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Get to Know Estate Planning & Elder Law Attorney Genny Bernstein

Genny Bernstein is a Florida Bar Board Certified Specialist in Elder Law and member of the Firm’s Private Client Services practice group. Genny focuses her practice in the areas of Estate Planning, Wills and Trusts, Special Needs Trusts, Veteran Benefits, and Asset Planning and Protection for Medicaid to assist in obtaining benefits for home care, assisted living, or skilled nursing facilities. 

We sat down with Genny to get a little more information about her background and her practice here at Jones Foster.

What led you to your practice area? 

My knowledge of the legal profession began early, sparked by my father who truly enjoyed practicing law. I worked with him prior to law school and began to understand his passion for the law. I witnessed how he helped people, and wanted to do the same, so my practice has developed out of that shared sentiment.

How do you describe your practice to non-attorneys?

I handle traditional estate planning, with a focus on elder law. The clients that I represent are from various backgrounds, means, and age groups but they all need an overall strategy to protect their assets and maintain their quality of life. 

When I sit down with a client, I look at the big picture.  I consider the individual, their family situation, medical and emotional needs (short-term and long-term), possible government benefits available (Medicaid, Veterans benefits), tax implications, and then I assist in determining the best plan for their circumstances.  That plan may include a will, revocable trust, irrevocable trust, durable power of attorney, special needs trust, healthcare documents, or other legal documents.

What is your client service philosophy?

I treat all clients individually and tailor their plan to their needs, which means taking the time to get to know them.  I work to break down emotional barriers, fully engage them in the process, and let them know that there is no such thing as a “dumb” question. I empower my clients by explaining that estate planning is a means by which they can take the reins and make decisions for themselves in advance of an unexpected life event.  I offer them legal counsel but, ultimately, they decide what is best for them in terms of beneficiaries, a personal representative (also referred to as an executor), long-term care, and how their assets are to be managed until, and beyond, their passing. 

Taking action when you are of clear mind, as opposed to when you are in the middle of a medical emergency involving you or a loved one, enables you to more effectively plan, therefore I tell my clients that it is never too early to be informed. The person making decisions for you should best represent your interests, so having a plan in place frees you and your family from additional stress and potential family disputes during a crisis.

What do you consider your key differentiators?

I am one of a small percentage of attorneys who are Florida Bar Board Certified in Elder Law.  I love my work, and I take pride in positively affecting the lives of my clients.  This type of law can become emotionally charged when issues of love, loss, sickness, family, and fear arise, so I make sure to employ a healthy dose of humor and empathy in my practice.

Significant time and care are invested in each of my client relationships.  I work to simplify and convey complex legal topics and governmental programs so they can be easily understood, and conversely, I strive to be an active listener.  Truly listening leads to an understanding of, and respect for, the individual and their life priorities. 

What are some thoughts about Estate Planning/Medicaid that you would like to share? 

  • Estate planning is protective planning for life, not just death. 
  • With proper planning, you don’t have to spend down all of your assets to qualify for Medicaid.
  • Wills are only a small part of estate planning, no matter how modest your assets. 
  • If you have assets – a bank account, a car, a home, and if you have a spouse and/or children, you should have legal documents in place to designate beneficiaries, guardians, and outline medical care directives, regardless of your age. 
  • Consideration should be given to provisions that will protect assets when, and if, needed. Money is easier to protect if provisions are in place before a life event.
  • If you have a special needs loved one, a special needs trust will lay out provisions for their care to protect and maintain their government benefits.
  • Don’t avoid the conversation.  Have an open discussion; talk honestly about what you want and then listen to what your loved ones have to say.  Observe how each person reacts.  This will help you decide who will be best to take on the responsibility of carrying out your wishes.