Why I Do What I Do

After spending a year working as a supervisor for a sheltered workshop to hire program through the Regional Occupation Program, I found myself faced with a dilemma. I loved the “clients,” but felt unfulfilled at times, thinking I could do more to help people. I decided to go to law school, and wanted to be a litigator. After earning my law degree, I spent the first ten years of my practice as a successful litigator, winning a number of cases. Over time, however, I realized that while litigation can be fun for the lawyers, money is the only remedy for damage, whether for abuse, an accident, or worse. I wanted to use my law degree to assist people in other ways. My children were young then, so I left a mid-size litigation firm to start my own.

I was truly impressed by the mentors I met through NAELA (National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys). Several elder law attorneys in particular provided invaluable counsel and inspiration:  Fay Blix, Donna Bashaw, and Betsy Angeive are among the women who mentored and encouraged me, along with the late Cliffton Kruse, whose writings showed me that you can be a lawyer who cares about clients and makes a difference in the world.

My Greatest Source Of Inspiration? My Parents

My father, Joseph Brokaw Geisler, was City Attorney of Anaheim. He died of lung cancer when I was in high school, ten months after we lost my dear brother in an auto accident. I am the same age now that my father was when he died, and I doubt I will ever accomplish as much as he did in his short life. He served in World War II and earned two Navy Crosses, and the Distinguished Flying Star, for his bravery. As City Attorney, he brought the Anaheim Stadium and the Anaheim Convention center to reality.  He was known as a man who told you what you needed to know, not what you wanted to hear. I still remember when he received death threats for allowing the Hells Angels to hold a funeral procession down the main street of Anaheim, and how he became friends with Dr. Wilkerson because he did not allow the Walt Disney Company to forbid the Melodyland Theater from becoming a church across the street from Disneyland park. I hope I will always maintain my integrity as my father did; and that I will always tell my clients what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.

My mother is 86, and remains the most amazing woman I know. She lives at home despite many illnesses. After my father died, she went back to work. She had the tenacity to learn how to operate the Mag Card II electronic typewriter, for at that time, it was a highly desired skill among employers. She worked for the City of Anaheim, retired, and then worked for Poe's Plumbing to complete her Social Security quarters. She has lived a frugal life and invested well thanks to her good friend Douglas Ogden. She has generously paid for my children to attend private Christian Schools. I have been able to make sure that my mother has a Living Trust that protects her while she is alive, and which will protect her child and grandchildren when she dies. She was wise enough to purchase Long Term Care Insurance through PERS when the City of Anaheim offered it. Her health is failing, and I am glad that she will have this resource so she can stay at home.

Lessons Learned From A Failed Trust

For several years, my husband, together with his brother and sister-in-law, had discussed their concern about my mother-in-law. She did not seem to be doing well. She was forgetting things, yet she denied that her memory was failing. My dear father-in-law did everything he could to protect her dignity and cover for the memory loss, so we did not know how bad things were until my father in-law fell and broke his hip. Like many people with Dementia or Alzheimer's Disease, the severity of the memory loss is not apparent until some part of the fragile structure that enables them to function falls apart. My father-in-law's injury was such an event. It became immediately apparent that my mother-in law could not be left alone, could not pay the bills and could not care for her very modest estate.

At the time, my in-laws knew I was extremely busy with my career and my children. They did not want to burden me further, and as they were out of town, had their Living Trust created by another attorney. Eventually, the family needed to review this trust. I became involved, but nobody could find the original, or even a copy. Finally, we found a business card, and I contacted their Estate Attorney. He provided me with copies, for a charge of $230.00. Part of my inspiration for creating my Trust Loving Care (TLC) maintenance program is based on the trauma we all suffered when we did not know who did the Trust and where it was, as well as our resentment about having to pay for the copies. All of my clients are offered the opportunity each year to invite their Trustees to meet with me, and when they join the TLC program, their family is never charged for a copy of the Trust, or the call to me when their loved one passes away-and they, like my husband and brother, need to know what to do.

I wish I could say that the stress associated with this event ended with finding the attorney and getting a copy of the Trust. It did not. The Trust itself failed. Why? The Trust was ten years old, and the successor Trustee was my father-in-law's best friend, who at 82 was just not able to do the job. My mother in-law could not change the Trust since it was obvious she lacked the capacity to make legal decisions. Yet she believed that she was fine and did not want to see a doctor about her condition. We spoke to her primary care physician, who was more than willing to verify that she lacked capacity, but HIPAA prevented him from talking to another doctor, and like ALMOST EVERY TRUST NOT DRAFTED BY AN ELDER LAW ATTORNEY, this trust required two doctors to sign that she did not have capacity. So, despite the fact that it was obvious, we could not do anything unless we could get her to a doctor, and you cannot legally make someone go to a doctor. We ended up having to obtain a Conservatorship of her person, and moved her to a Secured Memory Facility. When my father-in law passed away, and the Power of Attorney my brother-in law used to pay bills was no longer valid, the Trust failed again. Why? The bank had misinformed us, and their CD was not in the Trust, so we now are required to account for her money in Conservatorship Probate Court.

All of this could have been avoided. Having seen firsthand the catastrophic results of inadequate planning, I am fully committed to making sure that my clients, and their families, will not have to go through what my family and I did.