What Elder Law Means to Me: Reflections of an Elder Law Attorney

During the month of May, two awareness events honoring older adults coincide: Older Americans Month and National Elder Law Month. For Barbara Boone McGinnis, a Certified Elder Law Attorney and partner at Takacs McGinnis Elder Care Law, a Life Care Planning Firm in Hendersonville, Tennessee, the month of May offers plenty of opportunities to reflect on her chosen legal field.

Barbara started her career as a registered nurse. “Working as a geriatric nurse practitioner, I knew how to deal with some of the problems families experience as they navigate the chronic care system,” Barbara remembers. “But there were so many questions that I couldn’t answer.”

And then her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. As she witnessed his long decline, Barbara was eyewitness to the reality of life as a caregiver. "My mother needed help that no one was able to give,” she recalls. “My desire to be able to answer those unanswered questions is one of the reasons I went to law school later in life. I wanted to learn how care gets paid. I wanted to be a better advocate for good care. And I wanted to help families like my own not be so fearful of the future.”

As she gained experience practicing the Life Care Planning approach to elder law, Barbara saw that the long-term care journey was a process that could be managed. “Families don’t have to lurch from one crisis to the next,” Barbara notes. “It is possible to plan for the journey.”

For Barbara, elder law is personally and professionally rewarding. “I get to help families and individuals manage a difficult time in life with confidence about the future instead of fear of the unknown,” she says. “Our clients aren’t shy about expressing their gratitude.”

She also enjoys the challenge. With state and federal laws in a constant state of flux, and with changes in policies affecting the care of seniors occurring just as frequently, it’s a daily endeavor to stay current. "There's never a dull moment,” Barbara laughs.   

Coupling her knowledge of the law with her personal experience, Barbara is able to make a real difference in the lives of her clients. “During my dad's long-term care journey, I didn't have the day-to-day worries, but my mom did,” Barbara remembers. “It's not that my mom didn't know what to do. Her challenges weren't caused by a knowledge deficit. The problem was making all those pieces connect. When she wrote those big checks each month to pay for his care, she silently worried whether there would be enough money left for her when she became old and sick. I watched the woman I had always known as a very generous person become someone who was beyond frugal because she was worried about making the money last.”

Barbara’s experience underscores a difficult reality. “In today's fragmented long-term care system, there are no resources within the system that can offer guidance with the big picture,” she adds. "You are totally on your own. No one at the long-term care facility can help you. No one at the doctor's office can help. They’re all good at managing their own small part of the process, but there's no one to connect all the services. That’s what an elder law attorney does, and that’s why I love what I do.”