider the reaching out to Meredith directly or to go to your local resources for someone who can get an elder law attorney inside at the state where the parent is. The aging parent. Parent or parents is.

Heather: And I'm going to give you a URL real quick on The Senior List that we're going to have your resources. We're going to have Meredith's information as well. It's going to be Again that's

Heather: Meredith, thank you so much for being here. Is there any last words you want to say to everyone?

Meredith: No. I thank you so much. I mean this is such an important topic. Because again, people don't think about it or don't even know it exists. So thank you for bringing it to peoples' attention.

Heather: Oh absolutely completely. We all having to deal with elder parents. I know I did. Mine just happens to be passed away. So thank you for the opportunity to ask you questions. And again everyone, this is Heather Havenwood with The Senior List.

Heather: Again, we want to help people. We welcome your best years begin here.

Heather: Thank you to for listening to Your Best Years Begin Here podcast brought to you by I'm your host, Heather Havenwood. Please visit our website at and join many of our community groups on Facebook. Here at The Senior List, we want to hear from you. Do you have a recommendation or a person or a company you want us to interview? Tell us. Email us at Again, that's Until next time, one goal, one passion. Helping you live your best life.

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