By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association (BWBA) hosted a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) seminar with elder law attorney Fern Finkel titled “Advising Your Clients on Aging in the Community” in Brooklyn Heights on Thursday.
“People come to me as an elder law attorney … and ask how much it is to do a will or trust,” Finkel said. “I can promise you, it’s about 10 cents on the dollar to what it is to ever be engaged in a contested guardianship proceeding, a place you never want to be.”
Finkel spent two hours discussing a scope of topics including health care proxies, wills, power of attorney, benefits and pooled income trusts. She used recent court cases as examples of the pitfalls of failing to listen to her advice. She also offered practical tips for attorneys to best advise their clients.
“People are always scared to talk about wills and their end-of-life affairs,” Finkel said. “My children are all in their 20s and they have all of their affairs in order; they all have their documents. This is not just for the elderly and disabled, this is for anyone 18 and above because you don’t have an automatic decision maker.”
Finkel said that it is best for everyone to see an attorney to ensure their affairs are in order, but started by recommending health care proxies, which are simple but important. She explained how she won’t let prospective clients leave her office without one, for free, even if they don’t hire her.
“One of the crimes, I consider, by the medical community is if you are in the hospital for a procedure and when you leave, they give you your discharge papers, prescription and they file the health care proxy,” Finkel said. “So a lot of my clients think they have one because they signed one. Well, if anything happens, your agent can’t get it without having it. So, if you are in the hospital and you need it and the agent goes to get it, they’re not you and they can’t access the file.”
To emphasize the importance of living wills, Finkel discussed a recent case that involved a 50-year-old woman who has been on life support for more than 13 years after she suffered a stroke following childbirth. In that case, the woman is being kept alive while her family fights over the situation because she had no living will and did not make her wishes known.
“This case highlights the need for everyone to speak their minds, let their family and friends know what they want, put it in writing, appoint an agent,” Finkel said. “Why should anybody go through that? Have each and every one of you made your wishes known? Do you know your wishes? Have you made them known to your family? Have you made them known to an agent?
Have you appointed an agent? Do you have a health care proxy? Do you have a living will?”
The BWBA’s next event will be a book signing with Justice John M. Leventhal, which will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 16 at 5:30 p.m. at the Brooklyn Bar Association on Remsen Street. Following that event, the BWBA will host its annual holiday party at the BBA on Dec. 13.